As one of the most revolutionary series on television today, we're pretty excited that FX show American Horror Story will be back for its seventh season this fall. Each season is a self-contained miniseries that juxtaposes real-life horror with paranormal activity and fuses the past with the present and complicated characters with scary movie tropes, all while employing various formal devices that challenge the genre altogether. Though undeniably violent and thoroughly terrifying, AHS is such a success because of the inventive narratives and an endlessly talented cast comprised of Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Evan Peters, Emma Roberts, and Lady Gaga, to name a few.
Another reason for this show's triumph? The set designs, of course. Just because they're creepy doesn't mean they can't be chic, too. Not only does it transport us to the moments in the show, but it also inspires creativity. From the Gothic architecture of the mental institution in Season 2 to the French farmhouse style in Season 3 and the whimsical pastels of Season 4, we're always inspired by the way the sets reflect the genre of horror while still being accessible for design aficionados. So if you love design and period pieces as much as we do, read on as we take a look back on the past 6 seasons, how the designs capture each setting, and how to reimagine some of the décor items in your own home. It's the next best thing until Season 7, Cult, premieres on September 5.
AHS Season 1: Murder House
The Premise: AHS Murder House was a strong start to the series and revived a somewhat tired horror story trope: the haunted mansion. When the Harmon family moves from Boston to Los Angeles in the hopes of starting over, their newly renovated home and thus, their new beginning, quickly reveals itself as a venue for the lingering spirits of previous residents and their murder victims. Perhaps the most dominant real-life inspiration behind the narrative is the Amityville murders. And if the main goal of the season was to scare viewers, mission accomplished.
The Décor Inspiration: The set designers and show creators chose a home that could be both eerie and aspirational. While we'd never want to live in a creepy house, we love the mysterious intrigue and romantic nostalgia of antiques and kitschy vintage pieces that tell a story. In the show, the home resembles one big library or a dark study.
AHS Season 2: Asylum
The Premise: With a new plotline and characters, the second season is one of the best, and by best, we mean it successfully and thoroughly terrified us. And though there are no supernatural figures in Season 2, there are plenty of monsters. It takes place in Briarcliff Manor, a fictional mental institution, which is home to a heroic nun, a possessed nun, bigoted psychiatrists, evil doctors, and of course, the criminally insane, plus a handful of unjustly detained "patients," like a journalist and two wrongfully accused murderers. Though disturbing to the core, it's also a riveting period piece that exposes the inhumane treatment of those considered mentally unfit.
The Décor Inspiration: The set design on Season 2 is mesmerizing. The building features Gothic architecture with beautiful bones. Our favorite elements are the minty green tiles, the ornate red velvet club chairs, and the pale peach linens.
AHS Season 3: Coven
The Premise: Another fascinating period piece that dives deep into the underbelly of American history while flashing to present-day New Orleans, it fuses reality with the supernatural and spans from the 1800s to 2013. It follows a coven of descendants from Salem who are all sent to an academy to learn how to manage their dark powers, most of which are too dark to repeat. Kathy Bates's character is based on Delphine LaLaurie, one of the more disturbing real-life inspirations in the series.
The Décor Inspiration: With whitewashed interiors and French-inspired décor, the set design in Coven is one of the lightest and most relatable of the show's six seasons. This isn't surprising, given that the backdrop is New Orleans.
AHS Season 4: Freak Show
The Premise: Freak Show takes place in the 1950s and follows a troupe of circus performers in the last running freak show in existence. All the usual suspects are there, from the bearded lady to a pair of conjoined twins, a failed burlesque starlet, a serial-killing clown, a stunted, murderous, and spoiled man aptly named Dandy, and a timid widow (the scariest of which are not members of the circus). The show works to both humanize the performers while inverting the concept of a "freak," all while giving us a good scare.
The Décor Inspiration: Set in southern Florida, we get plenty of the tropical whimsy you'd expect from Palm Beach style. Despite the plethora of grotesque symbolism and imagery throughout Season 4, the screen is often splashed with pretty pastels at the serial killer's home and vivid primary colors at the carnival grounds where the majority of the plot unfolds.
AHS Season 5: Hotel
The Premise: The location of Season 5 is based on Downtown Los Angeles's Hotel Cecil, which was recently renamed Stay on Main after a century of bad press. This hotel has been frequented by some of the most notorious killers in history, as well as other tragedies and unsolved crimes. So unsurprisingly, it's rumored to be haunted, making it the perfect setting for this season of AHS. In the show, it's called Hotel Cortez, and it was restored by a famous fashion designer.
The Décor Inspiration: Hollywood Regency and Art Deco make plenty of appearances, with splashes of modern-day glamor and a few nods to The Shining. We particularly love Lady Gaga's vampiric character's bedroom, where neon signs adorn the walls for a healthy dose of dark humor and design.
AHS Season 6: Roanoke
The Premise: As Vulture summarized, viewers should "strap on your bonnets and buckled shoes, because American Horror Story is moving to the pre-colonial South." Featuring a talk show, a raw documentary, and a dramatization, there are three shows within this season, begging the question, what's the real horror story here? It's all about the disappearance of the Roanoke Colony, so it's set on this small Southern island in the 1590s and present day. Though it's similar to Season 1 in that it takes place in an old haunted mansion, it's also more of a period piece, and it takes place in Nothern Carolina rather than Southern California.
The Décor Inspiration: More rustic than the haunted Victorian of Season 1, there are plenty of chic farmhouse moments here. The bare-bones country home is bleak, but we imagine that the wallpaper was charming in its pre-murderous heyday.