Lisa Frantz together with her business partner, Lydia Marks, were, what Lisa calls “work friends” and now calls “proper friends” which, interestingly enough, came to pass when they founded their own design business, Marks & Frantz. Prior to that, they had both crossed paths while working extensively in set design for television, music videos and film, notably creating sets for what are apparently called “style-driven” films such as The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City (the closets!). Interior design projects became a natural extension of their set design work when producers, directors and actors started asking them to design interiors for their own houses. While Lydia continues with some set design, Lisa now focuses solely on what we guess can only be called “real life interiors”.
So you’re living the Brooklyn Dream—it’s like that Target ad! [An ad filmed in Clinton Hill townhouse]
Yes. I feel like I’m the Target ad.
Do you feel like a “Brooklyn person”?
You know you would have had to drag me kicking and screaming to Brooklyn until I was pregnant with my daughter. We were living on Lexington Avenue—it was the classic single floor of a brownstone … it cost us nothing, like $1000 and we were like, “We’re going to stay here forever! It’s the deal of the century!” And then I got pregnant and my little dorm-sized refrigerator wasn’t going to do it and hauling my laundry to the Laundromat wasn’t going to do it.
I can’t remember when it became intensely desirable to have a renovated brownstone in Brooklyn. When I moved to Brooklyn in 1998, our friends felt sorry for us because we weren’t in Manhattan.
I started dating my husband when I was about 24 and he had all these friends here from when he studied at Pratt. We wouldn’t go to their parties; we wouldn’t go to their dinner parties. We were such Manhattan snobs!
Let’s talk about how you got started in Manhattan.
When I first got out of college, I worked for Cosmo [magazine] as a beauty assistant.
Was Helen Gurley Brown still around?
She was. I felt very lucky that I actually got to meet her and she loved the beauty department. She could care less about the fashion but she loved the articles about how to make your boobs look bigger and how to make your lips pouty-er. That was her thing, clearly.
You studied journalism, right? Did you just pretend to have an interest in beauty products?
I didn’t care. I just wanted to be writing for a magazine. I had been at college in Boulder, Colorado for four years living the hippy dippy lifestyle—I mean I never gave up my mascara—and then when I graduated from college, I went right back into city mode. Anyway, the job was fun but I didn’t love the whole culture of magazines.
Well, I think it’s probably different now but everyone had been on staff for about 150 years; they all came in around two and they worked until ten and they had these liquid lunches. They were all women and they expected you to do all the work and stay until midnight. But I loved shooting the pages and because we had no budget, I got to do things like prop styling. I was often doing everything. The freelancers all worked in many mediums and they said I should try television and that I would love it. So I quit my job and went to work on a movie as an assistant.
For someone who just doesn’t know how a movie set comes into being, can you describe how it’s done?
If you’re doing the whole production, you usually spend anywhere from a week to two months doing pre-production. So you read the script and you break it down for your department so you have a list of sets and then you have a list of what you need to do for those sets. Then there’s location scouting. It’s like this frenzy of “How do we get these sets furnished? What’s already there? What do we need to take away?” And you’re bouncing all this off of the director. And you’re renting from prop houses; you’re buying from the Salvation Army stores and so on.
How long would it take to do a Nancy Meyers kitchen?
Ha! It would take a week to design it and then it would take a month because she would make you re-design it. And then she’d make you re-design it six more times.
So did you get clients out of all these actors and movie people you were working for?
That’s how we started our business. We had various people, directors and producers say, “Hey, can you do my house out in the Hamptons?” When Lydia, [Lydia Marks, Lisa’s business partner] had these humongous budgets for movies, they would say, “Oh that couch you just bought, I want that in my house.” The things weren’t always available because studios are so tight with the money but if they said, “Could I have that?” I would say, “No, but you can hire me to find one just like it.”
Were the sets you were doing mainly furnished rooms? I mean could you do a graveyard or something?
Sure. I used to work on music videos. It was kind of in the heyday of music videos, when they first got huge, when Sean Combs became Puff Daddy and when Missy Elliot was having her first big break. It was pre-Beyoncé but we had huge budgets and we were shooting all over the world. You could build a nice portfolio out of these crazy shoots, like the director wants a 30-foot tall fan so that Missy Elliot can stand on a stage that’s 50 feet x 50 feet and wear an inflatable suit … and then you have money blowing out of these air cans and it’s raining with fake rain.
You must throw a mean party! And you’re responsible for the closets in Sex and the City, right?
Yes. That’s partially how we launched our business, because Lydia was doing these very style-driven movies like Sex and the City and the The Devil Wears Prada, and I was doing commercials. I would hire her and if she needed help, I would help her. I don’t do film work any more because one of us needed to be constant. Someone hired Lydia to do a rooftop bar and she was pregnant, so she asked me to help and it was a lot of fun. Then we got an apartment building, lobbies and main hallways. So then we said, “What about launching a formal business?”
What do you get out of what you’re doing now that you weren’t getting from the set design work?
Well I wanted a more solid business model. I wanted to go after my own work and I wanted projects that lasted longer than a week or two weeks.
So on your website you say that you can add “a touch of whimsy”. What is “whimsy”? Perhaps it’s because I’m British but I’m suspicious of that word.
You know I find that some of my people like that word because we do throw it out there every so often. To me “whimsy” is something like you might do a white kitchen that’s just really classic but maybe you’ll do brass hardware. Then it feels like you’re doing something on trend but it’s also very “classic kitchen”. I actually live in a much calmer home than any of our projects!
A home isn’t a movie set – I mean there must be a different set of parameters, right? Kids are going to be jumping on the sofas and drawers have to be real, not fake.
Exactly. On film work it doesn’t matter – you can just go buy $10 a yard fabric. Then again you don’t get a white sofa if you’re shooting a mother with two kids for a Betty Crocker commercial because that woman wouldn’t have that sofa in real life. But in real life, you can say well, “Here’s these Nanotex fabrics and these high-performance velvets … and maybe we can get something a little taupe-y so that it doesn’t show the dirt.” So we’ve learned how to finesse things.
I love that term, “high-performance velvet”.
We have drawer in our office labeled “High Performance Velvet.”
So you grew up in Texas but you don’t seem very Texan. What did you like about growing up in Texas?
Nothing. All I did was go to school and play tennis.
Do you still play tennis?
I’ve started playing a lot of tennis in Fort Greene Park. I was like a USTA ranked kid.
Are you still very competitive?
I am. In everything. It kills me that my kids aren’t. It makes me crazy.