There’s nothing like an award-winning TV show to start a new trend. While Sex in the City influenced the wardrobes of countless women and Stranger Things propelled our musical tastes back to the 1980s, it was a certain American drama that immortalised one particular office look.
Step forward Mad Men, where the most famous scenes took place against a super stylish, mid-century backdrop. The nostalgic, highly evocative Mad Men office was crammed full of design classics that still hit the right notes today. Even if you’re not in a creative industry, it’s still possible to recreate the Don Draper office where you work. As shop fitters and office refurbishment specialists, MPL gives a brief history of 1960s office chic, flags up the designers you should look out for and explains how to recreate the Don Draper look in the 21st century.
Who Is Don Draper?
Mad Men – an American TV drama - was launched back in 2005, with Don Draper the main character. Don was a creative director at the Sterling Cooper advertising agency in New York, and the series documented Don’s professional and personal life. Much of the drama took place in the famous Don Draper office, allowing the audience to soak up the nostalgia-filled set.
What Made Don Draper’s Office Design So Iconic?
The Don Draper office became an instant icon for its moody, design-driven interior. The 1960s, mid-century style was totally at odds with office design at the time of screening, taking viewers back to an era when professionals sparked up a cigarette and knocked back whisky while at work. Instead of mass-produced melamine furniture and banks of computer monitors, the Don Draper Mad Men office brimmed with statement furniture and objet d’art, creating a cross between a design museum and a decant residential dwelling.
7 Tips for creating a Mad Men office design
A Mad Men office interior design is something MPL can create for clients. You may like to embrace all the following elements for a fully immersive Don Draper office but we find cherry picking the most practical aspects creates a good balance between mid-century charm and modern practicality. Here are our 7 tips for creating a Mad Men office design.
1. Use Retro Office Furniture Like Mad Men's Don Draper
Everywhere you look in the Mad Men office is a furniture design classic but you don’t have to overfill your space to achieve the essence of the 1960s - selecting just two or three original or replica items will infuse any office with mid-century character. Don’s chair in the TV show was an Eames Aluminium Group Management chair, although the Eames Time Life Lobby Chair is a good alternative, and both can still be bought online.
Hvidt/Mølgaard-Nielsen’s FD-146 cane-back chair and the Knoll Pollock chair wouldn’t look out of place in an authentic Mad Men office design and no Don Draper space would be complete without a sofa. Opt for a boxy style in black leather or a light beige upholstery with a button-back design. Why not add a Bauhaus sideboard for added authenticity – we love anything by Georg Datink for WK Furniture.
2. Replicate the Don Draper office desk
Of all the furniture in the Mad Men office, Don’s desk is one of the most important. When recreating the look, a large wooden topped desk with modesty panels and slimline metal or wooden legs is a must. Designers of the decade, Florence Knoll and Warren Planter, are still revered today and although it’s possible to pick up some original pieces, many of their desk designs have been reintroduced to buy new today.
3. Greenery matters
As bizarre as it sounds, different eras can be defined by the choice of house plants. While our current biophilic office designs often feature moss and succulents, workers in the 1960s opted for very different species. Retro plants for your Don Draper office should include snake plants, fiddle leaf figs, rubber trees, cheese plants and spider plants.
4. Create atmosphere with lighting
Donald A. Brown of Ohio filed for a patent for Accessible Suspended Ceiling Construction in 1958, therefore the familiar dropped ceiling and tile lights we find in today’s office gained popularity in the 1960s - and you can spot them in Mad Men. The Don Draper office counteracted this functional lighting with statement table lamps and double-shade desk lamps. Recreate the look with brass and aluminium lamps with cream shades, or opt for the Artemide Nesso – the classic ‘mushroom’ lamp launched in 1967.
5. Wood for good
When creating a Mad Men office, you need to forget the idea of lots of glass, marble and polished concrete. Wood was the design material of the day and they didn’t use blonde or Scandi species. The furniture and wood panelling were constructed from American walnut, cedar, teak, rosewood and bronze tulipwood – all with rich tones and a strong grain.
6. Add era-defining colours and patterns
The 1960s was a time for warm muted colours – think burnt orange, avocado, gold, brown and caramel – which worked well with the amount of wood that was specified. Pattern was also creeping into interior design and working in a creative agency, Don Draper wasn’t afraid to embrace vibrancy. Michal Shapiro’s ‘Butternut’ painting is one of the most recognisable in the show and although it was created in 2000, the artist’s 1960s fine art training shines through in her colour choices and psychedelic pattern.
7. Fine tune with accessories
The Don Draper office is a feast for the magpies among us, with trinkets and design details almost everyone can steal. Accessories can ground a mid-century scheme, so look out for vintage or replica wall clocks, desk calendars, leather desk pads, nut bowls (an alternative name given to ashtrays) and freestanding coat stands.
Window treatments in Mad Men are as retro as you can get – white slat blinds are a must (you may already have them) but the plush residential look of Sterling Cooper is amplified by hanging full-length curtains too, as seen in the agency’s account executive lounge. If authenticity matters, you may like to add a bar trolley loaded with Italian vermouth, Angostura bitters, bourbon and Remy Martin – just for show, of course.
Could Don Draper Style Office Designs Be Resurrected?
Has the Mad Men style ever fallen out of fashion? We don’t think so. Many of the Don Draper office items are classics that we still specify when offering our office refurbishment services. For example, Eames chairs and Knoll coffee tables are seen in office receptions across the country to this day. Perhaps what is more an acquired taste is an all-out Don Draper office that’s furnished head to toe in mid-century style.
As a commercial and retail design agency, we always look at the identity and function of business before we decide whether a Mad Men office is suitable. Of course, if you’re an advertising agency, you may wish to pay homage but if you’re in property, finance, pharmaceuticals or another industry, we may suggest flashes of 1960s style tempered with more contemporary elements.
If you’d like to pick the MPL team’s design brains, please contact us.