80Network She I Autumn/Winter 2012Personal success we're told can make you feel ten feet tall, yet success to Venita Gribble is to feel no taller than a matchstick.That's because double BAFTA winning TV set designer Venita Gribble knows she's got it right when she walks on to a completed set and feels like she's been shrunk, and dropped into the tiny scale models she makes to plan the space."It's really weird, when I actually stand on a finished stage surrounded by what I've designed, it feels like I've come out of myself and been slotted into the 1:50 model, or standing in a set within my own imagination," says the designer from Cardiff.This ability to so clearly visualise her designs is what drives Venita in every project she takes on; be it a period drama like Carrie's War, a modern drama like Wire in the Blood, or children's series like Tracey Beaker.But this year Venita stepped outside the world of film and television when she was approached by National Trust Wales to channel her creative energy into their newest attraction; Tredegar House outside Newport.The time TRAVELLERAlun Prichard finds out how TV set designer Venita Gribble worked her creative magic to bring the past to life in restoring a 17th century manor houseVenita Gribble
www.networkshe.com81breakfast room all had to be made from scratch following historical references, so we had to make things like salt dough pies.But sometimes things don't always turn out like you hope. I researched period wedding cakes and I must admit I was really disappointed because they pretty much look like a huge flat pastie.Beyond the need to make the rooms at Tredegar House true to its history the National Trust wanted Venita to make the experience of visiting the attraction an interactive one, to bring it and its past to life.Venita says: "I love history and if there's one thing I'd love to be able to do it would be to travel back in time and experience spaces When I design a set for television it need only live for the length of the filming, when it is only ever used by a handful of actors and crew, but everything I designed for Tredegar House needed longevity. My brief from the Trust was that they wanted visitors to be able to walk through the rooms, pick up and touch things, be part of things, so everything had to be robust, but still retain that wow factor."The key to making her designs work is to find the right materials, props and artisans capable of recreating something from her imagination."You can't just send out for certain props, and they come back just as you wanted, she explains, "the food for the wedding The Grade 1, 17th century former mansion home of the flamboyant Morgan family had been previously converted into a school, then an occasional attraction by the local council, and had lost much of its original furnishings but none of its grandeur."I remember walking out of my first meeting with the National Trust at Tredegar House and thinking, 'oh my God what a fantastic project'," she recalls."And it was like a surge of adrenalin and creative thought all at once - just immense excitement and extreme terror encapsulated in the same moment. I suppose that's what makes you feel alive.I love history and if there's one thing I'd love to be able to do it would be to travel back in time and experience spaces as they were"So I went off and had a mad week of exhilaration and trauma, which is the only way I can explain it. Trauma spurs you on to do the research, then you find out something exciting, exhilarating, that draws you in, then you think that might be too risky, so the trauma starts all over again - it's a real rollercoaster ride."Six days of intense research and creativity was enough for Venita to find the outline plan, that convinced the charity that she was the right person to make the restoration house a magical place to visit. But that was only the beginning of Venita's challenge."On one hand you can say this job was a bit like doing a period drama without cameras and lights to consider," she says."But on television you can do things, use a trick of the eye; a bit of black drape, a bit of smoke, lighting, and a quick move of the hand and people can assume things. Obviously with Tredegar House I couldn't trick the eye I had to make the spaces look like true 17th century rooms.