Making the Scene

A Conversation with Diane O'Connell, Set Decorator of "Ally McBeal."

--as interviewed by interior designer and lecturer Rosanne Sachson

Pictures of Ally's Apartment Can be Found Here

Ally McBeal is a single, 30-something attorney - and obsessed about her biological clock. She's hip, smart, a bit offbeat.

Diane O'Connell, SDSA, set decorator of Ally McBeal since 1997, incorporates those characteristics in the set design, using everything from an eyebrow-raising clock with no hands to trendy furnishings straight from Pottery Barn and Ikea. Her past projects include three years on "The Nanny," five years on "Sisters," plus numerous pilots.

O'Connell, who lives in Long Beach, Calif., is now decorating her own vacation home in Palm Springs.

Ally McBeal can't watch her biological clock ticking -- as this timepiece has no hands.

Q: Why is the clock missing its hands?

A: The idea of removing the hands from the clock comes from the character Ally always being concerned about her biological clock ticking away. Her character often refers to this in conversations, and the issue comes up in fantasy scenes and flashbacks.

Q: You furnished the apartment sparingly. Why is that?

A: Ally and her roommate Renee have collected a few possessions. They did buy the piano together. Ally has eclectic tastes and likes open spaces. She goes to garage sales and swap meets, so I introduce a few new objects occasionally.

Q: Tell us why you have the heart ornament on the living room wall.

A: The production designer came up with a heart theme for Ally's character. The wall piece fits the scale of the room perfectly. We have introduced hearts throughout the apartment and have one on her desk at work.

Q: Is the lamp in the living room what I think it is? And is the mosaic tabletop an original?

A: Yes, it is a Murano glass lamp. I found it in an antique shop. The table is new and available in contemporary stores.

Q: What about the rest of the living room furniture?

A: The coffee table is from IKEA. I found the sofa in a local shop and used it as is, then covered it with pillows and added a chenille throw. The actors love using the pillows in their actions. The chair is from Restoration Hardware, and I upholstered it with a chenille textile.

Q. Why did you use drapery in the doorway between the bedroom and living area?

A: They are ready-made velour drapes from the Pottery Barn, and I added fringe for a richer appearance. On the bedroom side, I used sheers. I purchased ready-made periwinkle sheers from Pottery Barn for the dining room. French doors divide the rooms, but I wanted to soften the areas.

Q: What is special about the furniture in the dining room?

A: The chairs are reproductions of a molded Jacobson chair. The bright green and electric blue colors offset the walls perfectly. The shelf is from the Pottery Barn catalog.

Q: Why did you use a formal chandelier in the dining room?

A: I found it in a second-hand store. It was perfect for the space. Painting it lime green made it young and hip.

Q: The walls have great depth to them. How did the production designer achieve that?

A: He had them ragged with three colors -- yellow, orange and ochre -- to give them texture.

Q: What influenced your choices for the bedroom?

A: The iron bed was black in the pilot. I painted it white to give it an antique look and to set off the red duvet cover and plaid sheets.

Q: The kitchen seems fully stocked with the latest gadgets.

A: Yes, even though the girls don't cook, they use the kitchen for a scene of eating ice cream or enjoying coffee. The light fixtures over the island are three-tiered perforated metals from the '50s.

Pictures of Ally's Apartment Can be Found Here

For More Information:

Pottery Barn (


Circa Antiques (

Ballard Designs (

Camellia and Main (

Rosanne Sachson is a Certified Interior Designer whose Los Angeles-based studio offers a complete range of interior design services. She is a lecturer and is an active community volunteer.