“Love Is Blind” was not production designer Dave Edwards’ first foray into a reality relationship competition series that sought to walk its couples down the aisle; he previously worked on the reunions for Lifetime’s “Married at First Sight.” But the Netflix series provided new challenges: He had to design rooms that looked good enough for TV but also provided function and comfort for the contestants who spent hours within them, chatting with their potential true loves on the other side of a shared wall.
What were some of your visual references for the pods in “Love Is Blind”?
“Ex Machina,” the film, was one of the inspirations for the director [Brian Smith] and Chris [Coelen, executive producer] and the lighting designer and myself for a lot of this because for the majority of “Ex Machina” you have little light and the darkness as well, and we really wanted to play with that to add depth from the pods into that hallway and into some of these areas where you have a highlight of lighting and then it flows into shadow, and that would help soften and bring interest to the design of it.
How did you balance the need for the space to be functional for production and the daters?
When we had originally designed the pods, they were a squared-off rectangular, singular room that these people were going to be in, having conversations with their potential future loved ones opposite them. But as we worked with the director, he said, “Well, this is where I need the angles for cameras.” We found, “What if we rounded off the corners where the cameras are going to be so he can get those camera angles?” Once we did, that we said, “What if we take the corners out of the other sides as well?” What we found in collaborating with each other was as we took the diagonals out of the corners, it made it a more comfortable atmosphere. It softened the room in an unimaginable way from where we had started.
What special considerations went into making sure the daters could hear each other well through the walls but not be distracted by the noise of production around them?
We knew it had to be soundproof booths [in that] anyone outside shouldn’t be able to hear what’s going on inside and vice versa. We didn’t want them to be distracted by what’s going on outside but, more importantly, we didn’t want the next couple in the pod next to them to be able to hear in. And so, working out the manifestations of the technical side of it really pushed us to think outside the box, as it were.
It seems more complicated to have multiple pods side by side. Why were they built that way?
There was room in between them for practical reasons: acoustically we didn’t want them sharing walls because if you think of your house, if you share a wall you can still hear things. But then also for camera reasons: we needed to put camera people back behind glass walls. In terms of lining them up, the vision with that was we really wanted that corridor to be a very vital part of the show where you could see the daters going in and out of the rooms and you could see their expressions as they come out. We wanted to make that an interesting space so that when they came out of the pod, you have that connection between daters at times. There’s some fun shots of the guys as they’re getting ready to go into the pods, and you can see however many of them there were down the line and some of them are really excited and some are stressed. Chris really wanted that moment of being able to see all of them as they go in.
How did you approach the comfort level of each pod when it came to seating options and materials, considering these daters were in the pods for hours at a time?
We knew we wanted it to look inviting and homey, and we planned on using certain materials for that, but as we starting playing with the acoustics, we realized that padded walls would work both ways: Doing padded walls in certain areas would really take the bounce out of there and also soften it for comfort reasons. So instead of having drapes or anything of that nature, we really leaned into padded walls to help with the acoustics of it, and it softened it in ways drapes would not have.
How did you want to differentiate the men’s spaces from the women’s, given that the show does separate the daters by gender?
The inspiration for a lot of it was still “Ex Machina” meets love. The idea that we had between the two sides was that everything was an exact mirror image between the men’s side and the women’s. That mirror image between the two was not only in the pods, but also as you go into their lounges and the gyms. We wanted to design them and decorate them in a way that the women’s lounge was softer and a little more feminine but not going too far. And the same with the men; we wanted to make it a little more masculine with the color palettes and the furniture, but we didn’t want to make it feel like a frat house. We wanted everyone to feel at home in both worlds, but we wanted a distinct difference so you knew what side you were on. In the pods, everything is identical with the exception of the couch, which, for the women, we chose something with a more curved side that kind of wrapped the body. The men’s was a more squared-off, modern look. The color of the padding on the wall was different, as well, just so you know what side you’re in at any given point.
What did you find was the sweet spot of how much quote-unquote stuff could be in the spaces, so they didn’t look bare, but also wouldn’t draw the daters’ focus too much?
We pitched different things to Chris and the other producers in terms of the pods, and Chris’ idea was to have a couch, but if there’s other furniture in the room, we don’t want other furniture to distract from where their focus needs to be. And their focus needs to be on the wall, on their date. There were definitely some renderings we had done that had different furniture in there, but what we always kept going back to was that we wanted it to be inviting and warm but stripped down.
What’s the key to finding the right couch?
It had to be comfortable. It had to be something they could lay on for three days and never want to move!
How did your experience working on “Married at First Sight” prepare you for this show, if at all?
I didn’t work on the weddings. I was predominantly involved in the studio days [for “Love is Blind”], and on “Married at First Sight” I had only done the reunions. That was an interesting one because [my team and I] had watched the shows and the very first reunion we had done, we wanted it to be very homey. Reunions are interesting because you need to make them an atmosphere where everybody feels at home, but at the same time, they’re very presentational. So they’re very different; they’re very talk show. The only thing is really trying to bring the reality of the reunion into this, but this was more docu-style. I came to it with a more single-camera feel. It didn’t want to feel like a studio, but it wanted to feel like a real space — like you were really at home.
What were some of your favorite elements that you want to make sure to keep for the upcoming second and third seasons?
We loved spending time in the pods ourselves. When we did the first look at the pods — and I believe people were flown in for that — as that door closed, it was an amazing feeling. You really did feel like the atmosphere changed. I’d done soundproof rooms on shows before, but I think it had a lot to do with the curtains we put in, the padded walls and all of the acoustics and technology we put in. When you closed that door, you don’t hear anything going on outside, and so that was an interesting feeling that I’d never had on a show before. That’s something that I think really, really worked for us. It was inviting, and we ended up having meetings in there once that first pod was done. It was so comfortable, and it was the only quiet space in the whole studio, so it was comforting to sit on the floor or on the couch and chat through how we were going to do something outside or in other areas. The corridor I also really loved. My fear with it was that it was going to end up looking like “The Shining,” but we wanted the corridor to look different from anything we’d seen before, and I think it worked with the cinematography and the lighting.