Q&A – Amy Wells (Set Decorator)

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Where does one find a stuffed cobra in a basket? Set Decorator Amy Wells is responsible for dressing the Mad Men sets and locating the props you see on the show. She talks to AMCtv.com about turning around each episode in seven days, and reveals how she really feels about that fainting couch.

Q: Has it been easier to source objects for the sets now that the show’s reputation is established?

A: No. It’s become easier to source objects the more that I do it, because now I have a circuit of places that I’ll go to constantly. In that way, it’s become easier. But it gets harder and harder the more sets we do because I can’t keep doing the same set over and over. It’s period and every time we have a hotel room, I need to find a new suite of furniture.

Q: Where do you usually find things? Antique shops? Prop houses? Craigslist?

A: It’s everything. Furniture I can’t get from eBay, because it’s just too big to ship and we don’t know our sets that far ahead of time. I do really well at thrift shops, places that have consignment, lots of second-hand furniture shops all over Los Angeles and Long Beach. There are antique stores and antique malls that have individual mid-century shops within them. And prop houses, because if I need a set of couches that are period looking, where am I going to find that in an antique store?

Q: Your turnaround time to find set pieces is around seven days for each episode. What’s that like?

A: In the beginning I get what’s called a prep time, like six weeks early. That’s
working on the first episode, getting what we call the permanent set — Sterling Cooper and the Draper house — redressed. [For each episode,] we’re constantly meeting in the beginning a week before it starts. Then we have a production meeting a day before it starts. It moves like a freight train. I’m like, “Oh c’mon we’re not starting the next episode already, I thought I still had five minutes.”


Q: Of Season 3′s sets to date, were there any particular favorites to decorate?

A: Sally’s room was a lot of fun. Who doesn’t want to do a little girl’s room? We found a Barbie Dream House, which, oh my god, I wanted more than anything when I was growing up. And I found this Barbie Dream House and it had all the furniture in it, cardboard record player, everything.

Q: How did you feel about placing the fainting couch in front of the family hearth?

A: The same as the opinion of the decorator in the episode. It’s a
story point, but for me it was, “Matt do we have to get the fainting
couch?” “Matt are you sure?” “Don’t you think it’s too big?” “Can’t we
just move it here? [Matt's reponses:] “No I love it.” “It’s not about
pretty, Amy.”

Q: A few of the offices in Sterling Cooper were redesigned this season. Which was the most fun to decorate?

A: Lane’s office is a lot of fun to do. Because he’s English we gave him a different look. We put a suit of armor in there, a red leather wingchair and different prints. English magazines. And he has a bar set up; of course, Duck didn’t have a bar.

Q: Where did you find the stuffed cobra that the PPL execs give Lane?

A: That was rented from a prop house, House of Props. I was trying to find things to put in the office and I think I had a picture of it, and Matt said, “That’s really cool. I want to write something about that.”

Q: So the snake wasn’t already in the script?

A: I don’t go in there and say, “This is a great idea, I want you to write this in.” But there’s so much information that floats back and forth and we’re all together at these meetings, Matt just sparks. It’s like having a live flint around. His brain is so receptive to so much around him.

Click here to read what Amy Wells had to say about set decoration in Season 2.
Click here to watch a tour of Draper’s living room with Amy Wells.

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