An interview by GQ with set decorator Claudette Didul on “Don Draper’s swanky new pad”

GQ: And you designed the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office that was unveiled last season.
Didul: Yes, [production designer] Dan Bishop and I did, with Matt’s input. It was a matter of going and looking at research pictures of offices; Knoll ads, Steelcase ads. There were some awesome books on architecture that show commercial buildings, insurance companies, things like that—and they all have Eames furniture in them. Everyone’s like, “Oh, they wouldn’t have been able to afford Herman Miller furniture.” But in some little insurance office in Ohio, or at a GM plant or something—it’s just weird. Ten years ago I went to the University of South Carolina furniture auction, and I bought a Noguchi table for $10. So it was that kind of thing, where this furniture was everywhere, and there’s still kind of an abundance of it around.

GQ: The big set reveal this season is Don’s apartment. I was struck by how contemporary it looks; is that just because that era is popular in decorating right now, or was that a deliberate choice to make it seem timeless?
Didul: No. We did a lot of research, we looked a lot of books. There’s some great books from the late ’50s, early ’60s: one by Betty Pepis, a book called Decoration U.S.A. by Jose Wilson and Arthur Leaman, a New York Times decorating book from 1965, and lots of House Beautiful and House and Gardenmagazines. The show is in the middle of 1966 right now, but you look through these magazines and you think you’re in a house today. And everyone’s like, “Oh, but it just looks so contemporary for today’s world!” But you would be amazed. Looking at what Florence Knoll did for the CBS Building back in 1964—it’s incredible. It looks like an office from today.

GQ: But Don’s apartment is 100% vintage.
Didul: All of it is definitely from the ’60s. The fridge that we brought in was from the 1964 World’s Fair. We looked through Sears catalogs to make sure certain blenders existed. Ellen, our property manager, had to make sure that the electric fryer looked correct when Don was making the bacon. People entertained a lot back then; I know my parents did. You had lots of electric plug-in hot plates, lots of trays and bowls and decorative glassware. Plus people would always bring some sort of gift; another cheese board or something. Gifts were always so big—my mom had a little closet of hostess gifts! But with Don’s apartment, a lot of it came out of a book from 1960. The cabinets, the built-in sofas, the sunken living room, by ‘63 or ‘64, they were everywhere. And the art definitely was around. There were lots of galleries around Madison Avenue and down in the Village. I do think Megan Draper had some help decorating, because it would be a little daunting to try and figure out the apartment on her own.

GQ: Since you’ve seen all this vintage stuff up close—are there things that are not quite as practical as they seem, something that we should be grateful isn’t trendy anymore even though it looks really cool?
Didul: Ooh, that’s a good question. The sofas back then were really thin and stiff. We built Don’s sofa, the sectional with the tufted buttons, based on a Betty Pepis book, and even though it looks really cool, it’s not the cushy shabby-chic feel that we’ve gotten used to today. I myself have a small collection of Eames chairs because I think they’re really neat-looking; my desk chair is a vinyl scoop chair, kind of like what the secretaries have. And they’re not very comfortable. You can’t sit in it for hours, because you find yourself slouching down and almost slipping out of your seat. But on The Today Show in 1956, they introduced the Eames lounge chair that everyone still has today, with the ottoman. And that actually is a super-comfortable chair.

GQ: Do you have a pet peeve about period that you see them getting wrong a lot in film or TV?
Didul: No, because I think sometimes, much like our show, we have budget concerns. You try your best. And I think people love to find the wrong. There was some girl’s blog I was reading yesterday, and she was saying how she felt that Don’s apartment felt late-sixties. And I was like, Oh my God, don’t you people look at books or magazines? You’re just like, “I think it looks like late sixties,” as opposed to “In the research that I found…” Roger Sterling’s office, the Florence Knoll furniture from his office, is from 1955, but people go, “Oh, it looks so ’70s!” So I don’t have a pet peeve because I understand what you’re up against; you don’t have a lot of time, you do the best you can. I worked on the film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and we had six decades to do! That gets pretty tough, where one day you’re in the 1940s, and the next day you’re in 1980. But you still try to make it look like the ’80s. Everyone thinks like, “oh, that’s so yesterday,” but it’s really not—it’s 30 years ago. Even the ’90s; that’s 20 years ago.

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