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A Set Design Research Index

Updated on August 4, 2014

An online resource for visual designers in theater and film.

This compilation is just starting.

These are some useful websites and books that I've found while researching shows (or just goofing around) - deposits of knowledge that might help you too. Most of these sites will be geared towards scenic design - pages on architecture, interior design, etc. - but there will also be some costume and prop related sites.

Take a look around!

An online research library for the theater or movie designer that will continue to grow. Please leave suggestions for other sites that ought to be included.


This is a beautiful book.

This is also a really USEFUL book on color palettes throughout the twentieth century, put together by that leader in color, Pantone. I've found this helpful for general research, but INVALUABLE as an aid when working with a director... you can flip page together, looking at the various color combinations popular in different decades and from this book develop the set color family for your show.

Such a time saver!

Pantone: The Twentieth Century in Color
Pantone: The Twentieth Century in Color

A lovely and indispensable designer's helper.


Links to Historical Color

Creating truly historic color can be difficult... even historic materials can lie to you. For instance, a room in George Washington's house was once restored to match the sample of paint left (hidden) on a wall. But, of course in hind-sight, that color had faded. When researchers discovered Washington's recipe for that original blue/green color and made the paint fresh, they discovered the color was much more vibrant!

An historic postcard of the Adolphus Hotel, Dallas, Texas.  Postcards are a great source of "period" information.
An historic postcard of the Adolphus Hotel, Dallas, Texas. Postcards are a great source of "period" information.

Architecture and Decor

This (growing) list includes websites with good information and/or images useful for set designers and other artists of stage and screen.

But first... A designer's personal library of books is always their best friend - but the internet has more information every day. So I've listed here some of the books I use myself (over and over again) as well as purely online sources of info. For the set or scenic or production designer, mostly what we need is information on architectural and interior design styles - specifically by historic period.

Single Best Research Source

I've had this book for years now and find it a never-failing inspiration (and information source) when I design period sets.

The book is lavishly illustrated with drawings, paintings, watercolors, and, in the later period by photographs actually from the time periods discussed. Invaluable!

Interior Design History

I've only recently bought and read this book.

Its text is a very thorough discussion of the development of the modern home and its decoration, with a revisionist mildly-anti-Modern tone that's understandable written by the director of the Prince of Wales' Foundation for the Built Environment. (H.R.H. has had a feud going with Britain's Modernist architects for several decades now.)

Beautifully illustrated! This book makes a good companion volume to my long-time favorite research book, Thornton's, Authentic Decor.

Books to Add to Your Working Library

A few suggestions of books that seem helpful in creating period looks...

Period Details Sourcebook
Period Details Sourcebook

Not so much that you can afford to buy this stuff... more you can see what you need to fake up!

A World History of Architecture
A World History of Architecture

A lotta architecture on stage or film.

Colonial Doorway
Colonial Doorway

Age of Enlightenment Architecture, Decor, & Props

Jas Townsend and Son Inc.

"Where Benjamin Franklin would shop if he were alive today."

This company specializes in supplying re-enactors, theaters, pirates, and period enthusiasts.

18th Century Decor

From the Costumer's Manifesto - lots of links on decor


"A good starting point for all things Jane-ish."



Steampunk - (Think Jules Verne)

Victorian technology extrapolated to futuristic contraptions. The film Hugo is a great example of a steampunk aesthetic.

Bear with me, I'm just starting to explore here!

Mid-Century Modern

More research sites.

Terrific Resource on 20th Century Color

Decade by decade, this fascinating book explains the color trends of the last century.

A must-have for theater designers!

Pantone: The Twentieth Century in Color
Pantone: The Twentieth Century in Color

In each section there are Pantone color palettes tied to the period and the illustrations being discussed. Incredibly useful.



Resources on furniture and styles.

Scenic Tour of Theater (Scenery) History

The history of theater set design!

TV and Film Resources

Mr. Blandings starting to build his dream house.
Mr. Blandings starting to build his dream house.

A selection of helpful sites on film and TV related maters:

Hooked on Houses: houses onscreen

On this website about houses a list of many houses featured in film or on TV with great images. I particularly liked Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

Production Designers Talk

Interviews with film and TV production designers.

The Diary of Anne Frank, WaterTower Theatre, Addison, Texas

Set design by Clare Floyd DeVries
Set design by Clare Floyd DeVries

Information Sources Organized by Show


The Secret Annex in 3D

A virtual tour through the Anne Frank's hiding place, at the official historic site's website

Special Stuff

Hard to know what else to call this category. This is the start of a list for more specialized topics of research... Starting with a great site for naval (and piratical) history.


I can't help it, I keep finding costume information!

Suggest More Sites! - Please help make this index richer.

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    • cdevries profile image

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @goldenecho: This is a lovely, useful collection. Very helpful!

    • cdevries profile image

      cdevries 3 years ago

      @goldenecho: Thanks for all this info! Isn't research fun? (One of my favorite parts of design anyway.) Sounds like you've done a ton of work!

    • goldenecho profile image

      Gale 3 years ago from Texas

      Thought of another one. Last year when we were doing Rome for VBS I put together this color guide of the colors using dye material they had available in 1st Century Rome. I broke it down by colors that would be commonly available to everyone, and ones only the rich could afford. This might be useful in decorating a stage for a Roman play, as well as costumes (a rich Roman's home would have different colors than a poor one's).

    • goldenecho profile image

      Gale 3 years ago from Texas

      Hi! I've done a lot of research for scenery for Biblical times that you might be able to use. The last three pages of Egypt guide for VBS volunteers has a lot of info on what you would find in an Egyptian home (separating rich homes and poor homes) with pictures. It was designed for volunteers playing an Egyptian character who would also be decorating a room into a "Egyptian home" where they would meet with kids, so the first few pages are history and culture background and the next were a focus on decor items they might be able to easily find or make. (I've thought about using that "Egypt house" info into a lens here, since I had a really hard time finding that info and most of it was scattered here and there in other sources. If I do, I'll try to remember to come back and share it with you). On my "Recreating Nazarth lens ( you could check out my sources on a "Home in Nazareth"... the sources on the bottom of that module are more thorough, cover a greater period/geographical area than my treatment of that on that page (some of them). My printable on "A Galilee" home is similar but has some info on rich homes too (basically, this info covers any home interior excluding palaces during 1st century Isreal).

      And, lastly, I have a lens on Greco-Roman decor, mostly focused on inexpensive way to make columns and statues (it was supposed to have a lens following featuring other aspects, but I lost steam).