Advice to Young Interior Designers — Hall of Famer Bruce Bierman

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Interior Designer Spotlight with Bruce Bierman

Owner of Bruce Bierman Design Inc., New York, NY

Bruce Bierman was inducted to the Interior Design Hall of Fame in 2000, and has been featured in Architectural Digest, Elle Décor, House & Garden, House Beautiful, Interior Design, and The New York Times Magazine. Bruce has earned double degrees in architecture and fine arts from RISD (Rhode Island School of Design). The prestigious Franklin Report gives Bruce their highest five star rating and quotes these three client comments and more — “I have used many well-known designers over the years, and I felt that Bruce was the only one committed to the project and our family for the long haul.” “Bruce is a very special person—mature, calm and generous. I am happy to say that he is now a friend.” “I am a very opinionated client. I interviewed 30 people for this job, and I will definitely go back to Bruce for the next one.”

Join me as Bruce Bierman shares how he started, the advice he would give to to a beginning decorator, the importance of listening to clients closely, the pleasure of working on second, third and fourth homes, and why he doesn’t get flustered…

What Advice Do You Have for Interior Designers Just Starting?

“That’s easy. Pay attention to your client! When you are making a presentation, look at the client. Don’t get so caught up in what you are presenting. The client’s body language will tell you a lot about what they are responding to. If you keep an open mind and watch them while you are presenting, you will get a clearer picture of what works and what doesn’t. When we make a client presentation we typically have a limited amount of time. Many times I’ll have more than one scheme on the table to present. We’ll have them come into a conference room and we might have nine trays on the table. I let them walk in, look at the trays, and watch as their eyes linger—which is usually the first tray I started with.”

How Did You Make Your Start in New York After Graduating from RISD?

“When I first came to New York, before there was the Interior Design Hall of Fame, I had made a list of designers and architects who’s work I respected. I got on the phone and called all of them. I would ask them if they could spare a few minutes to talk to me about the industry. Probably out of the twenty I called, I saw twelve. The more well known designers did pick up the phone including John SaladinoAlbert Hadley, and Ward Bennett. Nowadays it might be virtually impossible to do something like that only because of how busy everyone is.” 

Did Anything Come of Making Phone Calls to Your Design Idols?

“Joe D’Urso who was Calvin Klein’s architect and designer at the time had looked at my portfolio from school and saw that I was a very good model maker. He asked me if I could work for them for a couple week’s making a model for Calvin Klein’s show room. John Saladino also hired me to help on a west end avenue project. What was interesting, is that I wasn’t looking for full-time work. In architecture school we were always encouraged to do something outside of our department. I got involved in the textiles department. Freshmen year I made two contemporary tapestries. Over that summer I took the two tapestries back home to New York and brought them to a gallery on the upper east side. By the end of the summer both had been sold. One was sold to a song writer whose architect saw the tapestries and the second was sold to Dustin Hoffman. So at the age of nineteen, I was getting a big head. With the money I made, I went out and bought a loom. I had to hire two people to help because I was making some pretty large tapestries. By the time I was twenty-four I had three employees working on tapestries and my business started to grow. Eventually, after about fifteen years I found it too difficult to have a tapestry and interior design studio. I had five weavers and three looms and it was becoming a big operation. Although I loved it, I loved architecture and interior design more.” 

When Did Your Interior Design Career Take Off?

“I had moved into a loft and decided to renovate it during my nights. I was the plumber and electrician’s assistant, I helped install the carpet, I helped the cabinet makers, and did mostly everything else. It was a big loft and I had a very large Halloween party. At the party was someone who worked at New York magazine. He said the place was terrific and the design editor should really see it. So I got a call from the design editor, Suzanne Slesin. She came by and said the place looked great. They did a six-page shoot of the apartment which appeared in New York magazine.

 

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From that article I get a call from someone who said they were the executive secretary of someone. He has a villa in Acapulco and would like you to fly down on Friday, spend the weekend, and then come back up on Monday to tell him what you would do to the house. I don’t think they had any idea how young I was, but I said sure! I did that project and then did four more for the same client back in New York and Long Island. That was really the start to my career.”

How Does it Feel to Be Inducted Into the Interior Design Hall of Fame?

“It was kind of an interesting process really. I got a letter in the mail in August 2000 saying that I was being inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame and that they would be in touch with more details. At first I thought someone was joking with me, and then I started to recall that over the past year I had received phone calls from other designers I knew that were in the hall of fame. The editor of Interior Design also called asking to see some of my work. I started to put it all together and realized without knowing it, I was being vetted that whole year. The induction was in the grand ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York with 1,500 people, and I always say it was better than my bar mitzvah.”

 

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Why Do You Spend So Much Time in Florida?

“We are doing a project at The Breakers, a project at the Biltmore, and we are also working on a 20,000 square foot private client house. All of my clients in Florida, except for one, also live in New York. For the past two years I’ve been coming down at least once a week. I think many designers who have established a career, you have a certain clientele, and they feel comfortable with you. You end up doing their first residence and then they have a second home in the Hamptons, Florida, or the Bahamas. You follow your clients where they go.”

 

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Are There Differences Between Working in Florida and New York?

