Just in time for the fourth season, the stars of Grace and Frankie and Emmy-nominated production designer Devorah Herbert talk unconventional cohabitating
Grace and Frankie, the Netflix comedic hit that chronicles how former rivals become roommates after their husbands fall in love with each other, is as beautiful as it is brave and bawdy. That, in large part, can be attributed to the show’s efficacious set design, helmed by Emmy-nominated production designer Devorah Herbert.
“Grace and Frankie is a story about odd couples,” Herbert says. “In the beach house we have two women who are integrating their lives and bumping up against each other, so there is some contrast.” (While the beach house is narratively in La Jolla, its exteriors were shot in Broad Beach, California, and the interiors are shot on a soundstage).
The characters’ opposite styles—Grace’s meticulous perfection and Frankie’s bohemian ease—are on full display in their shared beachside home. “Grace likes to control her environment, and decorated the house with her impeccable taste,” Herbert says of Jane Fonda‘s character. “She came in and wanted everything just so. Maybe it looked like a gorgeous magazine spread, but then Frankie came in and she moved everything aside.”
As Fonda describes it to Architectural Digest, Grace “tolerates” Lily Tomlin’s character’s messiness and penchant for the unusual. “There’s a little bit of Frankie, but most of the beach house is subtle and tidy, and that’s all Grace,” Fonda explains.
Cocreator and executive producer Marta Kauffman agrees: “Grace clearly had the upper hand in decorating, but Frankie’s imprint is visible, too.”
Indeed, Frankie’s eccentricity spills over into many of the beach house’s more put-together, Grace-approved spaces, which creates a visual tug-of-war that’s both beautiful and unexpectedly hilarious. “We wanted to show these two really different styles, which is where the comedy comes from,” Herbert explains. “Frankie has her meditation room—with her Indonesian art, her pot, her incense—and then she has her studio with the penis pottery.”
For Tomlin, working in Frankie’s studio provides a critical connection to the character. “Frankie’s studio is the space most evocative of her personality,” Tomlin says. “When I enter the studio, I feel as though I am a painter and all the works hanging and sitting around are indeed of my making.”
The beautiful works seen on the show are not actually crafted by Tomlin’s own hand, but are primarily the work of Nancy Rosen, a Chicago-based artist whose paintings and drawings serve as one of the main vehicles for Frankie’s artistic voice. “Nancy is who Frankie is in terms of her maternal instinct [and] her passion for her work, her family,” Tomlin says. “When I sit in a scene studying a painting, I think, When did I paint this? It’s a memory I’ve forgotten, but it’s just as it should be. It’s just what I intended.”
Herbert echoes the significance of Frankie’s artwork: “It’s one of the most personal elements on the show. We didn’t go to a prop house—we had it all commissioned. It’s all so specific, and being able to handcraft each item every time Frankie has a new piece of artwork or an art show, that is really fun.”
Beyond Frankie’s creations, the world of Grace and Frankie is brought to life by pieces sourced from just about everywhere.
“We have a lot of vendors that we go back to over and over again, like Wayfair, Dovetail, Palecek, Palau,” Herbert says. “We sprinkle in some more traditional vendors like Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma, and Anthropologie, which is where Frankie’s hanging chair in the meditation room comes from.”
Looking ahead to season four, premiering January 19 on Netflix, Kauffman says that the beach house takes on a new meaning of sorts. “The beach house becomes a metaphor for that time in your life when your body and your bones betray you,” Kauffman explains. “The story of the house is an arc through the season.”
Herbert is just as coy: “I can’t say exactly what happens. But I will say that the biggest challenge and the most exciting thing, design-wise, for season four was taking and evolving the sets that we already have in pretty dramatic ways. The set changes really follow the story changes—you’ll have to tune in to see.”
No matter what the future has in store for the unlikely duo, it’s clear that without that beach house, Grace and Frankie wouldn’t be Grace and Frankie as we’ve come to know them. Their shared home is much more than a weekend getaway destination—it’s a central figure that propels the show’s themes of friendship and reinvention forward.
“The beach house is where these women learned to be friends,” Kauffman says. “This is the place that healed them. It is the third main character.”