Recreating the Capwell castle

 By Janet Di Lauro, Soap Opera Weekly, 1990

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It all started with a simple order from senior executive producer John Conboy to "revamp" Santa Barbara's prominent Capwell mansion. This comment evolved into the most massive set reconstruction in the show's six-year history. "We've totally restored the house, not just remodelled it," explains production designer George Becket, discussing the magnitude of the project. "It's not just new wallpaper. We bulldozed over the old place and have totally redone the set. Nothing was kept. Everything was done from scratch. Let's not even talk about the amount of money it cost." Becket, who has been with Santa Barbara since its inception in 1984, insists that this project has been his most intricate undertaking. "Working with Mr. Conboy is an elaborate endeavour," he says. "He knows exactly what he wants to create."

Although it did take Becket a few tries before Conboy approved his plans for the new set. "I did three models," he notes. "John finally approved the third one. What he wanted, in simple terms, was to create large archways and a lot of open area, so you could see from one corner of the set to the other," Becket continues, "He wanted a very free-flowing feel."

How would Becket best describe the style he sought to achieve ? "We've kept the mansion's character. It's Spanish-American with a Southern California flavor," he says. "We didn't want to have a South-western look. It's too superficial… a trend that may disappear in a couple of years. We wanted something that wouldn't look too much like this style or that style. We wanted a traditional, yet eclectic look."

The goal for the color scheme was to keep it light and simple. "The best way to design is not to show design," explains Becket. "We used a monochromatic palette - monochromatic colors - bleached out marbles, fossil stone; nothing too contorted. It's not a show about sets. You're not supposed to see our work," he continues. "We're supposed to accentuate and push our characters and their faces. The set is a functional environment for the storyline to unravel. If the new design becomes the main topic of conversation, I did something wrong."

The revamped Capwell mansion has a number of spectacular highlights. Becket notes the ones he considers to be most outstanding. "We have an incredible staircase. I don't think one exists like it anywhere in the world," he says. "There are also tremendous archways throughout the whole house. They're two-feet thick and made of mahogany and stone. And there's a huge fireplace made of stone and stucco. It's a walk-in fireplace," he jokes, emphasizing its larger-than-life size. "It has a big ledge where actors will be able to play scenes."

The memorable front door to the old Capwell set has been replaced by two exquisite new ones. "The old door weighted a ton," says Becket. "We used to laugh every time poor C.C. (actor Jed Allan) had to open it. We replaced it with a pair of original Mexican carved doors. They're 8 feet 5 inch high."

Fabulous reproductions of Renaissance paintings, including works by Bellini and Michelangelo, adorn the walls of the new set. Many of the props incorporated into Becket's designs were purchased at a store in Los Angeles, called Arte de Mexico. "It deals exclusively with Mexican items," says Becket. "Richard Harvey, our set decorator and art director, did all the shopping with me."

With the month-long project finally over and out of his hands, Becket jokes that now the though job has been passed on to Santa Barbara's lighting department. After all, they are the ones responsible for highlighting this masterpiece on a daily basis. "This set takes up one-third of the stage," he explains. "Highlighting each archway, every painting, and all the details is going to be quite a job. But they're quite talented so I'm sure they'll handle it just fine."

And for the record, what will be done with the remains of the defunct Capwell mansion ? "We'll keep them in storage," says Becket. "In the future, when I have to create another set, I'll use some to the units from the old place." Devout (and nostalgic) Santa Barbara fans might want to keep their eyes glued on their TV sets in the months ahead - just to see what major Capwell "knick-knack" turns up !

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