Furnishings: An American Trans-Modern Man

<< Back to Robb Report, January 2003
  • William Kissel

With the launch this year of a new Tibetan rug collection for Aga John, a decorative ceramic tile line for Astor Tile Works, and his first luxury plumbing collection through Rohl, Michael Berman has been an extremely busy Californian. But he is the first to tell you that he left his heart in Detroit, Chicago, and New York. To wit, the names of his latest collection of furniture—the Dearborne side table, Lombard dining table, Madison writing desk, Hawthorne chair—come from the streets and neighborhoods where the Los Angeles designer spent his formative years and developed what he calls his "American trans-modern" style.

"It’s Americana in a sense," says Berman, whose furniture is sold exclusively through the Bradbury Collection in Los Angeles. "I was raised near Detroit, so my designs are very influenced by the automotive industry. In New York it’s all about architecture and entertaining. Chicago has the energy and the people and the camaraderie. And California has been a big influence. It’s amazingly contemporary, light, and fresh, and has the whole Hollywood vibe happening. Each place has its own sense of glamour."

Berman is precise in his definition of trans-modern. "I’m not simply reissuing a piece from the past," he says. "The whole Italian modernist aesthetic that is very contemporary and reminiscent of the 1960s, for instance, is not my aesthetic. I don’t like furniture or home accessories that are so clean and modern that they become almost generic. Mine is softer, a little more American." He points to his Steamer club chair inspired by the streamline shapes of the 1930s. "It’s a very clubby statement but it does not have a tremendous Art Deco reference," he says. "The designs on the base make it interesting, but it’s not a heavy period piece." Similarly, his Hawthorne chair has saber legs inspired by a neoclassical Greek klismos chair, but it is shown in a rich caramel or black tea-stained mahogany. "To me, this is American trans-modern," says Berman. "There are references to historic elements and art history, yet it is reinterpreted in a modern way."

These days, Berman can be found putting the finishing touches on Grace, his first L.A. restaurant commission. He has also opened a studio and design lab across the street from the restaurant to showcase his signature collections and sell one-of-a-kind objects that fit his American trans-modern vocabulary. "People who buy my furniture have a familiarity with what I’m producing," he says. "It reminds them of the past, but lets them see it in a fresh new way. I think of it as comfort food."

Michael Berman Ltd., 323.933.0220, www.michaelbermanlimited.com;
The Bradbury Collection, 310.657.3940

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