Bad Mad Men


See them (the bad mad men) lurking in the background? Please don’t remove the foreground (the bad mad, often angry, women)! So here’s Dan Bishop, production designer for Mad Men, describing (I think in Dwell magazine, as my source seems to have implied) some of the thinking behind the show’s famously ’60s set style:

“We stayed with a fairly warm palette, because I think Matt [Weiner, show creator] kind of just appreciated that. It’s just the whole show, in a funny way, we don’t want it to be – a lot of modern architecture is pretty cold, and we’ve never been, I don’t think anybody actually, is a particular fan of that.”

I’ve never seen Mad Men but have developed a sort of a “thing” about it because of its relentless promotion of modern architecture. Many observers seem to detect a nostalgia for ’60s style in the show. But maybe the architecture and interior design is really supposed to “reflect” what its producers consider the relatively sinister aspects of the behavior of men and women in a corporate culture that eventually went from bad to worse.

Percy was not pleased with the renovation. ... Filed under Case Study 3219: Cluck Cluck Fuck (Photo: John Clark; Dwell)

Percy was not pleased with the renovation. … Filed under Case Study 3219: Cluck Cluck Fuck (Photo: John Clark; Dwell)

Perhaps Bishop felt free to open up because he’d seen the regular feature in Dwell* consisting of photographs of hip young men and women caught in the act of contemplation in their modernist houses and apartments. The author of the feature pens the hipsters thoughts, generally depressing, often taking off directly on the sterility of their home environment.

[In searching for this feature online I came across a 2010 column on Mad Men by my former colleague at the Journal, Froma Harrop, mainly on aspects of the show’s culture other than its architecture.]

* The feature is not, in fact, from Dwell but about Dwell and the culture it flacks. It is from a website called This I discovered in another column by Froma, called “Hipsters Without Walls.” She describes the website as using photos from Dwell to make fun of hipsters. Here is a recent selection from One of them is above.

Here’s a rueful piece by L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne from 2010 about the Unhappy Hipsters phenomenon (which in my opinion has not slackened even in 2013).

A shoutout to Michael Mehaffy for shooting that quote to the TradArch list!

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Bad Mad Men

  1. John says:

    Seen a few fragments, considering that the TV is the idiot box for the masses who will never reach anything special, thus unfortunates having to live their lives second hand through the imagination of others. For the modern consumerist work slave, petted degraded animal as he is, having his life regulated top down as no historical man had before, the imagination of bad men and the necessary women allows him some relief of boredom and restless dissatisfaction. The retro aesthetics, the cultural and artistic incompetence and the increasing lack of any class and style in our age makes some people nostalgic, sometimes even youth are charmed.

    “I’ve never seen Mad Men but have developed a sort of a “thing” about it because of its relentless promotion of modern architecture. Many observers seem to detect a nostalgia for ’60s style in the show.”

    Architectural styles have a much longer lifespan than interior design and fashion (clothing, hairstyles). Sixties style fashion, hairstyles, design of practical equipment is already so outdated that it becomes retro and part of nostalgia.
    In terms of clothing fashion and what else, luckily there are women, else we’d be stuck with the 20th century male in his charmless monkey suits, sorry, business suits.


  2. I am a full devotee to Mad Men, it was so impactive that its last season is hard to watch if you grew up there, then. The truth is that the architecture is just Mid-20th Century: so Madison Avenue Ad Men used Modernism as a marketing tool for their firm: otherwise homes are “suburban” (colonialist) as are country clubs, and icons like Howard Johnson’s are perfectly rendered. The show is not about Style: it its about Humans and History.


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