Richard Tanne’s drama “Chemical Hearts,” adapted from Krystal Sutherland’s 2016 novel “Our Chemical Hearts,” centers on a budding romance between Henry Page (played by Austin Abrams of “Euphoria”) and Grace Town (“Riverdale” star Lili Reinhart), who meet while working at the school newspaper. The movie, debuting Aug. 21 on Amazon Prime, is set in small-town New Jersey, but key scenes take place in the bedrooms of the two protagonists.
For set decorator Rachel Barker and production designer Lucio Seixas, the key to revealing the inner secrets of the main characters lay in carefully chosen props and colors.
“Each of the characters had their color scheme,” Barker explains. Henry’s room, which favors blue, is cluttered, with items placed all around to suggest his many interests. Barker professes to struggling with decorating sets for male characters, but says she connected with Henry’s quirkiness and found items in her home that she thought would fit into his. She used worn books with older spines that indicated they were well read, and tried to keep with the blue theme. She filled Henry’s desk space, where he writes, with pens and papers to show a busy mind.
For other props, she visited thrift stores in and around New Jersey, breaking with her normal routine of using New York City as a prop shop destination. “We tried so hard to buy everything mostly at thrift stores because Lucio Seixas loves that too. He loves to find unique things that you’re not going to see anywhere else.”
Barker’s favorite prop for Henry, however, came from her home — a small turquoise deck prism that appears on Henry’s nightstand (though she originally placed it on his dresser, leaving her to ponder whether Tanne or the film’s DP, Albert Salas, might have moved it). “It’s from a pirate shop in San Francisco,” the decorator says. “That’s the glass they used to put on the decks of ships so light could shine through to the bottom.”
Grace’s room doesn’t get as much screen time. Barker lined a shelf with National Geographic magazines, leaning on its iconic yellow spine to keep with the set’s green-and-yellow scheme.
But the room also holds the key to the heartbreak and mystery that surround Grace, who is recovering from an injury sustained in a car accident. Seixas and Barker used older wallpaper for her room to indicate the household’s financial situation. “The family doesn’t have much money to redecorate,” she says.
Grace’s room also includes many trophies; in earlier scenes she is shown trying to navigate her way around the school track, even though she is still hobbling. Much of her room, Seixas explains, was reflective of her emotional state. “It was all about how to present those visually to help understand the characters,” he says.