Tagged: Midcentury Modern

The Mad Men Effect: A Preservation and Design Recap


If your Sunday evening was sadly bereft of the SC &P crew and your Monday has been spent pining for more mid-century mod eye candy and late 1960s  goodness, don’t fear! I have just what you’re jonesing for. Behold, a collection of blog posts and articles about Mad Men/1960s style and (of course!) historic preservation.  Here’s to the anticipation of Season 7 and crossed fingers that the  Mad Men Effect will continue to inspire a love for those mid-century buildings that so often get overlooked just because George Washington never slept in them.

1. Mad Men Creator Matthew Weiner on Why Don Draper Is a Preservationist – Preservation Nation

2. Is Mad Men Good for Preservation? – DOCOMOMO

3. Mad Men Inspires Appreciation for Architecture of the ‘Recent Past’ – Planetizen

4. Mad Men Locations in Los Angeles – Discover Los Angeles

5. Mad Men’s Village People – GVSHP

6. Montgomery’s Mad Men Modern Buildings – Are They Worth Protecting? – The Washington Post

7. Mad Men, Mad Buildings – Preservation Journey

8. Mad Men Motif Comes to Life in New Canaan, Conn. – Boston Globe

9. Touring Los Angeles’ Modern Skyline – Preservation Nation

10. Mad Men Style : The Best of the 1960s from House Beautiful – House Beautiful

11. Mid-Century Modern? Not Here – LA Times

12. American Style Through the Decades: The Sixties – Apartment Therapy

The Mad Men Effect


First season promo.

With season six wrapping up last Sunday, I’ve been reflecting on the effect Mad Men has had. Sometimes it seems like Mad Men single-handedly made mid-century styles popular again. Each week for six seasons, millions of viewers have tuned  in as much for the furniture, art, interior design, clothes, make up, and hair as for the storyline. In the years since it premiered, stores from Banana Republic to Manhattan Home Design rolled out Mad Men inspired collections. It’s undeniable that mod is back in a big way.

And it’s popularity has been a boon for preservation. Mid-century buildings are suddenly cool again. Preservation organizations have harnessed the power of pop culture by throwing Mad Men themed fundraising events and awareness campaigns. The series has become a touchstone around which to discuss preservation and preservation issues. Mad Men itself  even joined the conversation when it featured the demolition of Penn Station in Season 3, which was the birth of the modern preservation movement in the US.

Many television series have been set in the past, from westerns such as Gun Smoke to teen dramas/comedies like That 70s Show, The Wonder Years and Freaks and Geeks, but few have had the cultural impact of Mad Men. I think the secret* lies with show creator/runner Matthew Weiner’s notorious attention to detail.  His staff tirelessly works to make sure each peculiarity, from the size of a bouffant to the size of a pastry is accurate.  This translates into set design and wardrobe that is thoughtful, clever, nostalgic, sumptuous and beautiful.  It also feels authentic, never theatrical or costumey (unless the scene, of course, is meant to be those things).


The fictitious office of SCDP cum SC&P is located in the real Time Life Building for which Eames designed the executive chair used in this scene. Talk about attention to detail! Image via copycatchic.com

One key to authenticity is Mad Men’s use of a variety of sets and styles. With the exception, maybe, of the SCDP/SC&P offices and the Drapers’ apartment which were newly furnished, no scene design is comprised solely of pieces from one era. Nor is every set a “1960s” set. Take the Draper residence in Ossining, for example. It is based off of a 1910s colonial revival design and is filled with a hodgepodge of furniture. It’s easy to imagine that some of the pieces are family heirlooms or holdovers from Betty or Don’s singledom and that some of it is new. The Francis residence, a Victorian, is similarly decorated with a range of styles from early American to modern. If in each scene every stick of furniture and nicknack and chotsky  was produced in1968, it would feel fabricated and fake. That’s not how people live now and it isn’t how people lived then, either. So the mix and match approach of Mad Men’s set design feels real to us in the present and it makes it easy to see how mid-century pieces can work in contemporary spaces, too.

