Mid Century Modern Interior Design | Megan Draper, Trudy Campbell & Post-War Park Avenue

Pete & Trudy Campbell’s fictional apartment at 83rd Street & Park Avenue. 

I felt violated the first time Netflix made personalized recommendations based on my so called “taste profile.” Well, perhaps more embarrassed than violated. Apparently after watching weeks of dramas set in the English countryside, Netflix felt confident in recommending a stream of “20th Century Period Pieces Featuring a Strong Female Lead.” It was oddly specific, and yet sadly true. I will watch literally anything set in an English country house. After all, I watched the entirety of the last season of Downton Abbey just for the sweeping shots of Highclere Castle.
In reality, my “taste profile” extends beyond dramas set around neo-Palladian piles in Worcestershire. As a student of architectural history, I am particularly interested in the history of interiors, and what I look for in a film or television series is an acute attention to period detail. This interest, in a rather roundabout manner, brings me to AMC’s Mad Men. While I have religiously followed the series since it premiered 2007, the debut of Don and Megan’s Park Avenue Apartment in Season 5 nearly sent me into a frenzy. With its sunken living room and grasscloth wallpaper, the apartment seems like the quintessential urban mid-century interior.


Don & Megan Draper’s Park Avenue apartment, courtesy The National. 

As a resident of Manhattan, I hardly think of Park Avenue as a repository of mid-century design. Yet, much of the Upper East Side was demolished and rebuilt in the three decades after World War II. In particular, Fifth Avenue saw its remaining Gilded Age town houses sacrificed for construction of modern apartment buildings. Park Avenue, home to Pete and Trudy Campbell from season 1 through season 4 and Don and Megan Draper from season 5 onward, saw less change than Fifth Avenue, with many of its storied 1920s apartment houses resisting demolition. While the largely homogenous street wall of Park Avenue may have been preserved, the interiors of its apartment houses were being drastically altered.
Beginning as a response to the economy, apartments on Park Avenue began to be subdivided in the 1930s. For example, in 1941 Louis S. Weeks redesigned Pickering & Walker’s 823 Park Avenue (1910), transforming twelve duplexes, each with twenty rooms, into thirty-seven smaller apartments. This trend towards smaller apartments was continued in the post-war years in new construction. The developer Anthony Campagna described this trend by stating that the latest evolution of the Park Avenue Apartment was units with “only one two bedrooms and only one or even no maid’s room.” Campagna stated further that, “New York families who have the means to live as they choose still demand a choice location and spacious rooms, but not so many of them.”
While the reduction of apartment size on Park Avenue began during the economic turmoil of the Great Depression, it correlated to larger changes in the demographics of Manhattan. Especially after World War II, many wealthy families began selling their large pre-war apartments, opting to reside primarily outside of the city while keeping smaller pied-à-terres in Manhattan. The development of modern buildings containing smaller apartments served this demographic well, but it also suited childless, white-collar professionals.

Pete & Trudy Campbell in their Park Avenue apartment. 

These new buildings could be built quickly, as fashion dictated the avoidance of ornament and technology provided new building techniques including drywall. Both the Drapers’ and the Campbells’ Park Avenue apartments represent the trend toward smaller units built with a minimalist aesthetic. The Campbells’ apartment is particularly indicative of the period; it retains a maid’s room and a service entrance through the kitchen and lacks a formal dining room. Don and Megan’s apartment at Park Avenue & 73rd Street, on the other hand, represents the upper tier of post-war residential construction with both a working fireplace and a large terrace. While the apartment is sadly a mere set, its layout is evocative of mid-century apartment construction on the Upper East Side.

Don & Megan Draper’s Park Avenue apartment, courtesy LA Times. 


Don & Megan Draper’s Park Avenue apartment, courtesy LA Times. 

Austerity and modern materials defined post-war luxury apartment house construction on the Upper East Side. Below are perspectival views and floor plans from period real estate brochures advertising apartment houses constructed on Park Avenue, all from Columbia’s University’s incredible collection of historic New York real estate brochures.

815 Park Avenue 


815 Park Avenue: Flexible layout! 


823 Park Avenue: “The interior has been entirely removed, newly designed, and equipped with every modern convenience.” 


823 Park Avenue 


Decorating the small and often multi-functional rooms of post-war apartments could be challenging. Period magazines took on the task, often showing images of how to transform a difficult space into a gracious room. Pieces of furniture in both the Drapers’ and Campbells’ apartments can be seen in the images below from a 1966 article in Interior Design Magazine:


Decorated by Parisette Hamper, this 14’ x 30’ room was transformed by skillfully arranging furniture into groupings. This apartment was designed for a “bachelor of eclectic tastes” by Arthur Burke. The space was transformed using a carefully coordinated color scheme and by the use of paintings and sculpture to obtain a “highly decorative effect.”
A Portland, Oregon native, Vincent is particularly interested in historic interiors and decorative arts. His love for historic architecture was indulged at an early age by his parents, who kindly accompanied him on countless tours of historic houses and sites. Vincent lives in South Harlem with his partner, Nate, and their formally feral cat named Edna.



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