If you’ve ever watched an episode of Ugly Betty, you know the fashion and interiors are pivotal to the plot in a special sort of way. Running from 2006 to 2010, and now recently reintroduced to a new generation via Netflix, the show was based on Fernando Gaitán’s Colombian telenovela Yo soy Betty, la fea. Starring America Ferrera, Ugly Betty follows the deeply maximalist Betty Suarez as she navigates the conventional early-aughts fashion world in New York City as an assistant at the fictional fashion magazine Mode.
The fashion—prints on prints on prints piled one on top of another—styled by the iconic Patricia Field (of Sex and the City) has long been praised, but it’s the interiors that really ground everything in this overly colorful show. They are a source of endless inspiration over a decade later. Consider this: The interiors of Ugly Betty elevate real-world cool while also providing a juxtaposition against all things cold, futuristic, and synthetic.
In Betty’s family apartment in Queens, for instance, the cozy couch, mismatched pillows, raw brick wall, and other unbeknownst shabby-chic elements lend a hint of realness, while the Manhattan office of Mode is filled to the brim with retro-futuristic designer furniture, clean lines, and lots of white. And then there’s Wilhelmina Slater’s massive apartment: The supermodel turned villainous creative director (portrayed by Vanessa Williams) has an eclectic, wild space replete with purple chandeliers, a champagne tufted silk round couch, and extreme high-backed canopied chairs that look like Kelly Wearstler’s designs straight out of Bergdorf Goodman’s BG Restaurant. In other words, this is not a show where interiors fade to the background.
According to a 2009 article from the New York Times, Ugly Betty intentionally juxtaposed those striking contrasts of living in New York City. “A lot of it is seen from her point of view, so it’s colored by who she is,” said Rich Divine, the set designer. “I think the telenovela does give you a bit of license to go to a place visually that you wouldn’t otherwise go.” The production designer Mark Worthington (responsible for the sets of Legally Blonde: Red, White and Blue and American Horror Story) created vignettes of over-the-top moments that spoke deeply to each character’s personal style. Victor Nelli Jr., a co-executive producer and director, previously said that they envisioned the sets to be intentionally dramatic and vivid, like “if Betty was 90 years old and if she was telling her grandchildren her story.”