Though the residents of Twin Peaks are plenty interesting, the unsung heroes of the show’s original run are the props and set decorations. It may take a few viewings for the details of the background to come to the front as an eye-patched 35-year-old cheerleader, a cape-clad psychedelic shrink, and a rock-throwing FBI savant all vie for our attention. However, I’d argue that the carefully curated sets give fans as much to chew on as the brilliantly written characters. Motifs form and tell a second story just below the surface, providing depth to the Twin Peaks universe that warrants another thirty years of conversation and questions. Burning questions like “which member of the Johnson household has a special fondness for small dogs?” Well, don’t lose any more sleep over this, because I’m going to get to the bottom of it.
The home of Shelly and Leo Johnson is chock full of kitsch. There are knickknacks on every surface in the house. The only wall without any mounted vintage décor is the one comprised of a few beams and a plastic tarp. A general retro theme is obvious at first glance, but a closer look at the details reveals a surprisingly consistent dog theme.
Vari-Vue Poodle Print
The first such piece to make an appearance is a photo of a poodle with a basket of flowers displayed on the kitchen wall next to the phone. Steven Miller of TwinPeaksBlog.com identified this as a Vari-Vue lenticular image. These prints, which create the illusion of movement as they are viewed from different angles, were most popular in the 1960s and would have fallen out of style by the time Shelly and Leo had a place to decorate. Was this inherited from an older family member? Did it come with the house? My guess is neither.
Breyer Molding Company Poodle Figure
It soon becomes clear that the print is not a fluke as we see a second poodle in the kitchen, this time on the counter. A bit more subtle, the mid-century figure of a black dog with a red collar was produced by Breyer Molding Company. Unlike the Vari-Vue print, this loose poodle is not mounted to anything and is therefore more likely to have been placed by the Johnsons than leftover from a previous tenant. After two poodles, it’d be difficult to write this off as a coincidence. So that settles it. The dogs are deliberate. But we still don’t know whether it’s Shelly or Leo who is keen on pups. Perhaps it’s a common interest they bonded over during their courtship.
Lane & Company Dachshund Platter
There is one more set piece that might answer our question: the large ceramic platter mounted above the stove. Produced by Lane & Company in 1958, the sectioned tray features anthropomorphic hotdogs surrounding a long dachshund down the center. This breaks with the poodle motif slightly and broadens the scope of the household’s interest to small dogs of any breed.
But here’s where it gets interesting. This platter is only present in Season 1. Hank Jennings shoots Leo in the season finale and he is comatose when the show returns. A few episodes into Season 2, Bobby Briggs wheels Leo through the kitchen and the platter is gone. Leo couldn’t have taken it down, and Bobby quickly shows that he’s uninterested in helping Shelly around the house. Did Shelly take advantage of Leo’s vegetative state as an opportunity to redecorate? Knowing what we do about the abusive dynamic of their relationship, I find it unlikely that Leo allowed Shelly much freedom to express herself. The dachshund platter curiously disappears as soon as Leo is unable to object to its removal. The obvious conclusion is that Leo Johnson, despite being a hardened criminal with a proclivity for violence, has a soft spot for dogs.
Of course it’s a stretch to say that canonically Leo loves puppies. The Johnsons don’t even have a dog. And let’s not forget that Leo assassinated a myna bird without hesitation. He’s probably not an animal lover. But motifs like the dogs in the Johnson house are a testament to how thorough the show’s art department was. Twin Peaks’ set decorations don’t just fill space. They flesh out the world that David Lynch and Mark Frost created in their revolutionary pilot episode. The props and sets establish context and depth for the characters as if they exist beyond what we see onscreen. Fans have had no trouble living in the series for thirty plus years because Twin Peaks is so thoroughly furnished.