From House Beautiful
Netflix’s latest hit show, Floor Is Lava, is not only fun to watch because of its likeness to the 90s game shows that we grew up watching, but also because of the amazing set design. Riffing off of the game we all played as kids, Floor Is Lava takes place in various rooms throughout the house, including the basement, the kitchen, a bedroom, the study, and even the planetarium. To learn how these crazy hot rooms came to fruition, House Beautiful spoke to art coordinator Alison Gondek and production designers Bruce Ryan and Bill Horbury—and we can’t guarantee that no furniture was harmed in the making of this show.
This show actually started out with a more museum-focused concept, rather than the at home setting we’ve been watching. “About six months before production began, the producers and I worked on the premise that the show was in a natural history museum, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York,” sats Ryan. “The first rooms we imagined were the dinosaur rotunda, Egyptology hall, and the basement filled with crates, like the final scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
When the decision was made to set it in a home instead, producers looked to a certain home design store we all know and love: IKEA. Floor Is Lava was filmed at Burbank, California,’s original (and now closed) IKEA store. “The lava tanks were filled in what was the self-serve area, where the customers would load their flat furniture boxes,” says Ryan. “Anyone who has purchased from IKEA knows how heavy these flat boxes can be, so imagine a floor that could withstand hundreds of tons of heavy boxes and you can see how it was perfect to withstand the weight of the lava, where many Hollywood Studios would have surely failed.” (Horbury says the show made use of “over half a million pounds of lava.”)
The inspiration for the design of these rooms, says Gondek, came from the “Indiana Jones/explorer/museum curator stereotype, and thinking about marrying those elements with house spaces, since the original game is just jumping across rooms in your everyday home.”
“I liked to think about the rooms as through the lens of a heightened imagination—allowing for the marriage of more typical household elements (chairs, the bed, kitchen counters, etc.), and the far more fantastical (giant racks of rotisserie chicken, an alien in a sarcophagus, a life size rhinoceros),” Gondek explains.
The Production Design team, the Challenge team, and the team at Arête Custom Builds LA decided what objects belonged in each room. The puzzles, challenges, and types of hurdles were concocted by the Challenge team, while the design and build of “various challenge elements” were performed by Arête, a company that works in set design and construction, and creates obstacle courses and builds involving physical challenges.
There had to be a mix of exciting, theme-specific, safe, and budget-friendly items, and many objects were made in-house using different kinds of foam, similar to the foam used for American Ninja Warrior. The Moai heads (reminiscent of those seen on Easter Island), the Pyramid, and the majority of the items found in the planetarium were all “completely created and carved in house.” The team sourced additional items fro, prop houses and Craigslist.
The damask fabric seen on the walls of the basement and the bedroom is not just a chic design element—it is also “especially silky and slippery, making it all the more treacherous.” Gondek says she “particularly love[s] when a design decision works on multiple levels like that.” Not to mention that “the difference in tones of the fabric catches light well and in a way that isn’t too distracting on camera.” Who knew damask could be such a multi-faceted fabric? Horbury says the damask walls also fit “into the narrative of the eccentric, volcano-dwelling, House Beautiful reading landlord.” Well, we certainly approve of these choices in both wallpaper and magazines.
While watching, you may have noticed a life-size Yeti and Astronaut, because they’re pretty hard to miss. These figures were strategically placed “high enough away from the lava” because they were rented and had to be returned without any trace of lava on them.
And now for your most pressing question of all: Exactly what is the “lava” made of? Well, Gondek says “it is definitely not just water with coloring” and it was “professionally created for use in the show.” The lava “had to be safe, both if there was any accidental consumption, as well as for it to last through the weeks of shooting. Unfortunately for the contestants, the lava was made to be slippery, so that’s why so many jumps and leaps ended up in disaster.
Normally, it’s not exactly safe to jump head first onto furniture, but the couches and chairs on Floor is Lava were “all completely repadded and covered for added safety.” Other alterations were made to make things more climbable, like “the wall sconces in the study,” which “were made more to be handholds than light fixtures. Even the curvature of the Moai heads—both places to grip, and surfaces that are hard to get a grip. It’s actually a really excellent balance.” And that ‘painting’ of host Rutledge Wood is actually a Photoshop creation that was printed by the design team onto a piece of—you guessed it—foam, to ensure that it was lava-resistant.
If you’re curious about the contestants seemingly vanishing into thin air after descending into the lava, that is actually not what happens. Whenever someone would fall into the lava, “the group had to pause, the teammate was pulled out to go get cleaned up, and then the remaining players [kept] going.” Also, Gondek tells us that “the lava isn’t that deep, and we had crew in wetsuits to ensure player safety at all times.
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