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DESIGN : The Unreal Amenities of MTV's 'Real World'

July 08, 1993|GAILE ROBINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ah, to be young again, moving away from home into a spectacular beach house with lots of friends.

That's the premise of the "reality-based" soap opera "The Real World," which airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on MTV. The short-attention-span network hopes you will "follow the adventures of seven young adults, aged 18-25, as they live together in a 6,000-square-foot beach house in Venice Beach."

In exchange for the kept life of rent-free living and a $300-a-month food stipend, the cast members allowed camera crews an uncensored look at their daily comings and goings for 75 hours each week.

It's a great concept that's short on reality--at least when it comes to housing and housewares.

Let's talk money, beach-front property, down-filled sofa cushions and the potential earning power of teens and newly arrived adults. Some of the cast members had real jobs--an AIDS care specialist, a Los Angeles County deputy marshal--when MTV tapped them to be taped. Others had some not-so-stable jobs--country-Western singer, stand-up comic. But none of them earned the kind of money that was lavished on the Venice Beach house.

Consider:

The show's production designer, Naomi Slodki (who also designed the sets for cable TV's "The A List" and "Face the Hate"), says the house used for the series is actually 5,000 square feet on Washington Boulevard, near Ocean Avenue.

A local real estate broker who specializes in Venice properties, C. J. Cole, says a 5,000-square-foot rental house in Venice is hard to come by. And it would be pricey. "To lease a 5,000-square-foot house, if it existed, and if it was in move-in condition (near) the beach, (would cost) $4,000 to $5,000 a month."

So, even at the low end of the price spectrum, that's $571.43 a month in rent for each of the seven roommates.

The furnishings of this house are sublime. The interior looks as if it has been readied for a Metropolitan Home photo shoot. And even though it was done on the cheap by television set standards, the interiors seem beyond the financial scope of most twentysomethings, even thirtysomethings. Only the cast of "Beverly Hills, 90210" could afford these digs.

The sofas, beds, tables, chairs and most of the decorative touches--$100,000 worth--came from one Los Angeles store, Civilization. "We insisted on doing the entire house," says Judson Greene, Civilization's studio services manager.

So that's $100,000 divided by seven . . . or $14,285.71 each for furniture.

Dishes, pots and pans, linens, towels and some light fixtures were donated for a promotional consideration, but glasses and silverware had to be purchased.

If you had to buy all the kitchen and bath paraphernalia, it would be at least an additional $300 each--and that's a low-ball estimate.

Civilization's overstuffed furniture (with down cushions), which is slipcovered in brilliant colors and mismatched fabrics, sits in an equally vibrant setting. Los Angeles mural painter Ray Naylor was called in to remedy the white wall problem. He covered most of those walls with a rough coat of terra cotta and topped it with a glaze to give it some depth. He also painted two huge murals.

Slodki says she wanted to incorporate images in the murals that were not cliches--no surfboards or palm trees--but still conveyed a feeling of Los Angeles. She settled on Matisse-like tropical graphics for the bedrooms and a beatnik/coffee-shop sort of design for a living area. Naylor says the images in both murals are huge because they take less time to paint. He charges a day rate of $400 and says each took one day to complete.

Two days for the murals and two days to do the glazed walls, plus a couple of hundred dollars for the paint--that's another one-time charge of about $1,800, or $257 per roommate.

Several optical illusions were incorporated in the overall design. A door is hidden by one mural, seascapes are painted on shutters dividing two of the bedrooms and a large canvas in the dining room depicts a woman looking in a window. "I wanted to play with the image of being watched," says Slodki.

There are a few pricey amenities scattered around the premises. A pool table from Beach Billiards Supply ($2,800) nearly fills one room ($400 per roommate).

There is a $1,200, 60-gallon, custom-made saltwater aquarium in one of the common areas that was designed by Scott Clark of Aquaplex in Gardena. Dean Takata of Cortez Marines in Inglewood (referred to by "Real World" characters as "the fish guy"), stocked the tank with fish ($150) and the artificial reef ($350) and came by once a week to service the aquarium ($120 a month).

To have a bit of the briny deep in the living room cost $1,700, or $242.86 per roommate, to install, and $17.14 each for the monthly maintenance.

An amenity that attracted late-night visitations by the home's neighbors is a front-yard spa, a 500-gallon Grandee from Hot Spring that conveniently seats seven for $6,395 (or $913.57 each). It has a cleaning system that precludes monthly maintenance.

All of this brings the cost of leaving home and setting up housekeeping in style to $588.57 a month (for rent and "the fish guy") with one-time set-up fees of $16,399.14 apiece. Of course, those figures don't include utilities, food, entertainment or clothes.

Did they folks at MTV feel at all duplicitous designing this Barbie Dream Home for the cast members to live in? "Not at all," was the official response. "To be quite honest, that was the lure. They were allowed to live in this great house if they would expose their entire life to us."

Would any of the cast repeat the experiment? According to the MTV representative, "To be able to live like that? You bet. They all said they'd do it again."

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