We’re not sure when the AMC television series Mad Men, which chronicles the exploits of Madison Avenue advertising executives and their families in the early ’60s, became this year’s “it” TV show. Was it when it showed up on a June cover of The New York Times Magazine? Or when it won the Best Drama Emmy in September? Whenever it happened, one thing is for sure: It’s not just the complex characters, brilliant scripts and palpable drama that turn casual viewers into Mad Men addicts. It’s also the oh-my-gosh-I-want-it furniture and accessories we see each week—covetably stylish designs that reflect the aesthetic of the period: the years during which the country transitioned from the repression and conformity of the Cold War era into the about-to-bust political and social turmoil of the 1960s.
“I don’t think people can separate what they’re seeing in a dramatic sense from what they’re looking at in a design sense,” says Dan Bishop, the show’s production designer. “And the timing is right because the midcentury-modern idea of architecture and decor has experienced a revival.”
The pieces that anchor the show’s eye-candy sets are the genius of set decorator Amy Wells, who scavenges furniture, wallpaper, ashtrays and other trimmings that create the atmosphere in each scene. “Part of what appeals to people [about the Mad Men look] is the clean lines,” Wells says. “It’s a warm modern, not a stark modern—not white plastic and chrome.”
For authentic, period-specific inspiration, Wells leafs through ’50s and ’60s home-decor books and design magazines, which she finds at thrift shops. She can appreciate the connection viewers have with the old-fashioned designs because she’s smitten herself. “The simplicity of the sofas and a lot of the pieces is very appealing,” Wells says. “You have this beauty and warmth—and really high quality.”
To bring the aesthetic into your apartment, furniture stores such as Crate & Barrel, Design Within Reach and Restoration Hardware are great hunting spots, Wells says. But she prefers—and enthusiastically recommends—weekly scouting trips to eBay, vintage stores and estate sales for original furniture from the period. Thrifty design gurus are obsessed with the midcentury furniture at Jubilee Furniture in Carol Stream, about 45 minutes west of the Loop.
“It’s a very green show,” Wells boasts. “We hardly ever buy new stuff. There’s something so rewarding about being able to go out and find an old chair that’s been abused and return it to its original, beautiful, simple form.”
THE DRAPER’S KITCHEN
Refrigerator The Northstar 1950s line of fridges (1) is awesomely retro-chic ($1,995 and up, elmirastoveworks.com).
Cabinets Paired with vintage appliances, the old-school pine cabinets (above) feel just right in the Draper kitchen. IKEA makes built-in cabinetry in a similar finish called Birch Effect.
Wallpaper The plaid wallpaper in the Draper kitchen stops just short of kitschy-’60s. Waverly makes similar prints, including this La Cucina Plaid (2) in sage ($67.99 per roll, online only at target.com).
THE DRAPER’S LIVING ROOM
Pillows “The ’60s were a transitional period in choices of colors and fabrics—primary colors started coming back,” Bishop says. “[For season two,] we decided the living room could use more punch and essentially gave it a red-white-blue palate, but not in primary shades.” These understated Silk Dupioni cushions (3) deliver the same effect ($15, West Elm).
Vase Create a commanding focal point in a common area with a floor vase, like this Spode Blue Italian Hexagonal Vase (4) we spotted at Macy’s—the perky blue-and-white pattern keeps the vibe lighthearted ($72).
Credenza If your living room is a wee bit smaller than Betty and Don’s, this warm, wooden Acacia Mini Bar (5) from CB2 will be just your speed ($399).
THE DRAPER’S BEDROOM
Headboard “I didn’t buy this,” Wells says. “I had it made.” Here’s how: Draw a sketch of the shape you want and recruit a carpenter to cut it out of plywood (available at any building-supply store). Next, choose a fabric (Wells fell in love with a vintage turquoise velvet) and take it to a fabric upholsterer, who can put the whole thing together. Not a DIYer? The Velvet Tufted Headboard (6) at Urban Outfitters is a dead ringer (online only at urbanoutfitters.com, $280–$300).
STERLING COOPER OFFICES
Bar set You may not sip bourbon at work like Don Draper and the guys at Sterling Cooper, but you can liquor up at home with faux-fancy glasses and an ice bucket, like the Trevi set (7) we found at Target ($19.99).
Sofa The Petrie Apartment Sofa at Crate and Barrel (8) features mod clean lines ($1,459).
Floor lamp This Noguchi Stretched Pod version (9) captures the space-shippy feel of the lamps at Sterling Cooper ($395, Room & Board).