From robes to Rothkos: props that make House of Cards
It costs US$400,000 (Dh1.5 million) to create an exact replica of the Oval Office, according to Tiffany Zappulla, the set director on House of Cards.
In a large warehouse on the outskirts of Baltimore, House of Cards keeps the props and furniture that make up its sets. It’s a giant room overflowing with political detritus.
One of the 12-metre-high walls of the warehouse is covered in paintings of presidents, Framers and Convention-signers. There’s a rack of 40 purple velvet robes, a rope-line restricting admittance to Jefferson Memorial Hospital, yard signs emblazoned with fictional political candidates (“Underwood / Underwood”, “Russo for Governor”), dozens of mirrors – one of which is labelled, simply, “Camp David mirror” – and above it all, a 20-metre-long Star-Spangled Banner, its broad stripes and bright stars hanging over pallet racks stacked high with sofas in a neo-colonial style.
On one side of the warehouse, there’s a set of freshly painted “Rothkos”. If you notice an unusually large number of Rothko paintings in season 5 of House of Cards, it’s because the art department recently acquired the rights to use the artist’s paintings on television. House of Cards’ art department is now proficient in the mass production of Rothko replicas.
But it’s the bespoke, political bath towels that keep disappearing, Zappulla says.
I tour rooms plucked straight out of Capitol Hill and the United States’ collective political imagination: Air Force One, the White House situation room, the halls of Congress. As I make my way through replicas of the White House’s inner chambers, I find an exclusive Easter egg. On a whiteboard in the chief of staff’s office in the White House, Doug Stamper has scheduled a meeting. Olivia Pope, Scandal’s White House director of communications, arrives at 8.30am.