Master of Modern, Michael Berman
Michael Berman’s been a fixture on the Los Angeles design scene since opening his eponymously named firm in 1986. The Detroit native is known for his sophisticated yet understated style, so it’s little wonder that not only big-name clients have come calling, but manufacturers too. Berman has product lines with Kravet, Rohl and Walker Zanger—as well as others soon to be announced, and recently opened his showroom, Bronze, on Beverly Blvd. A longtime client of Snyder Diamond, we couldn’t wait to pose a few questions to the designer, whose work we have admired for decades.
What is your design aesthetic? I approach interior design much like a set designer or an art director approach doing a production. It takes into consideration the actors. Every project I do is specific to my clients—their taste, the architecture or environment. In terms of my style, I’d say it’s modern. There’s a thread of modernism that runs through everything I do; whether it’s a traditional or contemporary project, there’s a restraint.
How did you get started in the business? I started working for Angelo Donghia in 1982. I was really fortunate. Angelo would come to the west coast and I often played assist and chauffeur to him. I was put in the furniture department—back in those days everything west of the Mississippi was built in Los Angeles, and all of the prototypes Angelo and John Hutton came up with were produced in a factory off of Venice Boulevard. I would see to it that their drawings were properly executed by the factory. I got an amazing first-hand knowledge of furniture production—not to mention just an overall mentoring from Angelo about business and diplomacy.
I’d moved out here in the late 1970s to go to Otis-Parsons, so it was pretty serendipitous that I got the job at Donghia almost simultaneously. Not only was I learning the trade technically in school, I was learning about it with experience on site. I realized it was my calling—I’m really fortunate. It was a fabulous place to start. He was a huge name in the industry and I got the privilege of working with him and learning his thoughts about furniture and the way things should be scaled and executed. He was a tailor, so he looked at everything with a tailor’s eye.
Where do you derive your design inspiration? Travel is a big inspiration for me. We’ve been to Istanbul, Italy, Argentina, and Hawaii in the last few years. The colors and shapes of Istanbul, the gorgeous silhouettes and graphics—it’s so modern. It was all so incredible that I came home and designed a whole series of tiles and mosaics! It will be my new collection for Walker Zanger. But I’m also inspired by automotive design—being from Detroit, it’s part of my history. I’m inspired by the lines and profiles of automobile design and how it translates to interior design. The way I outfit a piece of furniture with hardware is reminiscent of door handles on a vintage Bentley.
If you could reside on a Hollywood movie set from any era, what would it be? That’s an easy one—The Fountainhead, 1949, with Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper. It has the most incredible modernist sets. That New York apartment would be the ultimate for me.
What do your clients like best about working with you? I think my clients respond to the products that I show them because they feel it’s an assemblage of ideas rather than something that’s cookie cutter. They like that I’m a bit eclectic. Most clients that gravitate to me like that there are pieces drawn in from different eras, yet we put them together in a way that’s cohesive. And I think they like the fact that I research things; I’m not just a shopper for them. This is a fun job. I’m easy to work with.
What takes a kitchen or bath from ordinary to extraordinary? For a kitchen, I would say it’s a richness of materials. I’m turned off by sterile kitchens; I like a bit of warmth –wood in combination with hard surfaces like marble. And you can have state-of-the-art appliances but putting a toaster on the counter that reminds you of good industrial design is grounding. It’s a beautiful, practical and humbling aspect of living. What takes a bathroom to extraordinary is a free standing tub. It’s what everybody dreams of—a big foamy bathtub in the middle of the room. A free standing tub just takes any space up about ten notches.
Images courtesy of the designer