When possible, Mad Men also tries to utilize the built environment – it films on location in places that existed during the time period. Of course, the “authenticity” of using these places is questionable considering they are in LA locations masquerading as NYC places, but I think that charge (which has actually been leveled by some preservationists) is a little nitpicky. Showcasing existing historical locations, whether they be in LA or NYC makes a scene feel more real and is good for preservation. In fact,one shooting location,  La Villa Basque actually became the center of a preservation campaign.  Shortly after Mad Men filmed, “The Suitcase,” the restaurant planned to overhaul its historic interior. (Unfortunately, despite pressure from preservationists and the media attention generated by its link to Mad Men, the remodel was completed.)

Alas, only one more season of Mad Men remains. Even so, I’m left with a lot of hope.  I hope preservationists use this next year to their full advantage and ride the Mad Men train all the way to the station – educating and  inspiring and saving  places all along the way. I hope Mid-Century Modern styles remain popular and the discussion around buildings of the recent past continues. And I hope there is another period drama in the future that helps people to reexamine the buildings and places around them, that preservationists can hitch their wagons to, that makes preservation topical and interesting a cool.  (Are you listening Matthew Weiner!?) Here’s to the Mad Men Effect and here’s to season 7!


Image via IMDB

*I think another reason is pure chance. Mad Men came along at just the right time. Mid-Century Modern was already on an upswing (however small) and the series catapulted it to the forefront of design trends.

This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the newsClick on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.

Midcentury Furniture + Grandkid Nostalgia = Modern Trend – NPR


“NPR’s Andrea Hsu paid $75 for her midcentury modern table and chairs, shown here in a 1963 Drexel Declaration catalog. She quickly realized it was a steal.” Image via NPR

So I think we all know that Midcentury furniture and architecture is a huge trend these days. But why? Turns out people tend to like what their grandparents liked and reject what their parents like. It happened in the 60s with Art Deco, as well.  Additionally, there is a lot of Midcentury Mod to be had. “After World War II, home ownership surged. People who bought homes in the 1950s and ’60s would now be in their 70s and 80s. Many no longer want or need houses full of furniture.”

Done on a Dime: Creative Reuse Method Aims to Save Neighborhoods -Freshwater Cleveland

1171 Addison Ave

Image via Freshwater Cleveland

In Cleveland, a developer is renovating homes scheduled for demolition for a fraction of the cost of a typical rehab by using inexpensive local labor and materials bought at places like the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.  He prefers historic homes with balloon frames because “which are strong enough to withstand the removal of interior walls and ceilings. The net effect is that Scaravelli can fix up his houses more cheaply. ‘I don’t have to fix that wall because it’s not there,’ he quips, gesturing at the open space.”  By inexpensively and creatively rehabbing vacant buildings and then renting them at reasonably rates, he is helping to strengthen Cleveland neighborhoods that are in decline. After seeing his success, other developers see his methods as a new model.

30 Terrific Tools for Small Businesses – Forbes

Small businesses and historic spaces/historic Main Streets very often go hand-in-hand, therefore, their success or failure can have a profound effect on the historic built environment. Small business face a lot of challenges, but Forbes is here to help. Here is a list of 30 great tools to help small businesses succeed!

To Be Saved Anatok (an African American and Religious) Needs Help TODAY – The Kaintuckeean


Image via The Kaintuckeean

Anatok is the birthplace of  Daniel Rudd. Born into slavery, Rudd would go onto establish the American Catholic Tribune and found the National Black Catholic Congress. Anatok is currently in danger of demolition as neighboring Bethlehem High School seeks to expand. Time is running out. Today is the last day for preservationists (who hope to partner with the high school to adapt and reuse the mansion as an education space) to receive matching funds for donations. According to Preservation Kentucky,  “if preserved, this historic site would be the only site directly associated with the rise of Black Catholicism in Bardstown – known as the cradle of Catholicism in the early 19th century on the Western Frontier.”

