How to Get That Seinfeld (or Mad Men, or Friends) Feel in Your Apartment

Written by:
John Cole

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Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine were not the only ones to spend a great deal of the 1990s inside a certain bachelor pad apartment on the Upper West Side. Great swathes of the TV-viewing public also spent 180 episodes (plus countless hours of repeat-watching) between those hallowed three walls.

And like any long-running show, its main location had to be comfortable for the viewers rather than the characters. The main guiding principle of any sitcom is that its characters should be "trapped" – but Seinfeld’s characters were trapped in their awful, own-worst-enemy personalities and habits, meaning that the architectural spaces they inhabited could be airy and inviting.


Bigger isn’t necessarily better

Jerry’s fictional apartment was situated at 129 West 81st Street, Apartment 5A. This building corresponds to one where Jerry Seinfeld bought an apartment in real life. But that apartment was a duplex, considerably more up-market than his fictional abode.

Considering the real and fictional Jerrys’ wealth (which is hinted at from time to time in the show), it’s quite a modest spot to live. It’s dwarfed, for example, by Monica and Rachel’s apartment in "Friends." But the unassuming nature of Jerry’s apartment meant that the audience was never alienated by watching a show about a millionaire.

We understood that this show was about daily life, which ultimately boils down to a series of difficult social encounters with friends, neighbors, dentists, plumbers, waiters… The more apparent economic gap between Larry and the people he meets in thematic Seinfeld follow-up "Curb Your Enthusiasm" often got this balance wrong. Yeah, there was something self-owning about Larry’s castle-like residence, but it got a bit too awkward when Larry overstepped his privilege dealing with service workers.


Zoning out and adding personal touches

The "Seinfeld" apartment, on the other hand was a microcosm of daily life. Kitchen, sofa, a table for working and eating, the bathroom in the background, window overlooking the street, and that all-important front door. A space big enough to move but not to escape. A thoroughfare for social traffic

Another important touch to keep your feet on the ground is to acknowledge the things you care about and keep them in sight, or at least on hand. Every episode of Seinfeld had a Superman reference, even if it was just a detail in the background of Jerry’s apartment. He also stocked his favorite childhood breakfast cereals (Coco Puffs, Lucky Charms…) which aren’t just delicious, convenient, and comforting, but also aesthetically appealing (if you like that kind of thing). Think of it as Jerry’s answer to Andy Warhol’s soup cans. It’s art if you believe it’s art.


Color palette ideas from "Seinfeld"

seinfeld living room color palette ideas

Of course, one element that makes Jerry’s unlikely apartment desirable for real life people is the interior design. The combination of Jerry’s clean-freak nature with his normcore fashion sense, plus the elements noted above, creates the feeling of a place as comfortable as a hotel without being so alienating.

Minimalist, clean-edged, no-frills furniture in a cool and consistent palette of blues and steely grays, warmed up with touches of wood on the floorboards and dining room table, make for a quietly pleasant place to be.

Color palette idea: For a Seinfeld feeling, stick to a saltbox gray and chambray blue, and choose darker wood for your furniture to have the pieces really pop against the cooler colors.


The lilac world of "Friends"

friends living room color palette ideas
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Monica Geller’s apartment was something of a color explosion, somehow held together by Friends’ signature shade of soft purple. A small space might suffer from the level of eclecticism displayed in Monica and Rachel’s place – it would soon look over-busy and cramped. But Monica pulls it off in her enormous living room.

The gold frame is another "Friends" motif and is a strong element that can pull disparate ideas together. And warm reds and browns work together to warm up a space that could have been terrifying had that level of eclecticism been paired with a tasteless palette!

If you’re going to go wild like Monica, don't hold back: plants, throws, and accessories will reassure your guests that they’re not wrong – you’re going for eclectic here.

Color palette idea: Monica’s chosen shade of purple is Pantone's 2018 Color of the Year. They have a great set of complementary colors to check out on their website.


The white carpet of "Mad Men"

mad men living room color palette ideas

New York, a few decades previously to Friends and Seinfeld: Don Draper and his wife split, and he ends up in a super-sophisticated city pad that is a counterpoint to the rather anachronistic Draper house.

