real estate

How Succession Scouts and Designs Its Luxe Mansions

Logan, Tom, fake taxidermy. Photo: HBO

To the extent that Succession skewers the lives of the ultrarich, it’s also invested in getting the details of those lives right. There are private jets and helicopters, tailored suits and blouses, and in almost every other episode, trips to mansions, country homes, and other enclaves rarely glimpsed by the rest of us plebs. The show’s second season kicks off with a visit to Logan Roy’s country estate — the “Summer Palace,” as the episode is called — and by its third episode, the characters travel to Europe and stay in a sinister-looking hunting castle in Hungary. Vulture caught up with the show’s production designer Stephen Carter to get a sense of what goes into scouting, filming at, and dressing the sets of each luxe location.

Carter’s job begins when he and producer Scott Ferguson get the basic outline of the season from the show’s writers and start to scout out where each episode might get filmed. At that point, Carter said, the outline consists of fuller descriptions for the first few episodes and “three-word descriptions” for the ones coming later, which might mention plot points like the hunting trip in episode three. From there, they look for shooting locations that are within range of New York City, where most of the show’s filming takes place.

For Logan’s summer home, the Succession team first scouted out locations on the Gatsby-esque Gold Coast mansions of northern Long Island, but eventually chose a Hamptons estate built for Henry Ford’s grandson in the 1960s. To Carter, the estate captured what he imagined Logan’s new-money taste to be like. “Given the age of the character,” Carter said, “he would have been forming his impressions of what trendy style would be in the sixties.” Plus, considering the ocean access, the setting gave the show a chance to “open up” and put the Roy children outside as they schemed against one and other.

Shiv and Roman enjoy that pricey Hamptons seafront. Photo: HBO

The house is also one of the most expensive properties in New York — it was recently listed for $145 million, down from $175 million — and Carter was proud to say Succession was the first show to shoot there. He wouldn’t name the exact price tag for using the property, but admitted it was a significant cost within the show’s budget. “That was the season opener, coming back after a long hiatus,” he said. “We really wanted to have a little extra ‘wow’ factor present and everybody felt like that property was worth it to deliver the goods.”

Logan and Shiv inside the “summer palace.” Photo: HBO

While the search for the right property is usually dictated by what’s described in the script, sometimes the shooting location helps clarify what’s going to happen in an episode. In Sunday night’s episode, Logan and a few key members of Waystar Royco go on a hunting trip. Originally, Succession scouted locations near Lake Placid, where they were also planning to shoot a version of the Sun Valley media conference. But they decided it would be impractical to haul equipment and a crew to shoot in a hunting lodge near there, reversed course, and settled on shooting in the Otto Kahn mansion, nicknamed Oheka Castle, in Long Island. Carter drove out to take a look at Oheka in the dead of winter, and inspiration struck: “We’re like, This feels like Hungary, why don’t we pitch that it’s in Hungary?

Not Hungary, but Long Island. Photo: HBO

After they brought the pitch to the writers, suddenly the episode was set in Hungary, with Oheka Castle — which is now used primarily as a hotel and event space — standing in for something like a grim European estate. In order to reinforce the idea and contribute to the dark tone of the episode, which was originally titled “Logan Goes Stalin,” the Succession crew also swapped out the mansion’s “big portraits and paintings that were not particularly right for us” and hung their own set dressing, which consisted primarily of fake “early 19th-century taxidermy … all cast out of foam and carved by our scenic artist at his home,” Carter said. “So they were incredibly lightweight.”

The fake taxidermy is a useful example of the work Carter does on location to prep the world of the Roys. Often, he uses the furniture that is already available on location if it works for the tone of the episode, but he also brings in whatever key furniture they might need, and moves around everything within each room to make space for the actors and cameras needed to get coverage of a scene. If there’s art on the walls, Carter says he’ll often have to replace it with something else, especially if it’s something famous. In the season-two premiere, for instance, the Ford estate had art that “was pretty good for us,” but also featured famous works from Picasso and Warhol. “To pay for the rights to get those and show them repeatedly, season after season, on all kinds of media platforms is incredibly expensive,” Carter said. Instead, he prefers to “find works that suggest that same level of art appreciation, but aren’t going to break our bank, so that we can do incredible things down the line.”

Eastnor castle, site of Shiv’s wedding. Photo: HBO

Even while Succession depicts the ultra-rarefied world of its characters, the show also tries to keep an eye on their wastefulness. In the first episode of season two, Logan’s hired help prepares a feast and then throws it out after the stench of a raccoon carcasses stuck in a chimney infects everything in the house. It’s “trying to keep things realistic,” as Carter says, in order to avoid glamorizing the characters’ lives too much.

To that end, the show also pays close attention to the work done by the people employed by the Roys, which means coordinating details like how the show depicts the catering services, working with the show’s set dresser and costume designer to ensure the various color palettes work together, and also consulting research on popular design trends. For Shiv’s wedding in the first season (shot in Eastnor Castle), they worked with wedding consultant Sarah Haywood to make sure the flow worked logically. When Succession staged a charity gala in another episode, they shot at the popular New York gala spot Cipriani, which was “the best research you could have because they do this stuff all the time,” according to Carter. “They showed us lots of options.”

The Pierce’s estate, as seen in the Succession trailer. Photo: HBO

As seen in the season-two trailer, Succession will also head to a new mansion later this season, as the Roy family mingles with the Pierces, a liberal, blue-blooded media family. For those scenes, Succession ended up using a mansion they’d originally scouted for Logan’s summer place: Salutations, a $125 million North Shore estate built on a private island by J.P. Morgan’s family. Carter had wanted a New England, Hyannis Port-style vibe for the Pierce family, and this location provided a version of that within striking range of New York. It also had enough available bedrooms and hallways for the production to include an element of “bedroom farce,” which takes place as the members of the two families mix with each other.

As for whatever might be coming next for the Roys, Carter couldn’t reveal much, though he mentioned planning out soundstage designs for an episode built around congressional hearings (even Succession wouldn’t be able to shoot on location for that), as well as a trip to Scotland for an episode that might fill in a bit of Logan’s backstory. “Brian Cox is from Dundee originally,” he said, noting he was excited to get to film at the city’s new Victoria & Albert design museum. “We wanted to see if we could do something fun and get him back home, for character reasons and for him.” Fun? Logan Roy? We’ll see.

How Succession Scouts and Designs Its Luxe Mansions