8 Questions with Mad Men Set Decorator Amy Wells on Decorating Your Place on a Budget

8 Questions with Mad Men Set Decorator Amy Wells on Decorating Your Place on a Budget
We've all been there: Staring into the void of our brand new, empty apartment feeling overwhelmed by the idea (and expense) of furnishing it. We sat down with Amy Wells, award winning set decorator for Mad Men to get her take on essentials, styles, and starting points.
A guy is moving into his first real place, what items or concepts should he focus on first to make it a put-together home?
Start small, and go from there. If you don’t know where to begin when putting together a room, use a favorite piece of wall art as inspiration. This can be something as simple as taking a color from your favorite piece and using the same shade for the wall, adding a few accents in the same color throughout the space.
When it comes to dressing well for men, the key is making sure the items, regardless of whether they’re preppy, urban, or casual, fit properly above all else. When a man decorates his home, what is the most important aspect he should focus on?
No matter your style it’s most important to bring in elements that highlight who you are. This can be as simple as showcasing your most prized possessions in plain view – for example, if you’re into photography, dust off those old cameras you’ve been collecting and display them on a hanging shelf or glass paneled cabinet.
A 25 year old guy has $1,000 to spend on his new, empty living room. What does he buy?
I’d say the guy should splurge a bit on a comfortable couch and a unique ottoman that can double as a coffee table. Pick a sofa that has no gimmicks nothing fussy – clean lines will insure that it can be mixed with many other pieces. You don't want your sofa to go out of style! Also, buy items that can do double duty to get the most out of your money! From there, you can add a few unique décor items to really make the space feel personalized, based on who you are and the things that mean something to you.

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Several styles have been popular in recent years like Mid-century modern and vintage industrial. What’s becoming popular now? Are there any styles a guy looking to invest in some nice pieces should look to?
Mid-century is a classic style for anyone. Especially after my years working on Mad Men, I am very fond of that vintage look. If you’re not feeling confident about committing to a trend – or are concerned about it looking dated by next year – invest in a simple focal piece then search for less expensive accents at places like HomeGoods or flea markets that represent you.
When starting out, a lot of guys fall into the trap of over using red, black, and white. What are some modern color palettes a guy should consider to create a modern and masculine home?
I personally love chartreuse and brown, grey and red, or even a nice medium blue with charcoal grey and light grey with pops of black – these are still masculine colors without looking like the same old palette. If you are going with a sleeker look, you can use the black and white, but choose a third color that you love to pepper in throughout the room.
Is there an item that men almost always overlook that they should include in their apartment?
Most men overlook items that help make their homes cozier. Guys need rugs so they can lay on the floor. Don’t be afraid to get a nice dark wool shag. It won’t show dirt and it gives you flexibility of where to sit and hang out. Also, add wool throws to a space. These are perfect for staying warm while binge watching your favorite show during the winter.
A big problem for guys in their 20’s is budget: Besides Ikea, where would you recommend shopping for affordable but well designed items?
One of my favorite places to go is HomeGoods – it’s ideal for anyone looking to decorate on a budget. It’s a store where you really can find the most unique pieces no matter your style, aesthetic or budget. I always find the most unexpected and well-made pieces, whether it’s a sturdy, hand-carved coffee table or a funky piece of wall art.
When you're designing a room and it's just…”you know, missing something,” what's your go-to solution?
Add some dimension to a room. Try hanging a cool statement piece from the ceiling to bring an unexpected depth. It’s always more unique to have dimensional items as well as pictures on the wall. These pieces can also serve as a great conversation starter since they will draw the attention of your guests.

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Ready to take on your bachelor pad? Read how in our Intentional Apartment series!

Andrew is the founder and editor of Primer. He's a graduate of American University and currently lives in Los Angeles. Read more about Primer on our About page. On Instagram: @andrewsnavely and @primermagazine.

  • Rt1583

    The place in this post hits on a few of the points mentioned above.

    http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/before-amp-after-timothys-deep-charcoal-living-room-225132#cid-2345789

  • ~classics~

    Not sure if Bar Carts are popular now because of Mad Men but I see them everywhere. Such a cleaner look and really minimizes the alcohol content to what you need.

  • TJ

    The problem I see with a lot of articles and websties on interior design is that they always show apartments that have great bones. They look good by themselves, with wood floors and what looks like walls made out of something other than boring textured drywall. I live in a boring suburban apartment with beige carpet, linoleum in the kitchen and bathrooms, and basic drywall. Any recommendations to jazz up a space like mine? I’ve got intersting pieces and wall art but it still has a boring look to it.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Hey TJ, I hear you. It’s a struggle to find images of real places like that. All the examples out there aren’t usually regular apartments. I guess it’s a lot like people modeling clothing, they’re always in great shape and attractive. Hopefully there is still inspiration that can be gleaned.

    • Rt1583

      Lighting.

      All of the photos above are properly lit (can also be read as artistically lit) so that the rooms look their absolute best. I’d be willing to be that if you walked into any one of the above on a normal day, with standard lighting that they wouldn’t be near as striking as they are in the pictures.

      As far as your place try some different lighting solutions such as floor, table or pendent lamps. Indirect side lighting used alone or in conjunction with overhead lighting can make a given place look entirely different.

      Just like with the Mad Men lead picture. When was the last time you were in an office which was lit by overhead fluorescent lights look as good as the office in that picture?

  • TJ

    Question about having pictures on your wall, specifically pictures of women. I would never have a picture of a half-naked woman on my wall because its tacky and I’m sure most women agree. What about something like a photo of Francoise Hardy on the set of the movie Grand Prix from the 60s? I happen to love her music and she is fully clothed in the photo. Thoughts? The last thing I want to do is turn off a woman when she sees my apartment.

    • Rt1583

      I don’t see why it would be off putting unless it looks like it would best fit in a teenagers room.

      No bikini clad models chewing on their lip and take the time, effort and cost of framing them or mounting them. Don’t just tape them to the wall.

      • TJ

        Of course, always framing or mounting, no tape, too college. Thanks for the opinion.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      I’d love to see that photo! Use your judgement here. I have a classic silhouette shooting target framed on my wall that gets nothing but praise but if you were to ask the fairer sex if they’d like it without seeing it, you’d probably get a lot of “no’s”.

  • Drew

    You wouldn’t believe how timely this is. New apartment and having a housewarming this Saturday….I’m so unprepared.

    • ~classics~

      For some reason one of the questions “knocked” Ikea. Don’t. It has some great furniture and prints with clean lines and always updated colors. They even have show rooms inside so you can get plenty of ideas. I would start there.

  • Bryce Desrosier

    Where did you get the orange art piece from the first photo?