In Los Angeles real estate circles, it's known as Villa De La Vina. But on Monday nights for almost eight months a year, most people recognize the Spanish-style estate as the Bachelor Pad. The Agoura Hills mansion, tucked into the Santa Monica Mountains 40 miles outside of downtown, has been a part of most seasons of "The Bachelor," "The Bachelorette," and "Bachelor Pad" since 2007.
And last Friday night the franchise's producers allowed television writers from across the country to walk past the fountain that has been the setting for hundreds of first impressions, through the rustic wooden door and into the rose ceremony room, nine bathrooms, the cocktail party room with its hand-carved Cantera stone fireplace, and the state-of-the-art chef's kitchen. The rat, sadly, did not make an appearance.
Something seemed immediately off in the massive flagstone driveway, and it wasn't the absence of cartwheeling, yodeling, or horse-riding suitors. For one, it was not, as expected, circular for convenient limo drop-off. It's probably why the producers never show the limos driving off after emptying their gorgeous contents and date cars are almost always pointed in the same direction with the driver's side farthest away from the 8,000-square-foot house. And it was also less shiny under the café string lights.
"That's because we didn't hose it down that night. We usually spray it for arrivals or whenever we are shooting in front of the house, because it makes the flagstone look prettier," explains Angelic Rutherford, the franchise's production designer, who sacrificed sparkle for safety when last week's record chilly temperatures made ice a plausible concern.
It is one of the tricks Rutherford and her team use to set the scene for romance and make the house, which she describes as "grandiose and gorgeous, but not so massive that it's uncomfortable," feel like home.
"It's a real mansion but it's also a working set, and that means we have lights, cameras [everywhere except the bathrooms], and other technical equipment. For someone who is not used to it, all of that equipment can be pretty overwhelming and makes them uncomfortable and nervous and that takes them out of the element and reminds them they are on national TV," Rutherford says. "So we hide everything and build surrounds for lighting rigs."
Also in an effort to foster communication, group hangs, alliance building on the "Pad," and make-out sessions, they build giant pieces of custom outdoor furniture, like the 8-by-8 platform beds by the ornate saltwater pool. "They're built to create the perfect pods of conversation. We need them to be big enough to accommodate four or five girls talking and plush enough to curl up for a nap or kissing. It helps out the story, because it keeps people together and in conversation when other people are off on date."
It's easy to assume that is also why they switched from twin beds to bunk beds, but Rutherford says that change was made to give the temporary residents more space for luggage and getting ready in the three of six bedrooms used by contestants. (One room is set as the deliberation room for the "Bachelor" and "Bachelorette" and the voting room on the "Pad.") Beds are assigned on the first overnight stay (except on "Pad" where, fingers crossed, sharing is prayed for), although Rutherford says they don't tend to stick with the designations. Beds are also removed as eliminations occur and, in the interest of cleanliness, mattresses are replaced after every season. (Rutherford said that both of the property's hot tubs are "thoroughly disinfected" after each season as well, especially when an installment features Ed Swiderski's spa sex-capades.)
If these walls could talk, they'd tell you that there are at least 13 coats of paint on them. Sean Lowe's ladies lounged around kelly green walls. Every season has a new color palette. Dark saturated colors pop best on camera, and brighter patterns and colors are used when shooting occurs during the summer. Décor is replaced and paintings, some of which have been created by Rutherford herself, are changed. But dimmed lights, scented candles, and fresh flowers are a constant. Everything on the 10-acre property, which last sold for $1.7 million in 2010, according to Zillow.com, is matched to a season's vibe and color scheme from the dishes they eat off to the beach towels they lie on. Rutherford loves the order and outcome of the coordination, but it also has her and the crew living on pins and needles especially when a particularly sloppy drunk is on the loose.
Watch an episode of Sean's season of "The Bachelor" to see the kelly green walls of the mansion:
"The art department is so afraid that someone is going to get food or wine on the furniture and it is going to leave a stain that won't come out like red wine. We are always on high alert, because we only have one of everything and can't just switch it out. So far we have avoided major catastrophe. We've had a few accidents but not any so bad that the perfect arrangement of pillows didn't fix it. But we are always watching, paranoid, because there is a first for everything."
"The Bachelor" airs Mondays at 8 PM on ABC.