Any TV series about beloved chef Julia Child absolutely has to nail one thing: her cooking.
To do this, the creative team behind HBO Max’s Julia turned to Oscar-winning production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein (Amedee) to recreate not only Child’s home kitchen, but also the WGBH studio where Child first shot The French cook. It might seem like a daunting task for any production designer, but von Brandenstein tackled it with grace and confidence, albeit with series co-designer Stephen Cooper.
“I think we’ve done very well. We’ve had wonderful cooperation from what’s left of Julia’s family and friends, and there’s some great research on her,” von Brandenstein explained. “Julia and Paul gave all their personal papers to the Schlesinger Library, personal letters, their account books, the receipts they paid for their first TV set. It helped a lot.”
von Brandenstein and his team were also fortunate to have the child’s original renovation plans and color samples for his kitchen. Since Child loved color, his quirky kitchen contained bold color choices: a bright golden yellow, a blue-green, a hot pink. Child’s kitchen was later installed in the Smithsonian Museum as a testament to her contribution and impact on American cuisine, but this kitchen reflected a later stage in Child’s kitchen renovations where she opted for unique colors.
The kitchen set, however, could not rely on leisure aesthetics alone. Of course, it had to be a work set that resembled Julia’s kitchen, but could also accommodate cast and crew navigating the scenes filmed there. In addition, the kitchen hides a secret about Sarah Lancashire, who brilliantly plays Julia in the series.
“You need a little more space and you need things to look a little taller, but you can’t ignore the fact that your actress isn’t as tall as Julia. Her real kitchen was really three inches taller than most kitchens with the cabinets, shelves, etc. It was easier for Julia because she had a bad back. Her husband decided to put everything a little higher to relieve her,” said said von Brandenstein. “But for our actor it would have been very difficult. So the way it was photographed, and I consulted a lot with our cinematographer [Eric Moynier and Dan Stoloff]I think we’ve almost always been successful.
No Julia Child kitchen would be complete without copious amounts of Child’s favorite copper cookware. von Brandenstein has faithfully recreated the pegboard wall that Paul Child built for Julia to proudly display his wares.
Other sets involved in Julia included various apartments and houses for its supporting cast, but the largest set – and the second most critical after the children’s kitchen – became WGBH itself. There, the Child filmed The French cook as documented on Juliathe first season.
“It’s a constructed place. That is, we have created a desktop set. It’s a former high school, and we started it in Framingham, Massachusetts. The painted tile and the large work table were all things that were taken from Julia from her experience,” von Brandenstein remarked. “Paul did a lot of the design for this set, but they worked on it together. She was thrilled to have a place that had running water, gas and everything she needed. We made the small dining room which is adjacent to The French cook because it was Paul’s idea that she go and taste what she ate.
Julia streams exclusively on HBO Max.