For the most part, it’s warm, autumnal colors again, but the cool look is added with all that bluish glass and an epic white carpet that was practically begging to have red wine spilled onto it. And then it happened. The great red wine spill of 1969.

Until then, though, those modular brown sofas looked the model of chic-yet-homely against the cream walls. And if you’re going for the late sixties look, good news: you can finally indulge in those mind-boggling patterned curtains you’ve always wanted.

Color palette idea: Earth tones need a lot of light to breathe. If your room doesn’t see much sun, avoid muddy shades such as these.


The frilly wallpaper of "Downton Abbey"

downton abbey living room color palette ideas

For a different approach altogether, travel back in time to the polite silky greens and pinks of freak hit period drama "Downton Abbey." Genteel without being dull, the drawing room’s bright pastel palette creates a light, airy feel. Pair it with a handful of kitsch pieces to create that elusive "ruined aristocrat" feeling.

And just in case anyone thinks you’re a soft touch, hardwood floors and gold frames and fixtures will remind them you’re a tough nut to crack.

Color palette idea: Pale shades such as these can be a bit much if used exclusively through the house. But a separate pastel palette for each room can bring your home together.


The color explosion of the "Big Bang Theory"

big bang theory living room color palette ideas

Penny’s living room breaks all the rules of good interior design and still ends up looking like a nice place to be. Well, who wants to hang out in a room full of rules? The green sofa has a heck of a lot of character, while colorful lampshades add a sense of fun.

The only real no-no is that awful pale Ikea would-be-wood furniture; some upcycled oak furniture would have done the trick nicely. Thankfully, a super-modern clash of turquoise, orange, plum and lime distracts from awfulness.

Color palette idea: Your sofa is the beating heart of your living room. Don’t be afraid to go bold with the color choice for your couch!


The mess of "How I Met Your Mother"

how i met your mother living room color palette ideas
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At first glance it seems like nothing matches in Ted, Marshall, Lily, and Robin’s living room. But the "random" objects and background furniture tend towards a pale wood color, while darker wood trim adds definition. Strong reds and olive colors soften the feel.

The subtle design less of HIMYM, though, is that accent color: those wood shades and reds are the main deal, but it is the splash of turquoise that brings the room to life.

Color palette idea: Blue and red are known to clash when used together, but "triangling" them with a splash of yellow can make this unlikely pairing work.


The modern look of "New Girl"

new girl living room color palette ideas

Jess Day’s living room kind of looks how Jerry’s place might look in the twenty-teens. She borrow Seinfeld’s blues but brightens them up a little, adding a shinier feel to the metallic touches – reflecting how much more upbeat Jess is than sarcastic Jerry.

That epic leather corner sofa is far more sociable and slouchable than Jerry’s regular two-seater, too. And with all those neutral colors, you’ll never buy a cushion that looks out of place.

Color palette idea: Everybody has their favorite type of metallic color. It’s possible to combine warm and cold metals, but you need to take care how each relates to the other.


The traditional look of "Breaking Bad"

breaking bad living room color palette ideas

Walt White’s career path may have been untraditional, but the Breaking Bad designers deliberately kept his home looking traditionally homely to accentuate the incongruity of Walt’s money-making scheme. That said, Walt’s living room tends towards a darker shade of autumnal, bringing out the shadowy nature of his double-life and the living lies of suburban America.

Color palette idea: Fall colors are comforting but can be a bit much throughout the year. If your living room is based on autumnal colors, try to shake things up with a fresh throw and cushion coverings in the spring.


The color of TV

If you fancy modeling your apartment on some other favorite show of recent times, it’s worth checking out this guide to TV living room color palettes. It covers eight of the most-visited rooms from the most popular shows, analyzing the color scheme that each place used.

TV shows are, of course, designed by professional artists. Even if they’re not charged with producing somewhere you’d want to live, they’re expected to come up with something visually striking and consistent. That TV in the corner, then, is a great place to turn if you’re looking for inspiration for a color scheme for your pad.

So what’s it going to be for your apartment? The breezy urban thoroughfares of uptown Seinfeld or something a little more Downton?


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About the Author

John is a digital nomad and freelance writer specializing in leadership, digital media and personal growth. His passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in the UK, Norway, and the Balkans.

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