Set Design

Go Behind the Scenes of Only Murders in the Building Season 3

The comedic murder mystery’s thoughtfully designed dwellings reward the observant viewer with some very subtle Easter eggs

The world-building in Only Murders in the Building is so elaborate, the details baked into the titular residential complex’s backstory so convincing, that one might reasonably mistake the fictional Arconia for an actual New York fixture. Google’s autofill suggestions imply at least some viewers of the Hulu series (now in its third season) have sought answers from the search engine about whether or not the building and its architect Archibald Carter are real. (They are not.) The show’s co-creator John Hoffman has alluded to the cliché of crafting the setting as its own character of sorts within the show, a remark familiar to anyone who’s heard the now overwrought observation that New York itself serves as Sex and the City’s fifth central character. But with so much thought poured into the cast’s dwellings and the Arconia, their linchpin, a behind-the-scenes look at all that goes in to the Only Murders in the Building set makes that old cliché ring somewhat true.

Canonically, the architect Archibald Carter designed the Arconia as a full-block complex on 86th and Broadway. Carter is painted out to be an H.H. Holmes type, who sneaked hidden passageways and elevators into the building the way Holmes is known for constructing a mysterious house of horrors with labyrinthine secret hallways and false floors. In a new video tour of the show’s set, production designer Patrick Howe tells AD that the soundstage is modeled after late-19th-century architecture in New York. Features like the set’s mosaic tile floors are carried throughout many of the Arconia’s common areas and give the building that same refined old-world charm as its Upper West Side inspiration, the Belnord, which is used for exterior shots of the building.

Steve Martin and Selena Gomez in character as Charles-Haden Savage and Mabel Mora on Only Murders in the Building. The show debuted on Hulu in August of 2021.

Photo: Patrick Harbron / Courtesy of Hulu

The Arconia’s lavish penthouse unit has hosted a star-studded cast of characters over the show’s three seasons, including both Sting and Amy Schumer, who play fictionalized versions of themselves. The revolving door of A-list guest stars continues in season three with Paul Rudd as Hollywood leading man Ben Glenroy, who rents the penthouse.

“The initial directive from our showrunner in the first script about [Ben’s] apartment was that it had a lot of memorabilia,” says Howe, comparing it to a Hard Rock Hall of Fame volume in terms of the sheer amount of movie mementos that make their way onto the apartment’s walls and surfaces. There are enough miniscule yet well-thought-out details gesturing to the credits of Ben’s career that the unit functions as an I Spy tableau if one were to press pause on any given scene, though a grand statement piece steals the show: Ben’s enormous gold cobra stands sentinel at the penthouse’s entrance, sculpted and painted from scratch by the show’s scenic art department. The snake is a reference to Glenroy’s crime-fighting character, Cobro.

The team aimed for a modest yet tasteful look for Loretta Durkin’s apartment.

Photo: Patrick Harbron / Courtesy of Hulu

Meryl Streep also appears as failed actor Loretta Durkin, whose more modest apartment features nods to Streep’s impressive career. (Eagle-eyed fans will notice that the apartment of Martin Short’s character is also full of Easter eggs referencing his and co-star Steve Martin’s films.) Loretta’s kitschy studio is covered in multiple patterns of wallpaper and incorporates a bow motif in reference to her longtime job as a gift wrapper at Macy’s.

The apartment belonging to Mabel, an aspiring artist rounding out the main trio played by Selena Gomez, transforms symbolically as she does over the course of the series. Season two’s finale sees Mabel starting to paint over her mural depicting the Arconia’s residents, which Howe describes as a big step forward in Mabel’s narrative reflected in her home. Her freshly renovated unit, shown as a completely gutted space in seasons one and two, enters a new era for season three. The dwelling is lined with several patterns of botanical wallpapers as well as a palette of warm brown, beige, and cream carried throughout. “Without giving too much away,” Howe teases while standing in Mabel’s finished, mood-lit master suite, “let’s just say you will see her in bed with somebody later on.”