Now that another season of “Mad Men” is taking us back to the 1960s, lovers of midcentury modern style are eyeing the sets for inspiration.
Luckily, the popularity of both the AMC show and the design style makes it easy to find furniture that sets the stage.
The retro decor complements many of today’s furnishings, something to remember when you’re trying to capture that ’60s vibe, says Anthony Larosa, former furniture design department chair at Savannah College of Art and Design. He cautions against going all-out on the vintage look, even if you love it.
“People would have had a mix of furniture in their homes,” he said. “We get attached to things; we take them with us when we move and redecorate.”
If you’re keen to incorporate vintage, reproduction or newly reissued pieces from the “Mad Men” era, he suggests starting by looking at books and magazines from the period to see what real interiors looked like.
That’s the approach the show’s set production team took.
“Mad Men’s” set decorator, Claudette Didul, says she and production designer Dan Bishop are especially proud of the Manhattan apartment they created for newlywed characters Don Draper, an ad agency exec, and his former secretary, Megan Calvet.
The split-level, open-plan living room was initially envisioned by show creator Matthew Weiner, but it was up to the production team to make the space cool, livable and able to accommodate shoot requirements.
Crate &Barrel’s Bel-Air collection of coffee and side tables features walnut-stained tops on svelte, cast-aluminum tripod bases (side $399, coffee $549). Vintage Danish modern pieces are hard to find and often pricey, but the Calista teak sideboard, with its honey hue and lean profile, has the look at a reasonable price ($1,499).
Florence Knoll’s Lounge series of geometric chairs and sofas are classics. While the real thing will set you back $4,000 or more, you can find a similar one at Rove Concepts for $549. Niels Bendtsen’s airy, glass-topped, floating-drawer homework desk often sells for about $2,000, but Rove, a Vancouver, B.C.-based retailer, offers it for $899. There’s a wide variety of “inspired by” pieces here.
Herman Miller commissioned furniture designer Mark Goetz to design a sofa that would complement the work of early modern icons like Isamu Noguchi, George Nelson, and Charles and Ray Eames. The result is a tailored yet comfortable leather seat wrapped in a clean curve of molded plywood veneer (www.allmodern.com, $3,949).
“What makes the best midcentury pieces is that they not only appeal to our personal sense of style; they have a degree of visual and functional truth that makes people want to live with them,” Goetz said.
In period TV shows, light fixtures are essential in delivering the right look. On “Mad Men,” they’re practically characters in themselves. Tall, slender wood, colorful opaque glass, gleaming metal, every set’s personality is punctuated by one or two statement lamps.
Didul says the production team favored vintage lampshades despite their fragility. “The slubbed silk on them is just beautiful, and the light through them is really unique,” she said.
Hers came from Los Angeles-area prop shops and vintage stores.
You can find similar versions, such as Lamp Works’ walnut Tulip table and floor lamps (from $224.89 to $427.39 at www.wayfair.com), and www.shadesoflight.com’s long-necked turquoise or orange ceramic table lamps ($129 each).
Babette Holland’s new capsule-shaped Gemini and Apollo lamp designs reference the ’60s space missions. She’s done some of the bases in solid hues, others in her signature stripes, but the palette is true to the era — cranberry, gold, olive, sapphire ($450 each at www.ylighting.com.)
“We’ve been told that the colors remind people of those 1950s tumblers, so they immediately love them,” she said, talking about the aluminum drinkware found in many homes at the time. “So much of the design of that period is timeless. We did our best to tap into that and bring it forward.”
The offices of “Mad Man’s” advertising agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Price, are filled with cool furniture that would work at home, in living and work spaces alike.
One of the show’s most popular sets is the black, white and chrome sanctum of silver-haired company partner Roger Sterling. Didul says the brief from Weiner was “‘Italian hospital,’ and there’s actually a scene where copywriter Freddy Rumsen calls it that.”
Larosa says secondhand stores are a particularly good source for midcentury office furniture.
“Companies that sell used office furniture often have the best prices for vintage stuff,” Larosa said.