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The dual Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists strikes that have taken place over the last several months have disrupted the entertainment industry and the lives of many who have supported it with their time and talents.
Beth Kushnick is one such individual who, during the strikes, decided to take hold of an opportunity in property staging when it became clear that her livelihood in the entertainment industry was at stake.
“This is a place where I really feel like I can contribute something,” Kushnick told Inman of a recently established partnership that has her staging properties for New York City-based real estate firm Archpoint Advisory.
For decades, Kushnick worked as a set decorator on a number of successful films and television series, including CBS’ The Good Wife and its spinoff, The Good Fight. She also worked on the set of the original run of Little Shop of Horrors, first at New York City’s now-shuttered WPA Theatre and then at the Orpheum Theatre.
Over the years, Kushnick has acquired celebrity clients who, out of admiration for her work on set, have solicited her help in decorating their homes, oftentimes across state or international lines. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kushnick also started her own podcast about her experiences as a set decorator, providing tips for listeners about how to curate the spaces in their own homes.
“[My interior design jobs have] all generated from actors and people that I’ve worked with,” Kushnick said. “I’ve done multiple homes for actors that I’ve worked with. I’ve done homes in Europe, homes in California — none of which I’ve traveled to. I’ve done it all through photos. I’ve picked out paint colors. I’ve shipped truckloads of furnishings overseas. I am like a doctor on call, depending on what show I’m working on.”
On top of her other endeavors, Kushnick was also the first set decorator to have ever created a home décor licensing deal. Through a partnership with now-shuttered design team Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams that evolved into creating licensed products under her own label, BAK Home, Kushnick’s licensed products are now sold at places like Wayfair, Amazon and Walmart.
“In the past, I’ve always sort of juggled everything from doing a pilot and a regular show at the same time, and doing an actor’s or a producer’s home and and a show at the same time,” Kushnick explained of her desire to stay busy. “I almost feel like, the more I take on, the more I can do. It’s like when you’re operating at full traffic control speed. It really works.”
These days, Kushnick keeps busy by staging properties for Archpoint Advisory while taking on home design gigs here and there.
The opportunity to shift her talents to the real estate industry first came about when Kushnick’s old friend from her college days, associate broker and Archpoint Advisory founder Charlie Homet, came to her with a “really amazing idea” as the WGA and SAG-AFTRA were on the cusp of a strike.
“He felt that staging had become commonplace and the look of staging had become commonplace,” Kushnick said. “You would continue to see the same, we call it ‘greige,’ color. Gray and beige, neutral and normalizing everything, white-washing everything.”
But Kushnick’s background had taught her to embrace the individual personalities and stories that build a character and reflect that in a set’s design. And she thought: Why not do the same with homes for sale?
“My background is really to develop a character based on a script,” Kushnick said. “Really add to the environment based on how people live … My goal is now to try and use what people have and not erase them completely, and make it all sort of make sense for the specific situation.”
The newfound creative outlet has not only been a gift for Kushnick during this period of unrest in the entertainment industry but also for a number of other workers in entertainment who have had far fewer job opportunities during the strikes, including painters and prop furniture providers.
Kushnick makes sure to keep these contacts in mind when she’s looking for materials for a new staging project for Archpoint Advisory.
“It’s my attempt in my work in real estate during the strike to employ scenic painters and set dressers and use prop house furniture, all of which are inventories that I know like the back of my hand, and anything else to try to keep everybody afloat,” Kushnick said.
“Every little bit helps,” she added.
Had Homet not brought the idea of home staging to her attention, Kushnick said, it probably would not have occurred to her to apply her skills to the real estate industry.
“I would have stayed more in doing interior design and having private clients,” she said. “I sort of always thought, ‘Oh, that’s what stagers do — that’s their business, it’s not mine.’ And [Charlie Homet] really gave me an opportunity to see how I can really apply my skills.”
The WGA strike has been resolved for about a month now, but negotiations in the SAG-AFTRA strike continue. Kushnick said that, although she’d love to return to set decorating, she anticipates that it will never be a full-time gig in the way it once was because of how the industry is changing.
“This has not been a short, little strike,” Kushnick said. “Our business is going to change — the trend and the trajectory of the business. Fewer jobs are going to be done. They’re going to be done with lower budgets. This has already been put out into the universe.”
So for the foreseeable future, she’s excited about putting her talents to good use in real estate.
“I have really enjoyed doing staging,” Kushnick said. “It’s interesting — there’s a bit of the same kind of timeframe. When you’re staging something, you have to do it quickly and efficiently, and when it works, it works really fast. The two businesses, [set decorating and home staging], are aligned in that way.”