“Absolutely, most of the projects I’ve done done in Florida have been second and third homes. The majority of the clients in Florida have been over fifty years old. I just finished a home for a man that just turned ninety years old! The difference is that I find that I’m dealing with a clientele that has done this before and knows how designers and architects work. They understand the cost and the timing of the project. They also understand how we work on budgets. I find my Florida clients extremely well educated. It’s very rare that I speak of something that they don’t know some inkling about. That being said, one of my clients always says—he doesn’t buy green bananas. They typically feel like they have a limited amount of time and they want things to be done by the time the season starts. Right now I’m here all week meeting with clients.”

 

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Are You Still a Modernist?

“I think most people see me as a modernist, although in the past we’ve worked on an apartment in New York where it was all English antiques. It was a very traditional apartment. One project we are working on is a regency house in Palm Beach using a lot of Venetian and Italian furniture with Fortuny fabrics—the client has requested the home feels like it was on the French Riviera.”

How Did You Use Color to Transform a New York Loft?

“The way that it happened was the client had a home on park avenue, was a lawyer, and decided to retire. He wanted to move to a loft in Chelsea. You really have to see the entire project. This was a complete renovation of the loft down to the studs. The client really responded to the periwinkle in the tile we used in the master bath shower. So we used it in the master bedroom.”

 

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“Red libraries have always been very popular through different periods of time but it’s how you do it. I did use some modern furniture in the room. That’s where I take my queues from and what I see in the client’s previous house. His park avenue space was very colorful.”

Tell Me About the Client Who Loves Asmara Rugs?

“This particular client loves shopping for rugs. She is based out of Greenwich, Connecticut and this was for her home in Jupiter, Florida. She was very open to the selection process so we went to the design center in New York. Asmara’s Ferncroft needlepoint rug worked great in their family room with the mahogany french doors. I say to clients all the time that it is important to start from the ground up. A rug anchors a room and you can then go from there. We are actually redoing her house in Greenwich now.”

 

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What Role Does Technology Play in Your Work?

“We’ve been using cutting edge technology for so long. I’ve always tried to stay ahead of the curve. I’ve noticed a lot of my clients are interested in using new technology to make their lives easier. As long as they are willing to learn how to use the system, which I find not as difficult as many people think. Clients with second or third homes also want to be able to monitor them from off premises. My clients are looking for great systems, but not overly designed so they can’t use them. In this Palm Beach penthouse’s living room, I put a white cabinet that was twelve inches deep and it actually goes into the wall another twelve inches. Inside the cabinet is all the stereo equipment. We do a lot of media rooms. They are important because it makes a client want to spend more time at home.”

 

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What Styles are Trending Right Now?

“People always ask me what’s trending. What I say is that the trends have more to do with where a client has come from. What did they grow up with, what did they first start with in their first house, and what might they want to change? For me as a designer, very early on I knew what worked for me. It was always an understated mix of furniture that was very comfortable, usually neutral in color, with certain edited antiques. An example using my client in Greenwich, was that their first house was very traditional. Their second house in Jupiter was also very traditional but it was traditional without being fussy. The apartment we did for them in Miami was very modern and the new house we are doing for them back in Greenwich is more transitional. It’s great when a client gives you the opportunity to see their design trends evolve over time.”

 

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How is Interior Design Changing?

“There are some very good things that are changing in the industry and some other things that are worrisome. The internet has made things so much more accessible. Information is much easier to find. With that said, I find clients are overwhelmed with choices, or because they’ve seen something on 1stdibs or Houzz that they somehow understand all aspects of those kinds of pieces. What they can’t see from the internet is the patina and how the material feels. If you are talking about rugs. How does a rug feel under your foot? How thick is it and is the rug going to wear well? Most of my clients are extremely busy and many of them don’t want to take the time to go out and see things. I find that problematic. The good news is, more information is available to us much quicker. The internet as a tool has been great. But certain people see things and think they have an understanding. It’s about proportion, scale, patina, how materials interact, and how light plays on things. Some of my clients will say, that couch looks comfortable. And I say it’s only a picture. They don’t see the importance of actually seeing it. I won’t let a client buy an upholstered piece without them sitting on something.”

 

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Why Do You Say There Is No Such Thing as a Decorative Emergency?

Laugh…Laugh…Laugh…“Because it’s only furniture! The clients that come to me are in a very good place in their lives for the most part. They have been successful, are happy, and are looking forward to what’s ahead of them in their lives. To get upset about something like a couch being delayed just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. It seems like a waste of energy. The more my clients get to know me, they know that I’m serious when it’s important to be serious. My firm and myself work very hard and they see that, but they also know I don’t sweat the small stuff. Everything always gets resolved.”

What Do You Think About the Online Marketplace 1stdibs?

“I love 1stdibs. I’ve known Michael Bruno, the founder, before he started it. He used to be my picker in Paris. I would send him a list of things I wanted and he’d go out into the market and find them for us. It’s a very good tool, but for me it’s rare that I buy something on 1stdibs that I don’t see in person. I’m probably on the site weekly. Especially if I’m in a certain city I’ll see what’s on 1stdibs to potential go look at them.”

 

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Do You Have a Favorite Interior Design Magazine?

“Probably for me, from a visual point of view is The World of Interiors which is produced in London. The interiors are more worldly and not so focused on American design. Some can be a little quirky and others can be historical. 

  

For more on Bruce Bierman visit: www.biermandesign.com

 

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