Jonathan Bennett in 'The Holiday Sitter' for the Hallmark Channel

How Does Hallmark Create Its Christmas Magic? We Asked Production Designer Jordan Ninkovich [Interview]

In my house, the holiday season hasn't begun until we're sipping on hot cocoa and watching a cynical big-city CEO fall head over snow boots for a cheery small-town baker. Or a single mom who's been too busy for love getting stuck spending the holidays with a handsome stranger—you know, typical Hallmark Christmas movie gold.

But it's not just the cozy familiarity of a predictable plot that makes these movies a non-negotiable tradition. It's the way Hallmark captures that nostalgic feeling of Christmas, complete with snow-covered villages, twinkling lights, and tinsel-draped trees. Nothing gets you in the spirit quite like being transported into a holiday snow globe for an hour and a half.

To find out how Hallmark creates its signature Christmas magic, we caught up with Jordan Ninkovich, the production designer behind many of the network's beloved holiday movies, including the two most anticipated releases this season: The Holiday Sitter and Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas.

Here's what he had to say about his role in creating these "once upon a holiday" worlds.

How Are Christmas Movie Sets Designed? What Is Your Process Like?

Sketch of Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas for the Hallmark Channel


Despite what we'd all like to believe, the magical, snow-dusted towns and cozy homes we see in Hallmark movies are not plucked from real life. Everything is designed and built from the ground up—often within weeks. To be able to create a world from scratch, Ninkovich has to immerse himself in the story and its characters.

"I start off by reading the script multiple times to get a feel for it," he said, adding that he makes notes of all the different locations and visual aspects that need to be captured. "Then, I start isolating each character and rereading the script while visualizing myself playing the character.

"How do I act? How do I react? How do I feel with those words? That will transcend into the space and how the design is laid out."

This intricate attention to detail is due in part to Ninkovich's experience as an actor. He's played roles in Hallmark classics like A Joyous Christmas, Road to Christmas, and The Christmas Calendar. "Understanding the movement of an actor, the crew, the camera, and so forth really gives me an upper hand in being able to perfect a space. It's become a unique little asset that I bring to the table."

Where Do You Draw Inspiration From?

Jonathan Bennett in 'The Holiday Sitter' for the Hallmark Channel


All of this visualizing aesthetics and planning out color palettes happens before Ninkovich ever sees the actual location. Once a set is chosen, he spends as much time there as he can to really get to know the space and integrate its unique features into his designs.

"I'm big into meditation. So if we're turning a local coffee shop into a small-town Christmas bakery, you'll find me there for hours. I'll feel it, speak to it and just get a vibe from it to see what's naturally there already and what will complement it."

Sometimes, the spaces are so beautiful that inspiration just flows—and sometimes, he needs a Christmas miracle. According to Ninkovich, Sam's condo in The Holiday Sitter (Hallmark's first LGBTQ+ movie starring Johnathan Bennett) "should have been condemned." But through blood, sweat, and many sleepless nights, he was able to transform it from a "spider- and rat-infested" site to a "$20 million dollar New York condo."

"It was a beautiful challenge," Ninkovich said. "The contrast before and after was so significant. Like this space should have been condemned, and all of a sudden, it looked like an expensive apartment.

"I remember Jonathan [Bennett] screamed and ran across the set to give me a big hug. We live for those reactions."

How Are Your Upcoming Movies Different From The Traditional Hallmark Style?

Sketch of Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas for the Hallmark Channel


Though much of Hallmark's charm lies in its classic, nostalgic look and feel, the network continues to push boundaries with a more modern twist. Ninkovich believes that the current productions are reflective of this new approach—and the unique flair he brings to his sets.

While The Holiday Sitter and Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas will still possess the same holiday magic we're accustomed to, Ninkovich says you might notice less of the traditional color palettes and designs.

"As a designer, you always want to do something different," he said. "[The Holiday Sitter] was nice because not the whole movie was Christmas. It has the Christmas elements, but I got to really dive deep into beautiful nontraditional, non-Christmas palettes. It almost has an art deco, art nouveau type of vibe.

"There are a lot of deep blues, gold, and some silvers. Not the tones of what you'd see at Christmas."

The set for Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas also deviates from the traditional Hallmark look. Since it's very music-based (which isn't surprising, seeing as how Blake Shelton is the executive producer), Ninkovich wanted the set to channel the same energy and flow as the soundtrack.

"I wanted the set to sing as if you were to capture notes of a chord and allow it to flow through the colors," he said. Bringing to life not just the visual aspect of the movie but the other four senses is something Ninkovich believes adds to the overall experience. And so he raised the bar when designing a Hallmark staple that both films feature: the Christmas market.

Rather than set up a fake marketplace, Ninkovich created a real one. He brought in 16 actual Christmas vendors from the local area to the set and treated the cast and crew to a real, unique small-town market experience—which is no easy feat when it's in the dead of summer.

"I wanted to make it so when the cast and crew show up, they have to actually stop and ask themselves, 'What time of year is it?' That only happens when you get the noises, the sound,  the smells, and the textures. It elevated the atmosphere to such a new level."

What Makes Hallmark Movies So Magical?

Holland Roden and Tyler Hynes in Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas


At the end of the day, Ninkovich believes that Hallmark movies provide something unique and special to audiences—something he works to bring to life in his sets.

"I love Hallmark movies and what they bring to the table. There's just a uniqueness to it and a feel-good, loving, caring type of environment that we bring to life. It's just fun. Everybody needs it."

If you want to experience this new kind of Christmas magic, tune into Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas, which premieres on Friday, December 9th, 8/7c, and The Holiday Sitter, on Sunday, December 11th, 8/7c.

READ MORE: Fans Can't Stop Watching Hallmark's Christmas Take on 'Three Men and a Baby'