Please contact Preservation Kentucky at director@preservationkentucky.org if you can help save this important piece of  Kentucky, Catholic, and African American history.

Crowd Funding Success: Silo City Rocks – Adventures in Heritage

silo city

Image via Silo City Rocks

“Crowd funding is getting a lot of buzz in the heritage world. But there are very few examples of instances where its worked. At a recent #builtheritage chat the only cited example was the creator of The Oatmeal, who raised funds to buy the lab  (a historic building) of Nikola Tesla to  create a museum. They raised over $1 million. However, there is another recent example I’d like to share. It was a crowd funding campaign through Indiegogo to raise funds to turn a grain silo in Buffalo into a rock climbing gym. The new centre will be called Silo City Rocks.”

This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the newsClick on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.

Elizabeth Ellsworth, Maven of Midcentury Modern – Preservation Nation


Image via Preservation Nation

“After retiring from a career as a marketing executive, Elizabeth Ellsworth began buying and restoring once-beautiful homes that had been tarnished by lack of maintenance or improper additions. In late 2012, she purchased the Island House. Built in 1954, it’s one of three residences designed by Bimel Kehm in New Canaan, Connecticut.”

 Mary Todd Lincoln, Sally Field and a House – HerKentucky

“Earlier this week, Sarah wrote an essay here on HerKentucky about the moment when, while reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, she first saw Lincoln as an empathetic and very human man rather than as a historically exalted leader. As I read Sarah’s piece, I immediately thought of all the press surrounding Ms. Field’s visits to Lexington. I did a little research about the Mary Todd Lincoln House and realized that, perhaps, Ms. Field was onto something. Maybe the home where Mrs. Lincoln spent her teen years is a key to her character. ”

Cold War Bunkers – NPR


WBT radio’s bomb shelter in Charlotte, N.C., part of a government-funded emergency communications network, as it looked in 1963. Image NPR

“There’s an underground bunker at a radio station in Charlotte, N.C., where time has stopped. Built decades ago to provide safety and vital communications in the event of a nuclear attack, it’s now a perfectly preserved relic of Cold War fear that’s gained new relevance”

Interview Felecia A Bell: African Americans and the Capitol Building and the African American Museum in DC– The Square

Bell discusses her work as the director of education programs for the U. S. Capitol Historical Society, the African American History Museum, her research into the use of enslaved and free black craftsmen to construct the United States Capitol and her testimony (along with others) that resulted in a bill to name the Capitol Visitor Center’s great hall, “Emancipation Hall.”

How Historic Preservation Can Reverse Population Loss in “Shrinking Cities” – Preservation Resource Center

This gem popped up on Facebook from a number of different preservationists this week.  “In her citiwire.net column from July 20, 2012, Roberta Brandes Gratz makes the case for the relevance of preservation to cities facing these all-too-common issues as she did in her comments at the Louisiana Landmarks Society Blight Forum last night. She cites Donovan Rypkema’s PlaceEconomics report, commissioned by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, that found ‘the least shrinkage occurs in places where preservation is made a priority over demolition.'”

I’m a Little Country Boy Eight Years Old – National Archives


FDR Ferguson, the original response, and his copy of the letter he wrote. Image via The National Archives

This is a wonderful example of the link between place and memory.  Seventy-six years  after FDR Ferguson wrote President Franklin D. Roosevelt (then in his third term in office) a letter, he could remember little of its contents.  His daughter, thinking she was on an impossible mission, contacted the Roosevelt archives and to her great surprise was able to obtain a copy of the letter her father wrote when he was just eight years old. (Hip hip hooray for archives and archivists!) Upon reading the letter he’d written so long ago, do you know what he remembered? He remembered his childhood home – writing on the the stone hearth. And when he saw the photograph of himself he’d included his missive to the president, he was most excited to see that the family’s cow barn was just barely visible in the background.