Six months ago Mike Harrison’s biography would’ve described him as a painter with a musical theater background. Today though, he is recognized as a dressing room decorator extraordinaire who has transformed the backstage pieds-à-terre of some of Broadway’s buzziest talents including Leslie Odom Jr. of the mega hit Hamilton, and Lupita Nyong’o who is currently starring in Eclipsed. His latest assignment, for the ever charming Jesse Tyler Ferguson who’s playing the lead (and every other role) in the hilarious play Fully Committed which opens its doors in the Big Apple this evening, was his most challenging one yet, and we’ve got the deets to prove it.
Aside from the aesthetic, which Harrison caters to his clients’ individual tastes, the main difference between this project and Harrison’s others has to be the scale. As the star of a one-man show in which he plays 40 characters, let’s just say Ferguson didn’t have to pull straws for best dressing room in the house. In fact, while most actors, even Oscar-winning ones, get one designated space, Ferguson scored three. “Jesse basically could’ve had 40 [rooms] if he wanted to,” says Harrison, but in the end they narrowed it down to a main space where Ferguson could get ready and unwind, a sleeping nook, and a separate lounge area downstairs for hosting guests. With a limited budget and a very tight schedule, Harrison finished the assignment in less than a week with flying colors. “The backstage of a theater is not nearly as glamorous as people may think, but Mike has taken these concrete rooms and turned them into the most warm and comfortable extensions of my aesthetic,” says Ferguson.
Check out Ferguson’s newly vamped oasis below.
1. Backstage Lounge
The lounge area, sponsored by Tie the Knot (a menswear accessories line founded by Ferguson and his husband Justin Mikita) is full of impressive Salvation Army finds like the brass bar cart and vintage cabinet which Harrison scored just down just down the street from the theater. “Everyone who comes backstage hangs out here,” says Ferguson. “I haven’t been drinking since the start of the show, but that doesn’t mean that my guests shouldn’t be having a cocktail!”
2. Backstage Detail
When Harrison picked up this adorable painting, he didn’t intend to use the actual image. “All I was looking at was the shape of the frame and thought it was just a good, oversized, ornate option,” he says. ”Then I realized how great it would be if I just painted actual ties from the Tie Bar’s latest collection on the characters.” And it’s a good thing he did because his client definitely noticed. “It was the first thing Jesse commented on and said, ‘I’m obsessed with those paintings’,” says Harrison.
3. Sleeping Quarters
Harrison didn’t let the scale of this tiny room intimidate him. “I thought, let’s not fight against this,” he says, and set to transform the space into one that would make Ferguson feel like he was at sleepaway camp: dark and cozy, with postcards filled with words of encouragement hanging above the headboard. “When you’re in a 90 minute show and playing all of the characters, it’s sometimes hard to turn your brain off,” says Ferguson, “But if I can get into bed for 20 minutes it really helps my body to relax.” It also doesn’t hurt that the bedding is from Ferguson’s husband’s bedding line, Thread Experiment. “It puts me at ease instantly,” he says.
4. Dressing Room
“I spend the most time in my dressing room running lines, getting ready, steaming my voice,” says Ferguson, who wanted this space to mimic his home. Images of the actor’s L.A. abode revealed that he is a collector of objects, and appreciates saturated walls, so Harrison brought in dark tones (through furniture, rugs, and an accent wall), and plenty of thrift store finds, making it feel like a man-cave-slash-library.
5. Touches of Home
The room is filled with personal touches including this photo of Ferguson and his husband tucked into the frame of this unique mirror from Homegoods. “I like that the rope and bronze really adds a bit of masculinity to the space,” says Harrison, despite being decorative.
6. Gallery Wall
This decked out wall cost—brace yourselves—less than $100! By mixing together thrift store score (mini tapestries, and a large scale polaroid print), DIY projects (the wall vases), and some personal art (the painted bowtie was done by the decorator), Harrison was able to create an eclectic gallery that’s brimming with color, dimension, and texture, and also has a very personal feel.
7. Living Art
Floating in a weathered frame are two small vases filled with fresh flowers. You can find the wall-mounting vases at any garden supply store, advises Harrison. “I painted them black to make them a little more masculine, and the empty frame around them makes it seem more like living artwork,” he says.
8. DIY Birdcage
“There should be as much life around the room as possible,” says Harrison who achieves this by peppering live plants throughout the space. This bird cage was white and in bad shape when he found it at the Salvation Army. Black and gold spray paints transformed it into a expensive looking piece, and you would never know that the whole thing is made out of plastic.
9. Current Read
On the coffee table is Ferguson’s current read, Padma Lakshmi’s newly released memoir Love, Loss, and What We Ate ($17; amazon.com). “It’s so interesting reading a memoir of a friend,” says Ferguson, who is close with the Top Chef host. “Surprisingly, I’ve learned so much—particularly about her past marriage—that I didn’t know before. It’s such a good read. I highly recommend it.”