SEVEN ON SET is a monthly interview series that takes a closer look at creative individuals. In this installation, we interviewed Texas-born set designer Lauren Bahr, who has worked with clients such as CR Fashion Book, Reebok, Bloomingdale’s, and V Magazine.
1. What made you want to become a set designer?
I’ve always been obsessed with the environments we create for ourselves. Basic shelter, places to celebrate, places to connect with one another. Dioramas and miniatures have always fascinated me too. When I was little I begged my parents for a dollhouse, but they said no, so I started making these little installations. I would take a chair, and the seat of the chair became the top floor, and underneath was the ground floor. I would make walls out of old storybooks, build stairs and furniture out of balsa wood, scraps of fabric, whatever was around. Sometimes I’d make the objects at my dad’s worktable in the garage. It felt like the biggest luxury to come up with something in my mind, and then actually create it in real life with power tools and a sewing machine. I would half-heartedly play with dolls in their new house, but it was the least exciting part of the process. And at the end of every day I had to take the installation apart because we needed the chair for dinner. Just like a photo-shoot or film production – we bring all the materials, create an environment, everybody performs, and then we clean up. It’s funny how things come full circle.
When I was a little older, maybe 10, I gave up dollhouses and switched to plans for real places. I would tape big pieces of paper together and create these bird’s-eye-view architectural blueprints. They were called my Dream Houses. They had rivers snaking through giant tropical lobbies, and pools with swim up bars, multiple floors, expansive landscaped lawns, sprawling tree-houses for the guests. Each room had details of where all the doors, windows, and closets were, tiny furniture vignettes, the works. I thought I was very technical. They were meant to be very glamorous party houses – I’m not sure where this idea came from, but I was extremely into it. Maybe so my giant family could all live there and have all our friends over all the time.
Anyway, set design combines many of my lifelong passions: making things, collecting, curating, telling a visual story. It’s also quite a performative process. I meet new people all the time and I have to collaborate with them and get it right. Together, we are constantly solving creative problems under tight time constraints. I find it exhilarating.
2. What has been the most memorable moment of your career?
Before I had my own practice, I assisted a lot of great designers, and this one in particular, Shona Heath, is such a true artist. I worked with her on a Miu Miu campaign, and she had designed this amazing set inspired by an Antonioni film. We built a realistic looking field with a gravel path, a little cottage with several different rooms, a built-in bed, and we had tons of furniture and housewares to pop in and out of the structure for different scenes. We altered every prop ever so slightly until we achieved Shona’s particular aesthetic universe. During the shoot she had me re-upholstering furniture, sewing duvet covers from scratch with this specific fabric that she had brought from London, painting teacups. Everything was custom, everything was so considered. The techniques and mindset I learned on that job will always stay with me.
Someday I will make elaborate installations like that – definitely for work, but I’d also like them to exist in the visual art world. Sort of like the projects of Alex Da Corte, Matthew Barney, or Andrea Zittel – they all work across platforms with environments. I have grand plans.
3. If you did something different for a living, what would it be?
4. What is your personal mantra?
Find the balance, remain curious, be discerning, be kind.
5. What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I was the captain of my high school swim team.
6. Ideal Dinner party? Dead or Alive.
Great question. Dinner parties are an interesting personal performance. And a chance to be a regular human being with anyone no matter how different from you – Everyone has to eat.
Patti Smith, Siouxsie Sioux, Marvin Gaye, Alain de Botton, The Rodarte sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, Kate Bush, Miuccia Prada, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and of course my consistent and ultimate hero David Bowie. These are all people who are great in their fields precisely because they are curious about everything else – they all cross-pollinate as a necessity, as instinct. It’s incredible. I would cook the food, light the candles and sit back to absorb the brilliance.
7. If you could only choose one song to play every time you walked into a room for the rest of your life, what would it be?
“I Wanna Be Adored” by Stone Roses
Check out Lauren’s Instagram here.
Photography by Marielle Sales