How Did They Have Such Nice Apartments on ‘Friends’?


On Sept. 7, a pop-up exhibition of props, costumes and reimagined sets from the NBC series “Friends” opened at 76 Mercer Street in SoHo, where it will remain until Oct. 6.

Tickets went on sale in early August. Guess how long it took to sell out?

As long as Ross’s marriage to Emily after he said, “I, Ross, take thee, Rachel,” at the altar? (About a month.)

As long as a typical Joey relationship? (Overnight.)

“I think under three hours, and it was with just one social media post,” said Jonathan Mayers, a co-founder of SuperFly, which produced the 1,850-square-foot space with Warner Bros. Consumer Products and Warner Bros. Television Group. Tens of thousands of tickets were sold for the pop-up’s 30-day run, according to a publicist.

The idea that people in their twenties with jobs nowhere near Wall Street could afford to live in one of New York’s most expensive neighborhoods has always been ridiculed by “Friends” watchers — even after Monica explained in season three that she had illegally taken over the rent-controlled lease from her grandmother in Florida. “So if the landlord ever asks,” she says to Joey (Matt LeBlanc), “I’m an 87-year-old woman who’s afraid of her VCR.”

But what is really incongruous about “Friends” is its visual style. While the rest of the early 1990s was awash in pale neutrals, its sets were painted in garish or dark colors and furnished with vintage pieces from clashing periods.

“It’s an oddly curated mix of Art-Deco-meets-Art Nouveau-meets modern-contemporary-meets-Grandma’s-stuff,” said Thom Filicia, the interior designer and original cast member of the reality series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” A charter fan, Mr. Felicia, 50, began watching “Friends” after moving to New York City in 1993.

“Nothing makes sense and I don’t think it was supposed to,” Mr. Filicia added, referring to Monica’s purple apartment with its vintage refrigerator, high-end Viking stove (she is a chef, but still), mismatched chairs, an Aubusson rug and swagged patterned curtains only Nana could have loved.

“The narrative of the interior was that it was helping to explain the complexity of the cast. They were young people starting out, learning how to co-habitate, decorate, drink, party, have a career — all the things you learn how to do when you’re starting that part of your life,” Mr. Filicia said.

In “Friends,” furnishings not only have character; they are characters. Rachel, who by season six was living with Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), bought a faux-historic Pottery Barn “apothecary table,” but had to pass it off as antique because Phoebe declared mass-produced furniture soulless. (She was later won over.) The apothecary table, is now offered on Pottery Barn’s website for $1,099 — part of the company’s commemorative “Friends” home collection.

In season five, Monica’s brother, Ross (David Schwimmer), tried to drag a new couch up the stairs to his apartment before finally giving up and sawing it into pieces. At the pop-up, a reproduction couch is fixed on an angle to a partial staircase. You can have your picture taken with it, grunting and shouting, “Pivot!”

Monica’s apartment didn’t make it to Mercer Street, but her hallway door with its decorative picture frame surrounding the peephole is there. So is the living room shared by Joey and Chandler (Matthew Perry), fitted out with their film posters, foosball table and unlovely reclining chairs.

Most immersive is a re-creation of Central Perk, the neighborhood coffee shop where the friends gossiped on plush, fringed sofas, and where Phoebe strummed songs on her guitar with titles like “Smelly Cat” and “My Mother’s Ashes.” (A nearby jukebox plays snippets.) This spot is next to the 5,305-square-foot “Friends” souvenir shop and accessible to anyone, with or without a ticket. The retail entrance is at 503 Broadway.

As the first visitors streamed in with the soft opening, the usual knot of tourists was less than a mile away, taking pictures of a brick building at 90 Bedford Street that stands in for the “Friends” apartment house exterior on the show.

Becky Voyce, 30, of Washington, D.C., was there with her sister, Amanda Voyce, 25, from Los Angeles. Both claimed super fandom.

“I fall asleep to it at night; it’s the only way I can sleep,” said Becky Voyce.

“If you threw a line out at me, I could probably name the episode, the title, and tell you the season and everything,” her sister added.

And how do they feel about the décor?

“I like that offbeat, mismatched kind of stuff,” Becky Voyce said. “I think probably my style as an adult came from that.”



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