Published March 21, 2012
Mad Men returns this week, and if you’re a fan of the hit show, you may have wondered how you can emulate some of those incredible ’60s styles and fashions at home. After all, while the carousing, drinking and comically bad parenting gives the show its nostalgic appeal, it’s the close attention to mid-century design that helps bring Mad Men to life.
In the 1960s, design was heading in bold new directions, embracing bright colors and a bold, minimalist aesthetic. But a big part of what made 1960s design so interesting was that it straddled two eras: a time when men still wore ties and hats, but women were starting to wear miniskirts. It had both class and sex appeal, restraint and vibrancy.
If you’d like to emulate some of these styles at home, we’ll show you where to find period-perfect furniture, and some low-cost alternatives for those looking to redesign on a budget.
The Eames Chair
Two of the most towering figures in post-war design, the husband and wife duo of Charles and Ray Eames pioneered a bold new aesthetic that used mass-production techniques developed during the war, as well as materials like plastic, plywood and fiberglass, which were still fairly uncommon. These weren’t meant to be twee, hand-crafted showpieces, but products for everyday use in the everyday world, and a large part of the Eames’ genius lay in their ability to create bold, sexy new designs that could still be mass produced on a massive scale.
But relying on plastic wasn’t just a convenience of mass-production. It also allowed for strange shapes and bright colors, a stark departure from the austere look of the traditional wooden bankers chair that had long dominated the office setting. One of their most iconic works, the Eames Molded Chair, was said to look “like a potato chip,” and was sure to draw stares when it first debuted in 1948. But the fact that it was affordable, stackable, durable and comfortable made it a winner. A few of these clustered around the kitchen table and you’ll have domestic setting fit for the Drapers.
In the living room, Charles and Ray continued to revolutionize the way we recline with their Lounger, which the couple developed for film director Billy Wilder. With the lounger, the Eames were looking to capture the comfort of an English club chair, but with a modern flair, eventually creating a style that resembled a “well-used first baseman’s mitt.” It’s a chair built for kicking back after a long day of work, cut crystal tumbler of scotch in hand and a record on the hi-fi.
Knoll’s Saarinen Table
Many of the styles favored by designers in the 1960s — clean lines and spartan styles — would fit right in with the Mac-obsessed esthetic of the present. Take Knoll’s Saarinen table, with its sleek curves and milk-white minimalism, it looks like something you’d pick up at the Apple Store, but actually serves as Roger Sterling’s desk on the show.
Pair the table with the company’s Tulip Chairs and you’ll have the austere, space-age aesthetic that came from a time when we still got excited about ascending into the heavens, but wouldn’t look out of place in today’s technology-saturated age.
Herman Miller Couch
Herman Miller’s Mr. Nilsson Sofa is a throwback, an homage to many of the company’s great mid-century designs, and is intended to conjure up the swagger of the Rolling Stones and willowy sex appeal of Twiggy. Sitting low to the ground and featuring bold, clean lines, the Mr. Nilsson Sofa is the perfect place to take a scotch-induced mid-afternoon nap.
Doing it On the Cheap
While Herman Miller, Knoll and Vitra still crank out their classic designs, these cherished styles now command a premium, and unless your willing to part with several thousand dollars for a piece of Mad Men-era furniture, you’re going to have to put your Don Draper dreams on hold.
Fortunately there are a number of places to get these styles for a fraction of the cost. While an Eames Lounger will set you back around $5,000, you can get an Eames-inspired chair for a tenth of the price from Ikea. Herman Miller’s Mr. Nilsson Sofa is probably out of the reach of most, but for less than $500 you can get mid-century style couch from Urban Outfitters. And Knoll’s kitchen table can cost thousands, but fortunately you can get a knockoff from Walmart for less than $1,000.
Finally, a 1960s paint job will give your home that final touch of authenticity. Sherwin-Williams has the lowdown on the favored color schemes of the day, so for the cost of a few buckets of paint and a few pieces of furniture, you can recreate one of these swinging, stylish homes.