“Friends” is the kind of series that tends to elicit debate. In the 24 years since it debuted, viewers have argued over issues both fictional (“Were Ross and Rachel on a break?”) and very real (“Soooo, where are all the non-white people?”). But there is one huge question that’s confounded audiences since the very beginning—or rather, one hugely questionable set: Monica’s apartment.
Though “Friends” is known for many iconic aesthetics (ahem, “The Rachel”) and not-so-realistic elements, the apartment has come to symbolize them all. To some, it’s a lifelong source of home-decor inspiration. To others, its the sticking point they just can’t get past. In many ways, Monica’s pad is as popular and controversial as the show itself. So today, we’re going to settle the debate and answer all the lingering questions. Consider this your Monica’s Apartment FAQ.
1. Just how big is that place?
It’s big, but not as palatial as it looks. The actual set was built on a stage, of course, meaning that the audience-facing side is wider than the back. (This is necessary with multi-camera shows. All that extra floor-space isn’t there to make you jealous; it’s to accommodate cameras without blocking the view). In terms of “real life” estimates, Monica’s place is somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 feet — in other words, a really nice amount of space (no wonder Monica was “always the hostess”). Most of that is in the living area. In 2013, interior designer Iñaki Aliste Lizarralde created this floor plan of the apartment (which you can purchase on Etsy), showing that the combined bedroom space makes up about a third of the overall square footage. That makes sense given that so much of Friends takes place between Monica’s kitchen and the sitting area in front of her TV. Just like in real life!
2. The apartment itself is ridiculous, but the furniture is very, um, relatable. How did that happen?
I know! The couch sort of sucks, right? It’s lumpy and plain, but perfectly serviceable. Kinda looks like something you might find on the street and drag home with your roommate. And that’s exactly what production designer John Shaffner and set decorator Greg Grande had in mind. When designing the show — and the apartment, specifically — they met with creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman, to talk about the character of Monica. She was young but employed, so not entirely broke. She clearly had a sense of her own style, as did most of her friends. And, like most 20-something New Yorkers, she was probably a pretty savvy thrifter. So Grande and Shaffner filled her apartment with an eclectic mix of pieces with a second-hand feel that permeated the entire show: Mix-and-match pillows, shabby-chic lamps, and of course, the decorative frame around the peephole. “[These characters’] furnishings came from swap meets, thrift stores,” Grande later explained. “They didn’t have designers decorating… but they had a lot of taste.”
3. I’m actually kind of obsessed with the frame. Can I buy it somewhere?
You’re not the only one. In 2011, an anonymous bidder won an early replica of Monica’s peephole frame at an auction of film and television props. The winning bid? $52,000. And again, this was a replica.
The good news is you don’t need $52K to get a decent knock-off yourself. There is a huge market of “Friends”-style decor items, available at various online retailers — including show-specific outlets like FriendsProps.com, and good old Amazon. If you’re a real die-hard (and you’re not super concerned with things like copyright law), just go on Etsy, where you can buy everything from Friends bachelorette supplies to Monica’s Season Three gym shirt. And peephole frames? By my last count, there are approximately 5 bajillion available.
4. What’s with the purple walls?
That’s exactly what the producers asked John Shaffner when he suggested it. Why purple? Why something so specific and vivid and impossible to overlook? Why not paint the walls with something soft and subtle—you know, like the ones on every other TV show? “Everybody was really anxious about it,” Shaffner later recalled. But, he reminded them, “Color is really important in terms of establishing the show identity.” Indeed, no other sitcom had such a stand-out color on their primary set. The purple walls would become an aesthetic anchor for the series, which he predicted (correctly), would stick in the viewers’ mind for years to come. “When you switched to ‘Friends,’ you saw that it was purple, and you stayed tuned.”
5. Where is the apartment, anyway?
The fictional address is 495 Grove Street. You can see for yourself in Season Four, Episode 21, when Ross mails Rachel an invitation to his wedding to Emily (that’s “Emily,” buddy). But the building used for exterior establishing shots is located at 90 Bedford Street. The production gets some points for realism here, because the building actually is on the corner of Bedford and Grove—but then again, there are zero visible balconies backed by gigantic multi-paneled windows à la Monica’s apartment. So, we’re back to Imaginationland.
The Bedford Street building has been featured on numerous guided tours for years (alongside other TV exteriors, like those used for Carrie Bradshaw’s studio and Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment). But if you have a smartphone, then there’s no need to pay for a tour. It’s become such a popular destination that Google recently added it as a tourist attraction on Google Maps. It has over a thousand reviews and an almost five-star rating, which is really saying something considering it’s just the corner of a building and all you can really do is stand there and stare at it.
6. But seriously, how could Monica afford that apartment?
At last, the million dollar question, with a very simple answer. Two, actually. The explanation given on “Friends” is that Monica was illegally subletting her grandmother’s rent-controlled apartment. To be clear, that’s not the same as “rent-stabilized.” Rent-control only applies to tenants who have been living in an apartment since July 1, 1971 or earlier. (Read more on this here, if you’re interested in the historical intricacies of New York City rent laws!) The rent on those apartments cannot be raised as long as that tenant still lives there, so—in the words of Chandler Bing—they are “a friggin’ steal.” Most of the few remaining rent-control tenants pay about $800 a month for their apartments—but some pay as little as 30 or 50 bucks. I KNOW.
In the real world, these apartments are so rare that they’re almost mythical. But that leads me to the second simple answer: Monica was able to afford that apartment because this is the New York of “Friends.” In this version of Manhattan, waitresses get fancy haircuts and always have time for a blowout. Out of work actors can survive without day jobs, and part-time freelance massage therapists sit around the coffee shop at 11 a.m. talking to their paleontologist friends. Everything about this show is a little bit mythical. And isn’t that why we love it?
Kelsey Miller is the author of the book, I’ll Be There For You: The One About Friends (Hanover Square Press). It’s available October 23, 2018.
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