Mad Men is the perfect series. The script is brilliant. The lines are gold. The actors are outstanding. And the production design is so good it can’t be described without sounding too excited. Well, what can I say when we are on Season 7 and we have been fainting over every dress showcased in each and every episode? Janie Bryant, costume designer of the show, is a genius. Period. But today I wanted to dedicate an article to the interior design and set decorations of the TV phenomena.
Dan Bishop (production designer), and Claudette Didul (set decorator since Season 4) are the two main creative forces behind Mad Men‘s visual treasures. Along with Matthew Weiner, creator of the show, who is known for his rigorous loyalty to history. Every detail needs to be checked in order to verify that it could have been used in the date in which the action is taking place. There is a story that reflects Weiner’s obsession: apparently, he once made his set decorator swap out a bowl of apples because they looked too large to be from the sixties. The choice of objects and furniture used in the sets is extensively researched. Bishop says he achieves realism by avoiding cliché: “staying away from the iconographic examples of mid-century modern furnishings. For example, we try to avoid Barcelona chairs and whatever is in every mid-century modern magazine today. We use more obscure examples, not necessarily by famous designers.” (via).
The colors and shapes evolve with the story. The brown and dark tones used in the first episodes slowly showed an evolution towards brighter shades, primary colors, happier images. This was more evidently perceived in Season 5, where Don was much more optimistic.
The sets are full of iconic design pieces, such as the Eames Walnut Table (the one in the conference room), the Noguchi table, the Eames executive chair (the one that Don uses)… The famous modern furniture stores Herman Miller and Knoll are two of the most important collaborators in the show, and they provide many of the furniture you see in the scenes, such as the Eames chairs and sofas. Some of the sofas are from Knoll. The built-in televisions come from Harry Poster, a vintage seller specialized in TV sets. And I know you’re curious: the beverage carts are from Well Appointed House. Other pieces are found at outlets such as Sherman Oaks. Many of the vintage items are actually found at Etsy, like the Cathrineholm Lotus bowls.
And I haven’t even talked about the hotels decorations, such as The Carlyle, The Plaza, the Waldorf Astoria, all done by Claudette Didul. Here you can find an excellent article on this subject.
Don and Megan’s apartment in New York Claudette Didul designed the interiors of this beautiful apartment in Manhattan where Don and Megan begin their happy marriage. Show creator Matt Weiner requested a sunken living room, “like a conversation pit” (via). The inspiration for the decoration was drawn from the original interiors that Betty Pepis designed in the sixties. Lots of orange is used here. If you want to check the references, here you have Didul’s inspiration list: a book called Decoration U.S.A. by Jose Wilson and Arthur Leaman, a New York Times decorating book from 1965, and lots of House Beautiful and House and Garden magazines (via). The fridge is an original 1964 General Motors Frigidaire, a very rare edition.
Roger Sterling’s office This is one of my favourite sets. The decorators said they had a difficult time imagining what it would look like, because the only reference they had in the script was a line that noted: “It looks like an Italian hospital in here”. How does an Italian hospital look like? They had to use their imagination. The result involved lots of white, abstract paintings, mod feeling, and some touches of black. The furniture is composed by Poul Volther’s Corona chair, Saarinen table and stools, and an Eames for Herman Miller sofa, all 1960s-era classics. The oval desk is the marble-topped Saarinen Tulip table, complete with a Nesso table lamp from Artemide (via). He also has a Time-Life executive chair, named after the building it was created for in 1960 (via). The paintings were created by the Mad Men art department in style of Bridget Riley, an artist famous for her geometric abstract works that played a key part in the Op Art movement. Her work as often criticized of as “impersonal” and unrelated to the real world. I think it is a very neat description of Roger’s personality.
Don and Betty’s house The house where Don and Betty lived is inspired by the Colonial Revival homes, in an Americana, Federal style. You could say that some of this furniture is outdated, but as Bishop points out, people didn’t redecorate their houses every year, so they had furniture that could date from a decade ago. That’s the reason we can identify 50’s pieces in the houses.
Other interiorsSally’s psychiatrist’s office
Pete’s apartment in Manhattan. It reflects the collapse of his life.