My weird fascination with TV sitcom apartment sets

I posted before about Mary Tyler Moore’s 1970s studio apartment. In her show her character was “Mary Richards”. I used to love looking at the apartment set and re-arranging the furniture in my mind, and picture myself living there. It had a huge attraction to a teenager yearning to live on her own, lol. The apartment is one of the most famous sets of sit-com era. It was almost a character itself.

Looking at mine or other people’s or television furniture arrangements is a fun pasttime. Be aware whenever I go into any apartment or house I immediately re-arrange everything in my mind according to my own strict and usually invisible criteria. Yeah, I know. More on that at the bottom.

When I lived in the college dorms I enjoyed walking up and down the hallways looking at how people outfitted rooms that were the same size and dimension, and had the exact same furniture to begin with. Design creativity showed through. It’s endlessly fascinating how, given the same materials, personal creativity shines in myriad ways. That is why I was sad when HGTV stopped the show Design Star, a contestant show where candidates compete to be the next star on the channel to host their own show. In one certain competition the contestants were given a white room and a certain budget and told to decorate it. Or sometimes they were given weird instructions, like, “Use only tomatoes!” Not really, but almost.

It’s called, creatively, the White Room Challenge. Here is a link to the Best of the White Room Challenges, with two of my faves. Of course, in the first one, I’d have to center that couch…

Hooked on Houses is a site I enjoy. The site offers photos and discussions of Top 20, Celeb Houses, TV/Movie Houses, My House, Cottages, Bad MLS Photos, Before & After, HGTV. If you enjoy design, beauty, and creativity, the site offers enough to get lost in for quite some time! Tie a rope around me, I might get lost in there!

When I used to watch the Mary Tyler Moore Show, it took me a good while to understand that there was not a bedroom through the closet, it really was just a closet. I guess I missed the episodes where Mary pulls out the fold-away bed from the couch. If I had the apartment I’d put a full size bed up on the upper step to the left, next to the window.

Nevertheless, the apartment was decorated in graceful style with items of beauty yet matched the type of apartment it was. I can learn by looking at such set designs to see how an item makes or breaks the flow, or why it doesn’t match, or how come there is such harmony throughout the space.

Very cool brown velvet couch with graphic throw pillow.

In their essay about the MTM apartment we learn many insider things. For example, the site reveals that the owners of the actual house where the crew filmed the exterior shots got so tired of constant gawkers that they put up an “Impeach Nixon” sign so they would not film there anymore. The sign was the reason they moved Mary to a high rise apartment in later seasons, lol.

Speaking of Mary Tyler Moore, she first appeared on the Dick Van Dyke Show, which ran from 1961-1966. The show’s set can be called Mid-Century Modern, because, well, it  was mid-century. The set differed from Mad Men’s Don Draper apartment which was also set in the mid 1960s (I never saw that show, only the set photos) in a charmingly subtle way, Draper’s apartment was urban chic mid-century modern and the DVD Show set had touches of traditional. That is only fair, the Van Dykes lived in a house in the modern American suburbs, not a tony high rise apartment in the city.Kudos to the Van Dyke Show set designer for pulling off that thin line.

The living room/dining room/den (by the firestove) were all part of an open flow, something that I believe was more common in the 70s and 80s. I’ve always liked and open flow. Here are a couple of rare color photos from the Dick Van Dyke Show set. In this first one, we can see the two chairs are definitely Mid-Century modern. However the heavy circular coffee table is traditional!

Source

I don’t know what to call the couch! The chair in the background is more traditional than modern. One thing I notice is that there is no light near that chair, no pendant nor floor lamp. This is what marks a set from real life. Boy, this living room has a lot of different areas, doesn’t it.

Source

One show I did not like was Friends. I must be the only person on the planet, but I thought the show was too soap opera-y, had too loose morals (everyone slept with everyone, come on!) and I didn’t like the lesbian or transsexual aspect. I only watched occasionally and only at the beginning.

I did however, love that apartment. Who wouldn’t love such a spacious, funky, gorgeous balcony view rent controlled apartment in the West Village?! I thought her place was cluttered and I would change the wall color from purple to ivory, and get rid of the huge curtains but otherwise I loved the couch, rug, chair, ottoman, and the ever-changing, never-matching kitchen table dinette chairs. What can we call this one? Vintage Chic? Shabby Chic? Compare the open shelving in this set to the one above in the Dick Van Dyke Show. I prefer the DVD kitchen open shelving to the one on the set of Friends.

Especially love the couch and the TV-bureau.

Now, Sherlock, THAT’S an apartment! Of course it has the advantage of being in London, but Manhattan’s pretty nice too. I loved how the set designers made it look both Victorian and modern day. A wonderful creative genius, there. (It’s similar to the fine line being pulled off in When Calls The Heart’s clothing designer in season 1, genius). I picture myself there cozied up with a book by the fire every time I watch the show.

Of course I’d brighten it up a bit and get rid of the skulls on the mantel and the heads in the fridge, but…overall it’s a cool spot to pretend to hang your hat.

A new design theme: Victorian Modern!

I’ve always loved the London Club decorating scheme. In Providence RI there is a book and cultural center called the Athenaeum. It’s an independent, member-supported library open to the public. The library was founded in 1753 and the current building was built in 1838. The downstairs has a kind of London Men’s Club feel with thick Turkish looking rugs, rounded comfy Club Chairs in leather with rivets, heavy oak Victorian tables adorned with antique globes, and movable bookshelves housing all manner of tomes from every era, with the wooden ladders on rollers to aid the reader in reaching them.

