You are not alone. Some fans of the AMC dramatic series love the look almost as much as the plots that play out in the stunning settings. From its start in July 2007, "Mad Men" won attention for more than Jon Hamm's hotness and January Jones' coolness. Creator/producer Matthew Weiner's well-crafted drama about Don Draper and company instantly reminded some and introduced others to the striking mid-century style of clean lines and simple looks.
With a fourth season in production, "Mad Men" design is bigger than ever, stretching into the American heartland where it arguably always had some of its most fervent supporters. But after a new-century recession, can anybody afford to get a piece of that look? And can we do it without winding up with as much gray in our lives as Don Draper? Can color and mid-century style co-exist?
Sure they can.
And evidently these questions are being asked across the nation. In the Fargo Forum this month, Tammy Swift did a fantastic piece quoting locals about how they wish they could actually live in the series instead of just watching it. Sure, we sometimes accuse people in the Midwest of living precisely in the middle of the last century. This, though, is different. This is actually a case of the red and blue states agreeing on the appeal of a series known for its grays, blacks and browns. In the Forum, we meet Crystal Maus, a 28-ear old resident of West Fargo. She's not being nostalgic for traditions she knew firsthand. She's more like the New Yorkers I know, the ones who are fascinated with what they see as a retro-cool chic look.
That is exactly the kind of person who might approach Nick Olsen, a New York designer with a super-eclectic style and a growing design reputation. While Olson admits that nobody has come to him and demanded "Mad Men" design by name, he says he would not mind if that happened. "If they did," he says, "I would be totally game for it."
He appreciates the impact of the show on design culture. Olsen describes himself as a fan of the drama, quickly mentioning the squared-off look favored by Edward Wormley in those understated but overwhelming sofas. "I do think it's the most stylish show on TV," Olsen says. "It's so crisp, but it's also colorful. It's not grayed out or browned out in any way. There's major punch in there."
That's the key: Give a little colorful assistance to the low-key backgrounds that are such a mainstay to the "Mad Men" scenes, both in the Madison Avenue office of Sterling Cooper and in the Draper home. Olsen likes how the design team seems, when using color, to "go three steps back on the color wheel" and amp things up a bit. So there's not tons of color on the show, but when it's there, the shades have a real impact.
When he's helping his clients, Olsen sometimes starts by asking about their favorite colors. Even that simple question can help customers to visualize how they could spruce things up. For those eager to replicate the "Mad Men" look in their homes, Olsen points to Room & Board for sofas and suggests browsing at CB2, where "everything is kind of low and angular with a lot of white lacquer." For high-end shoppers, he champions Wyeth on Spring Street in Manhattan. And West Elm would be a good outlet for a modern take on the low-slung coffee table.
But to recreate that complete Draper lifestyle once they get home, shoppers will have to supply their own anguish, resentment and passive-aggression. Even great design takes us only so far.