For Julia production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein, the most important aspect of her job was to recreate Julia Child’s home kitchen. While Julia, played by Sarah Lancashire, travels the world in the series, she always returns to her kitchen to work on new ideas.
Julia tells the story of Julia Child as she rose to prominence with her television show The French Chef. At the time, there were no cooking shows on television but Julia Child had a vision that she would not give up on. She went so far as to pay for the entire pilot episode of her show to prove that she could have an audience and that decision has changed how Americans thought of television and cooking.
Since it was important to recreate the kitchen down to the details, von Brandenstein found old photos and original designs that Paul and Julia Child drafted when they renovated their kitchen to fit Julia’s needs. Those archives proved vital for her whole team as they set out to recreate the kitchen exactly, down to the very last detail.
DEADLINE: What excited you about working on Julia?
PATRIZIA VON BRANDENSTEIN: I felt like I was very close to this woman when I started my research. She was an expert in teaching people how to cook and to appreciate what good food can do both for health and for pleasure. And Sarah [Lancashire] Julia is extremely charming and channeled in a way that I felt an obligation to finish it. I wanted the show to have the same kind of detail and care that Julia put into her food, her book, and her personal appearances. We had access to letters and papers that Julia and Paul had left to Harvard. I read a great deal about her from her, and learned a great deal from her from her personal letters from her, her home photographs from her, her recipes, and her scribbles on envelopes. There was so much detail that I felt a kind of obligation to put that same level of detail into the show. And I’m glad I did, because what we have from her is a highly detailed piece of her life from her.
DEADLINE: Julia’s home kitchen was obviously an essential set, what was your prep process on that?
VON BRANDENSTEIN: I read the plans of the original renovation of her kitchen when they moved in. the [original] kitchen was from the twenties and it was very not convenient for her. So she and Paul designed and renovated their kitchen with an architect friend of theirs and made drawings. For Julia and Paul, that kitchen was the heart of the house. In fact, she very often entertained at the kitchen table. When you came to dinner and you were a friend, that’s where you ate. She opened up the dining room for Christmas and Thanksgiving, but that was about it. Julia believed in an honest approach to life, despite the fact that she came from a privileged background. She was very direct and I tried to be faithful to what her kitchen was.
And as you know, her kitchen is in the Smithsonian in its entirety. It was lifted directly from their house, it’s not a rebuild, so you can see the signs of age. But originally when she first painted it, it was very, very bright colors and that’s what I tried to follow because we had all the information. We had the numbers of the colors and we had exactly where everything was because it had been photographed many, many times. And of course, Paul drew those black lines around the pots and pans on the walls, so they wouldn’t become misplaced.
We even got the exact type and brand of her stove, which was found in pieces in some farm somewhere by an excellent guy who worked with us, Robert Mitchell. He found those pieces and put it back together and it was quite an accomplishment because it was a lot of money to invest, but it’s a piece that’s iconic to her. We thought it was worth it and then we managed not only to get it back together, but to put a false back on it so that we could photograph through the oven. So it was certainly worth the trouble.
DEADLINE: It’s such a strange feeling to watch Julia and imagine that there are no cooking shows on TV. I love cooking shows.
BRANDENSTEIN: Now, of course, there’s a whole network. There are answers, like Iron Chef, and there’s so many different cultures being represented, but it all really did start with Julia, and I think we’re all the better for it. We’re certainly eating better and healthier because I’m old enough to remember you couldn’t get a decent cup of coffee in this country from between New York and Sacramento. Now we have very good coffee, very good bakeries, very good bread all over the country. I know that’s Julia’s influence.