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It’s a ‘Mad Men’ world

Tufts graduate creates the vintage backdrops for the popular television show

By June Wulff
Globe Staff / August 5, 2010

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Q. You’re in your fourth season as award-winning art director for “Mad Men.’’ Why is the show so popular?

A. Over the past four years, the show has struck a nerve with people. It looks back at a time which is far enough away to be different but still close enough.

Q. You’re a local guy — Somerville/Medford native. Does your BA in history and drama from Tufts help with your job?

A. Sure, learning to use primary research materials. We go to the library and find newspapers and look through photo archives. We use the computer, too. The electronic media have made the world of the art department more flexible and cost-effective.

Q. Tell me about the new “Mad Men’’ office.

A. The new firm is a different agency in size and also in temperament and style. The choices that have been made reflect that dynamic. The Sterling Cooper office was much more of a ’50s flavor, lots of wood, and muted and more staid tones. As we move forward into the ’60s, the new office allows us to push visual style forward as well. In the new office the predominant color is white — white floor, white ceiling. It has gone from dark wood to something much brighter and lighter. Colors in wallpapers are also brighter and punchier, and a little more mod. You can see how the future is creeping in.

Q. Do you work closely with the writers to design a set that fits with the characters and story?

A. Everything comes from the script. The script will inform the choices that you make. It’s a little different when you do the advertising firm, an environment that lasts for the season or perhaps more. Otherwise, you read a scene and see what happens in the scene and look to that to be a guide to shape the environment. Who are these people and why is it happening?

Q. Are the furniture and accessories period pieces or reproductions?

A. Both.

Q. Where do you get everything?

A. In LA there has been an awareness of mid-century furniture and design, more so than when I was living in New England. It is a challenge to find the right thing. This year it sounds crazy and silly, but conference tables are a challenge. It’s a large piece of furniture, and for the camera, certain shapes lend themselves to photography. Sometimes they’re too shiny or not shiny enough. This season there eventually will be a conference table, we had one built.

Q. If you could have one set piece, what would it be?

A. I covet Freddy Rumson’s bar.

Q. What’s your next project? Will you stick around for the Sally spinoff?

A. [Laughs] This is a six-month-a-year job. I’ll be looking to do something else in the fall.

Q. So you won’t be relaxing on some island?

A. Tragically, I’m not that well paid.

Interview was condensed and edited.

June Wulff can be reached at jwulff@globe.com.