Yummy looking isn’t it! That is what the Sherlock apartment reminds me of. Out of all the apartments (or houses) I like looking at online or on the TV show, Sherlock is the one I think I’d best like to live in. Aside from my own, which I love.

I always wondered why I like to stare at my empty apartment, decide where everything goes for maximum ease, aesthetic pleasure, and function- and then never move anything again. I mean, once it is set, and works, why change it? I do not like changing my apartment configuration. I enjoyed the explanation on The Big Bang Theory about Sheldon’s spot. Of course wherever I go, I have a spot. At church, in Sunday School, at work, and at home. When you find a configuration that works you stay with it. Sheldon explains why:

Autism Speaks, man. Autism speaks.

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7 thoughts on “My weird fascination with TV sitcom apartment sets

  1. You know, the writers claim Sheldon is not on the spectrum. I don't buy it. I see so much of Preston in Sheldon. We often watch and comment that we can see Preston saying or doing that very thing. We also hope he finds good friends that understand and tolerant his spectrum-ness.
    Love your weird fascination with the apartments. I am fascinated with the way TV characters organize their homes. I am constantly trying to find better ways to house my stuff in a prettier and more functional way, particularly my classroom stuff!

  2. I had heard that they deny Sheldon's obvious spectrum-ness. They also deny Doc Martin is also. Although in one episode there was a clinician who wanted to interview the Doc for his Aspergers article. I learned about my sitting spot when I saw that episode of Sheldon's. I learned other thins too. But he isn't on the spectrum. Yeah.

    I love arranging classrooms! I had so much fin with one of mine. It was square and large, which offered limitless possibilities. Kind of like your classroom, which is a very nice one! i can't wait to see what you do with it this year.

  3. You had me with the title of this post. I too love seeing the design and layout of others living spaces, and refining mine. After 10 years in this house, I finally figured out a better layout for our family room a few months ago, and now we finally use this room! We hated it before as the sectional couch faced the open hallway (hard to explain without pictures). We saved up for new furniture and man, that made the difference. Opening up the visual line to windows and orienting the furniture in a logical way. My brain went “ahhhhh” with a satisfied sigh of relief!
    Jennifer

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with you about finding the perfect set up for a room and never moving anything again! I think that's why I don't hate moving as often as we do – I love the challenge of figuring out how to arrange furniture and organize closets and cabinets in a new house.

    I have a friend who moves her furniture around every couple of months – and not just in each room but from room to room! It makes me feel slightly lightheaded just thinking about it. I cannot fathom why anyone would do that, because obviously there is only one right way to arrange everything. 🙂

  5. Autism Specrtum Australia is an organization for autistic people & their families.
    I do not see Sheldon's behavior as Autism/Spectrum.
    Rather a need to have it right the first time – seeking order amongst surrounding chaos.
    Sheldon has a mind that is able to think way beyond mortal men & women, maybe that is why he wears the Superman Tshirt.
    Sheldon understands quantum physics & mathamatics, to understand maths is to see true beauty.
    That we would label him a freak, or being kind & politically correct “autistic spectrum-ness” shows us to be lacking in intellectual capacity – I think.
    I love the Sheldon character – the episode when Penny challenges his Saturday wash day & he hangs he washing on the power line was not conceived from high intellect but brilliance.
    Cheers
    Mira

  6. Mira, being on the Autism spectrum does NOT MAKE ONE A FREAK.

    That said,I recognize the inherent foolishness of discussing the motives, intentions, and diagnosis of a fictional character, but here I go,

    Sheldon's insistence on sitting in his one and only spot due to certain logical criteria could be attributed to his brilliance. His inability to cope /function while forced to sit in a different spot is a signal of spectrum.

    Sheldon's arrogance that comes with brilliance on wanting his own way because of his brilliance and seeing the perfection of his method is one thing, but his near incapability to compromise nor even *want* see the other side is spectrum.

    Sheldon having a fight with Leonard over a trivial matter (apartment temperature) may be due to desiring order amid chaos, but his lack of thought connecting his subsequent physical symptoms as an indicator of an emotional inner turmoil (something Penny advised him about) is spectrum.

    His rigid adherence to routine, seen in your example of laundry day, is a signal of spectrum. In the clip Penny mentions designation of Saturday night as “Laundry Night” at 8:15 to be precise! and acknowledges that any interruptions to it would be …”unpleasant”. However, Sheldon didn't hang his laundry on the power line, all Spock-like finding a cool solution, he was so upset that his routine had been interrupted that he took Penny's clothes out of the dryer and threw them out the window and they landed on the line. Spectrum meltdown. 🙂
    https://youtu.be/4Vk1nSIqmR4

    Even though the show's creators deny Sheldon is on the Autism spectrum, I do enjoy having a role model and a thoughtful mirror for my own thoughts and actions, and the unconditional love his roommate has for him is encouraging. In a fictional way, of course.

  7. Ah, another design junkie! I love design shows too! Thanks for sharing your style and commentaries. This was a fun read. My personal style is a blend of colonial, traditional, french country, cottage, always kept very tidy, but with a comfortable, informal atmosphere. Mid century is my least favorite design style. Like you, once my arrangement works, I keep it that way.

    On the MTM set, I do like that big center window and the beams. Furniture wise, the brown couch, but that's about it. Friends set (hated the show, so I'm #2 in the world?), love the coffee table and tv stand and the big cream/tan colored single chair. I'm with you, those purple walls would have to go! Ivory it is! The two white room challenges, neither appeals, and that couch needs to be centered!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sherlock set, too dark all around. I like things much lighter and brighter.

    This was fun! Thanks for the post.

    -Carolyn

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