One of my favorite TV shows, Mad Men, wrapped up its sixth season this past Sunday. I’ve written about Mad Men’s iconic mid-century design in the past, and the show’s sets continue to fascinate me. I enjoy noticing all of the little telling details on the sets: details that have as much to say about what’s going on in the world as they do about what’s going on in the lives of the characters. Season six happens in 1968, which means we are fully in the throes of the hippie revolution, side burns and plaid polyester galore. It’s post-Summer of Love but it’s also a tumultuous year of war, political assassinations and social upheaval. The sets are darker, messier, and more chaotic this year. Clean mid-century design has begun to yield to groovy patterns and shag rugs, and the color palettes have morphed from refined neutrals to some flower power brights.
One of the biggest changes we see in the office design is the addition of a staircase the firm put in when they expanded upstairs. The staircase figures prominently in the scenes literally and metaphorically, as characters like Joan and Bob Benson make their way up the corporate ladder while others fall from grace. Pete, whose marriage is falling apart and struggles to care for his senile mother, literally takes a tumble down the stairs at one point. (And his mother takes a tumble off a cruise ship. Allegedly.) Much like the show’s opening sequence of the falling man, Don has been on a downward spiral all season. (Spoiler alert) In the closing minutes of the season he’s laid off/put on forced leave from the company and must exit down the stairs.
On the homefront, there are changes in the characters’ domestic lives that are reflected in their living spaces. The shiny newness of Don and Megan’s apartment had begun to wear off, much like their marriage. So many of the scenes shown there were at night, or on the precipitous balcony (again, read danger: falling), or in the back hall of the apartment building where Don lurks while trying to hook up with his neighbor’s wife.
In his separation from Trudy, Pete’s is living in a sad little pied-a-terre that couldn’t be more dismal.
Peggy and Abe buy a fixer upper on the upper west side. Ultimately they are unable to fix either the apartment or their relationship.
I’m sad to see another season of Mad Men wrap up, so soon and hope they don’t make us wait too long for season seven. As we inch closer to the 1970’s it will be fascinating to see the sets continue to evolve with the times, and with the characters of Mad Men.
Tamara Leicester is a licensed interior designer and owner of Tamara Heather Interior Design, LLC. She designs casually elegant interiors with an artistic sensibility, often drawing upon the talent of local artists and craftspeople in her work. Dreaming about updating your space? Learn more at tamaraheatherinteriors.com.