When it comes to dream jobs, Amy Williams’ career ranks high on the list. As a production designer and set decorator, Amy is in charge of bringing scripts to life by crafting every detail of a show or film’s visual world. Fresh off the premiere of Netflix’s third season of Master of None, Amy told us how she designed this season’s stunningly detailed sets, and how her job has changed her own approach to interior design.
Co-created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, the first two seasons of Master of None followed NYC-based actor Dev, played by Ansari. This season, the series shifts focus to Dev’s childhood best friend, Denise, played by Lena Waithe, and her wife, Alicia, played by Naomi Ackie.
Amy spilled the main things she learned from designing Denise and Alicia's home this season—plus how to add a personal narrative into our own home decor.
01 of 09
Look to Your Surroundings
Though Amy herself is Brooklyn-based and Denise and Alicia’s characters live in upstate New York, season three filmed in London. The team briefly considered scouting a real location for the couple’s country cottage, but Amy ultimately created the sets from scratch within London's ExCel Centre—a convention center they retrofitted into a soundstage.
“I definitely was influenced by my surroundings,” Amy told us, noting that some of the flowers featured on-set were bought at the Columbia Road Flower Market in East London. “I had also scouted a few houses [in the English countryside] that I thought had some really interesting elements, so I kind of went back and started
researching homes in upstate New York to make sure that the architecture lined
Amy also spent a lot of time browsing vacation rental sites like AirBnb and real estate listing sites like Zillow, studying homes in upstate New York as she tried to pin down the exact vibe of Denise and Alicia’s own cottage.
02 of 09
Decorate with Nostalgia—and Lots of Books
When Amy learned that this season would focus on Denise and Alicia, she was particularly excited to work closely with both Waithe and Ackie, discussing everything from the art on their characters’ walls to the books on their nightstands.
“These are the details that tell a person’s story,” explained Amy. “I also love using unusual areas of a home to stack and place books. They add great color and texture, and you want to bring in as many textures as you can, especially if you want a cozy house.”
Amy uses this sense of nostalgia when decorating her own home, too. “I try to keep a souvenir from every project I work on,” she said. “My house has a lot of memories from other shows! I’m just now trying to resuscitate a plant that I used in season one in Dev’s apartment and it’s coming back to life.”
03 of 09
Be a Little Cheeky
When it comes to accessorizing, Amy strongly suggests you “include some cheeky pieces if you can, here and there. Give some life!” she laughed. “We did that with a lot of yonic symbolism and a lot of breast-shaped objects. They had these great little planters from The Boob Pot Company and they’re all different shapes and colors and sizes, so we put a few into the set.”
04 of 09
Research, Research, Research
In her research, Amy turned to sources of inspiration that she hadn’t used in previous seasons—and they’re places you might not think to look for design inspiration.
Amy first looked toward other on-screen homes. “We watched a lot of classic cinema and a lot of masters from across the globe,” Amy said. “A lot of the structure was inspired by other films. We watched quite a bit of [Yasujiro] Ozu’s films, because many of his films took place inside a home and with a very static camera."
Other sources include Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage and Chantel Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman. “I took a couple of furniture pieces and lamps and elements, and I incorporated them into our set as a bit of an homage, [as well as] wallpaper in one of the bathrooms.”
Along with other invented worlds, Amy also looked to real life couples who might resemble Denise and Alicia. “There were a few articles about cottagecore lesbians and a few couples whose lives I researched, and what their decor was like,” said Amy. “It also really helped when Aziz and Lena decided to make Alicia an aspiring interior designer who worked at an antique store. That was a massive gift!”Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Always Add Plants
“I’m a huge fan of foliage and plants to decorate a space,” said Amy. “I think they’re so sculptural. I love the monstera. I love a rubber tree plant; it reminds me of my childhood. But I try to stay away from the fiddleleaf fig because everybody has them! They had their moment a few years ago. I think we see them too much. And I love a good snake plant, they add some rigidity to the room. Oh, and I love philodendrons and the way they cascade over a bookshelf or a dresser.”
But as can be the case in a particularly dark home, adding plant life to her sets often presents a challenge. "I also love philodendrons because they’re so easy to maintain. They’re easy to put in a set because logistically we’re inside a studio where there’s no light! These poor plants really suffer. So, things like philodendrons and snake plants seem to survive.”
06 of 09
Pick Art That’s Special
For this season’s set, Amy was very focused on finding art that represented Denise and Alicia, working closely with Waithe to find the right pieces. And the same applies when sourcing art for real homes, too.
“Put in pieces and artwork that feel special,” said Amy. “This really draws people to the space in this season--the art is so personalized and specific to the characters. I
really wanted to include Carrie Mae Weems, the photographer, and it took a moment to get there because of the permissions and the restrictions. But we got there in the end, and it was so worth it.”
07 of 09
Lean Into Function
In between seasons, Amy helped both Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari design their own homes—and she was surprised by a new set of problems she never considered.
“I found it very difficult because… with interior design, you have to lean into the function. I’m not used to making showers that work! I’m not used to making things that are up to code! I do it all for the visual story. So that, for me, was unexpected. But going through that experience will help me as a set designer because you need to factor in someone’s lifestyle and the functional elements that they need.”
Most notably, she said, is the issue with incorporating televisions. “In film and TV, we don’t usually include televisions in our sets because they’re ugly! They’re just black squares on the wall and they’re not interesting and they create weird reflections. But in a real home, people need them!”
Luckily, there are alternatives. “Use a real piece, like a [repurposed] armoire. In Denise and Alicia’s home, we thought about putting in a TV, and we found an antique dresser that we were going to use. But I think it’s great that projectors are becoming possible because that’s a screen you can hide away. They just tuck up into the ceiling.”
08 of 09
Engage All Senses
Even on a production set where only the actors and crew will know, Amy said, “I try to bring in scents. We kept a lot of incense burning because that was the vibe of the characters, and early on Lena turned me onto Erykah Badu’s incense line.”
As another way of enhancing the real-life feel of the home during production, Amy
also turned to music. “We also work really closely with the music supervisor, Zach Cowie, and Aziz always has records playing between takes.”
Each of these elements elevate a real home, too.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Take Risks… and Take Your Time
If she could offer one tip, Amy says it’s to “take risks. Use items and objects and colors and textures that might not be on-trend right now. It was a bit of a difficult task, taking this black lesbian couple living in Upstate New York. I’ve never seen that on TV, so I don’t have a reference point. So, we said, let’s create this new look that we’ve never really seen before. I think it’s really exciting to be able to do that and take those risks.”
She applies the same in life. “Change it up and take risks—people will love it or hate it, or they’ll find inspiration in it.”
Amy also notes that each risk they took came with careful consideration—and this
level of time and consideration is worth it when designing your own space. “We had a lot of time because of the pandemic, and because of that we just had so many conversations about very specific things,” she said. “Everything you see is very intentional and well thought out. We were very lucky that we had that time.”
Season three of Master of None is available now on Netflix, and you can follow Amy on Instagram @amyrwilliams.