Since TV's "Mad Men" debuted in 2007, mid-century furniture has experienced a resurgence in popularity. So, it's only natural for Showtime to attempt to capitalize on the trend with its 1950s-set historical drama series "Masters of Sex", which chronicles the real life of sex researchers Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson.
But while "Mad Men" fully embraces its setting, Showtime president David Nevins wants the furniture to appear contemporary, reflecting on the fact that he believes the taboos the doctor faced are "are honestly still exactly the same taboos today."
“I love ‘Mad Men,’ ” said Nevins said, “but I wasn’t interested in doing another show fetishizing mid-century furniture.”
Despite Nevins' intent of modernizing the past, it's still a show set in the 1950s so there has to be era appropriate furniture. Instead of eliciting a cool, "they just don't make 'em like they used to" vibe, the furniture seems almost purposely tacky and unappealing.
“Furniture was all very small back then, not like our overstuffed furniture today,” notes production designer Michael Wylie.
To merge the old with the new Wylie only used real 1950s furniture that was found in Los Angeles and recovered to look brand-new, as if it was never used.
Plus, while "Mad Men's" style reflects the appealing, hip New York lifestyle at the start of the sexual revolution, despite its provocative title and subject, "Masters of Sex" is about a conventional time in history and is set in the un-metropolis-like Midwest.
Thus, the approach of the production design follows suit. Dr. Masters apparently was a bit of a stiff, so Wylie filled Masters' office with a bare bones wood desk, wood upholstered chairs and tacky wood paneled walls.
And while the real Dr. Masters lived in a colonial-style home, the producers put him in a mid-century modern home decorated by minimalist furnishings that contrast the show's "conservative heartland" setting. In the bedroom, two narrow twin beds with wooden posts inhabit an almost empty environment, exuding zero warmth.
That's really the furniture of "Masters of Sex" in a nutshell: void of any chicness or welcoming vibe, which is the point, according to the crew. "Mad Men" is a show that laments the end of an era, while Showtime's new series celebrates the end of the era of sexual repression.