Set Design

Bradley Cooper Filmed His New Movie Maestro at Leonard Bernstein’s Real Home

The legendary conductor’s children opened the doors of their parents’ house in Fairfield, Connecticut, for the biopic
Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein and Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre Bernstein sit on the steps of the...
Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein and Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre Bernstein sit on the steps of the Bernsteins’ real Fairfield, Connecticut, home.Photo: Jason McDonald/Netflix

It’s no small thing to open your doors to a film crew, never mind for a movie that intimately depicts your parents. But that’s exactly what conductor Leonard Bernstein and actor Felicia Montealegre Bernstein’s children did during the production of Bradley Cooper’s movie Maestro. Cooper shot at the family’s Fairfield, Connecticut, home which the couple bought in 1962 and Leonard left to his children, Jamie, Nina, and Alexander Bernstein, when he died in 1990.

“When a movie is shot in your house, it’s a tremendous disruption,” Jamie says, explaining that she’d gone through the process on a previous film that was shot in her New York apartment. But she and her siblings didn’t let that knowledge stop them from allowing Cooper and his crew to film in Fairfield. “An element of trust ran through the entire project, so it’s not surprising that that trust extended to letting our house be part of the film. Everything Bradley did created this environment where everybody felt this bond and warmth and sense of trust and safety.”

The Fairfield home has been in the Bernstein family for more than 60 years. Multiple key scenes in the film take place around the pool.

Courtesy of Netflix

Though Jamie and her siblings were never on set during production, friends who help take care of the property witnessed the prep and described it as if the filmmakers had “picked the house up and taken it upside down and shaken it.” But by the end of filming, everything was returned back to its rightful place.

Wicker furniture was a favorite of Felicia, so production designer Kevin Thompson made sure to source wicker pieces for the sets. Here, a wicker table is seen in the entryway.

Courtesy of Netflix

Production designer Kevin Thompson was a part of that careful upturning, as he sought the best way of representing the central characters’ tastes as they manifest in their living space. Research is a part of any production designer’s process and the opportunity to be in the home, never mind shoot there, was an unparalleled route to understanding the film’s two subjects. “The home had not changed much in terms of architecture or wall coverings and things like that, so we were able to actually see the layers of things that Felicia had done to the house,” Thompson explains. “We were also able to get into the intimate aspect of family photos, Felicia’s paintings on the walls, the subjects that she painted, the things in the junk drawer, and there were still traces of them almost everywhere.”

“[Having access to the Bernstein house allowed for] an emotional gut feeling that this is how they lived, and this is who they were, and this is what they were interested in,” Thompson says, explaining how his understanding of the Bernsteins developed by experiencing their home firsthand. “They were curious, creative, artsy, cultured. They were very interested in social things, but also, music was the backdrop for everything.”

Courtesy of Netflix

Even with the property access, there was still plenty of work for Thompson to do in adapting the space across time periods. Since the film shows the home from the early ’60s through the late ’80s, it was important to carefully consider how things would have changed as time passed. While Thompson referenced family photos of what the home’s decor looked like at different times, his emphasis was more on getting the taste right in his choices for the furnishings rather than trying to replicate specific pieces of photographed furniture.

The earlier years depicted in the movie Maestro are rendered in black-and-white, including when the Fairfield home is first shown. “Fairfield is one of the locations that we see in black-and-white and in color. Because of all the use of black and white, the colors had more impact and you could subtly suggest the period we were in by the color palette,” Thompson says.

Courtesy of Netflix

Once the film switches to color, the vividness of the Fairfield home’s wallpapers is revealed.

Photo: Jason McDonald/Netflix

Felicia was the prime decorator for the Bernstein family, and though she worked with an interior decorator on their New York homes, she decorated the Fairfield home herself. “When Bradley and I went to the house the first time we walked around and we just got such an overwhelming emotional sense of what their country life was,” Thompson says. “It was very unpretentious. It was very comfortable. It was filled with little touches that Felicia had done because she was more the decorator, the flea market goer, the person that put the homes together.” On top of acting, Felicia was also a painter, particularly during time spent in Fairfield, and her artworks made their way into the film too.

“Once we knew it was going to be on film we did camera tests with the film stock,” Thompson says. “Both the costume department and my department had to consider contrast and texture with black and white carefully and we did a lot of camera tests with objects to see what the behavior was.”

Photo: Jason McDonald/Netflix

“There’s so much of our mother’s personality in the spaces that she decorated and one of the things that you can detect about her is that she wasn't pretentious and she wasn't trying to impress anyone,” Jamie states of the Fairfield home. “She just had her own sense of who she was and sense of style and you can completely feel that in these physical spaces that she created herself.” The resulting set design captures that essence, smoothly moving through time periods, and allowing the film to display how comfortably the family moved through the space.

Getting to know the Bernstein decor sensibility through the Fairfield home helped Thompson recreate the family’s apartment in New York City’s famed Dakota building as well.

Courtesy of Netflix

In the end, how did the Bernsteins feel about the home’s depiction on screen in the movie Maestro? “[The home] was amazingly well captured and it looks so fantastic,” Jamie states, adding that the production was blessed with good weather. “Every time our dad conducted outdoors at Tanglewood, at The Shed, the weather would suddenly turn bright and sunny and gorgeous. He had such good luck with the weather up there that they nicknamed it ‘Lenny Weather.’ So Bradley had Lenny Weather too.”