Michael Berman: Art Deco Designs for Today

Michael Berman’s 'American Transmodern' furniture and interiors reflect the 1930s, but they’re designed for a modern audience.

By Janice Harris


Michael Berman, the man behind the furniture brand Michael Berman Limited, knows what he likes when it comes to design. With a self-described style like “American Transmodern,” Michael Berman’s furniture and designs are commonly described as a marriage between “understated glamour” and “welcome livability.”


Michael was visiting the High Point Market this season to promote his line with none other than premium furniture manufacturer Theodore Alexander. During his time in High Point, House Tipster was granted access to a conversation with Michael and his friend, designer Christopher Grubb.




As you’d expect, Michael and Christopher are a zestful pair. They discussed the industry, Michael’s newest lines, and the trends they’re seeing across the industry this fall. Stay tuned to House Tipster’s YouTube channel for full video of the conversation, but in the meantime, here’s a quick breakdown of the chat between renowned designers Michael Berman and Christopher Grubb.


Califolio for Theodore Alexander

Michael’s newest collection of furniture is all inspired by the California landscape. A Los Angeles resident, Michael found the natural surroundings of the area, from the desert to the coast, to be full of finishes and materials that translated well into furniture and décor. Modern architecture and design also played a role in this collection because Michael is a fan of the homes in Palm Springs, his favorite weekend getaway.


“I call it ‘coastal modern’ with influence from mid-century modern and art deco eras,” Michael told Christopher. “I drew inspiration from everything in California, from the desert to the climate and landscape.”


Materials and Finishes

Every furniture finish in Califolio is, naturally, based on things you’d find in southern California, including Saguaro cacti, driftwood, and sand.


“These are things you identify with California,” says Michael.


These finishes are made in a variety of ways, from intricate wire brush techniques to ceruse washes. Interestingly, nature’s not just in the inspiration, it’s also in the names of each of the finishes. “We named the finishes things like Sandalwood, Driftwood, and Incense, which actually resembles the gray and brown colors you see when you blow out incense.”


Throughout Califolio and Michael Berman’s other designs, he tends to shy away from shiny tones. Instead, patinated finishes are his M.O. Sure, Michael appreciates touches of bronze, brass, and black steel throughout his collection, but everything here has a soft matte look.


“One of the things I wanted to convey with this collection was that the finishes have a dryness to them,” he says.



The materials weren’t the only important consideration in Califolio. Scale was another aspect Michael had to work around.


Part of the reason is because furniture in some areas of the country tends to be oversized, but in other regions, homes don’t have space for large pieces of furniture.


“When we put the collection together, we wanted to consider the amount of space our furniture takes up,” he says. “We’re designing for homes all over the country, not just spacious California houses.”


To remedy the problem, two different sized products were made for each design: one in petite and one in grand. Now, each furniture piece can fit in multiple environments.


Inspiration & Trends

Throughout the conversation, Christopher and Michael continued to note Michael’s biggest inspirations, including mid-century modern and art deco furniture and architecture. But is there anything else besides Califolio that used these influences? Absolutely!


Michael admits that it’s the art deco period of the 1930s and 40s that provides the basis of most of his designs across his work.


“I just did a wallpaper collection influenced by the F. Scott Fitzgerald jazz age. It’s very deco but reinterpreted for a modern market,” he says.


In keeping with current trends, Michael plans to continue using gold and black accents in his work, especially in the metalwork and banding.


He says, “I use touches of black, brass, and gold as accent pieces because it’s easier to take a risk with materials in that regard.”


Plus, it makes each piece more unique and special. Another trend to look out for is rose gold for common hardware like plumbing fixtures and cabinet hardware.


If there was one big takeaway from the conversation, it was Michael’s appreciation and understanding of the consumer market.


“You can’t be everything to everybody,” he says. “When you’re doing a collection, it’s important to put together enough variety with choices.” In Califolio and the rest of Michael Berman’s work, his designs reflect this commitment


Browse the Califolio collection at TheodoreAlexander.com or at showrooms in High Point and New York.

Next: Cyan Design Follows Passions, Not Trends