With Silver Spring home, family wins Washington Post's Mad Men Look contest

Christopher Naughten and wife Melissa Talley won the Post's "Mad Men Look" design contest for their '60s chic home in Silver Spring.
By Elizabeth Razzi
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, July 24, 2010

"It's the first time in our lives we've been hip. And it came to us -- we didn't go to it," said Melissa Talley, 51, winner of The Post's Mad Men Look contest.

Talley and her husband, Christopher Naughten, also 51, have furnished their 1953 Silver Spring house with original mid-century modern pieces, capturing much the same atmosphere depicted in AMC television's "Mad Men" series. The show may be about the exploits of people working at a Madison Avenue advertising firm, but its faithful depictions of the styles of the late 1950s to '60s -- down to the gold-leaf trim on cocktail glasses and the ubiquitous ashtrays -- threatens to steal the spotlight in each episode.

The winning couple's son, Patrick Naughten, 23, who holds a degree in art history, submitted an entry on their behalf. "They were away [one] weekend, so I had some fun and took some shots," he said.

Talley has been a collector of mid-century modern furniture for years, buying pieces at yard sales, auctions and estate sales and accepting hand-me-downs from friends. With Patrick as an accomplice, they weren't above dumpster diving, either. "I learned it from the best," Patrick said. "I was the one to pull it out of the pile and put it in the back of the car."

The family was already living in Silver Spring when, in 2007, they discovered the vacant single-level house up for sale on Midland Road. Talley practically stalked it. "I was there half a dozen times, peering in windows," she said. "Every single thing I've ever collected or dumpster-dived would be perfect," she added. "It's like sea monkeys -- add water and, boom, we've got the whole environment."

They especially liked that previous owners had not renovated away the 1950s look. No one had painted the cypress paneling or replaced the windows. "They never destroyed the original character of the house," Talley said.

"It was kismet," she added.

Among their favorite furnishings are the 1957 Henredon dining-room set in blond mahogany with blue stencils, handed down from Christopher Naughten's parents. Naughten said they had always been drawn to the style. "Mid-century modern -- we discovered we were enthusiasts without really knowing it," he said. When they found that house, he said he realized, "Wow, this is where it all belongs."

Talley added: "You do get a real emotional feeling when you see this house. It looks like our childhoods."

Runner-up in the Mad Men Look contest is Michael Shapiro of Bethesda, known online as "midcenturymike." Post judges were taken with his mix of vintage and new furnishings, particularly the vintage white Eames pedestal table and dining chairs in white and chartreuse, topped with a new George Nelson bubble lamp.

Shapiro, 37, and his wife, Elissa, 36, live in a 1956 brick split-level with a carport. "It's not the ultramodern that I want, but we'll get there someday," he said. What draws him to these styles? "It's very simple: clean lines. To me, that's perfection," he said.

Shapiro's primary occupation is doing communications work for a nonprofit, but he has also gotten a real estate license. A Long & Foster agent, he specializes in mid-century modern houses and neighborhoods. One of his pet peeves is that real estate agents are quick to say there's not a lot of mid-century modern housing in the D.C. area. "There actually is a lot of this type of housing stock here if you look for it." His Web site is http://www.moderncapitaldc.com.

Third place goes to Kathy Smith, who lives in Hollin Hills, an enclave of mid-century modern architecture in Fairfax County, just south of Alexandria. Unlike the Talley-Naughten family, which found the perfect house to complement their furniture, Smith and her husband, Robert, both 36, searched for the furniture after moving into the mid-century modern neighborhood. Judges particularly liked their wire Bertoia chairs, which the couple bought used and had refinished with a new powder coating. "A lot of those items we got for really good prices on eBay," Smith said.

Finally, Post judges created a special Don Draper Award for one entrant, Paul Delmerico of Winchester, Va. His photo showed him dressed in Draperesque white shirt and skinny tie, holding the requisite cocktail and posed in front of a vintage 1950s Philco Predicta television. The kicker: The black-and-white cathode-ray tube displayed an old TV commercial used to sell the sets back in the day. Delmerico has the commercial on DVD.

He said he's an aficionado of industrial and product design in general, and he collects vintage television sets. "Those are old electronic pieces of art, as far as I'm concerned," he said. Delmerico, born in 1954, said he's a "huge fan" of the "Mad Men" series. "I guess it kind of takes me back a bit," he said.

The show's new season starts Sunday night at 10 p.m. on AMC.

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