Carin Baer/AMC photos
While smoking, drinking (at work) and womanizing (often during work hours), Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm), the lead character of AMC's hit series Mad Men , lives a
bifurcated life that both inspires envy and shock (the women's movement is just around the corner, Don!). We like his devil-may-care attitude though, and the sleek lines of Mad Men 's period sets. Its midcentury ambiance and the characters' style are percolating through the culture at large right now as baby boomers rediscover the trappings of a childhood they thought they'd left far behind.
Desiring Don Draper
In Los Angeles, where the series is shot, the production designer, Dan Bishop, conceives the vision, and the set decorator, Amy Wells, has to make it come alive. In other words, according to Wells, "Dan and I work together very closely. He has his pencil, but I have to find all of the stuff. It's a constant scavenger hunt."
Richmond had a big influence on Wells. In 1991, she re-created 1963 (also the year in which Mad Men is set this season) for Love Field , starring Michelle Pfeiffer and shot in Richmond, about a woman obsessed with Jackie Kennedy.
While working on that film, Wells says, "there was so much stuff … back then — in the thrift stores and vintage stores. It was the best stuff, and you could find it everywhere — things for 10 dollars. I dream about some of those stores!" We asked her a few questions about what it was like to put together the world of Mad Men:
Where do you find the things you need to reproduce the early '60s? I don't shop as far and wide as I used to — I used to go as far as Palm Springs, [Calif.]. I have a circuit [in L.A.] I go on. Fortunately, most of the stuff I've needed is found. My references have always been the same: old Sears catalogs, old Montgomery Ward catalogs, Better Homes and Gardens magazines 10 years before and 10 years after [the period], Life, design books, anything I can get my hands on. Did you expect the kind of reaction everyone has had to the series and its design? No! The reaction to the show is over the top. You see, this is stuff we've all lived with. I really think the timing of the show was perfect — people were ready for this kind of show and its nostalgia. A lot of it, I think, is because [the look] is different. I don't try to give some idealized version of 1963. If there's a mess, then there's a mess. The carpet can be dirty. If there's something from the '20s in the corner, that's fine. That's the way people live. They don't have a perfect Danish Modern living room. Why should the sets be like that? The lack of perfection and the reality of the look hooks people into the show, I think. Other than that, I don't have an answer! If someone wanted to give their own home that '60s feel, what kind of colors would you recommend? Oh — those blues and turquoises are my favorite. Add a little orange and it looks great together. My favorite set is Pete Campbell's apartment. I like it the best; I just feel good when I'm there, and I especially love his dishes. What's it like working with the crew? I have the best job in television — it's really the most interesting [one] I could have found. But I also work with an amazing group of people, or this job would just be too hard. They're all perfectionists. Everybody on the set just rolls up their sleeves and gets to work. There's no attitude at all. Is Jon Hamm really that good looking in real life? Jon Hamm is one of the nicest guys you could meet. Really. Humble, sweet. And yes, he is very good looking.