With a great eye for planning and structure, Joseph Berkowitz from JAB Design Group admits that using these key skills in his interior business every day has seen him reap the benefits of a career spanning almost thirty years.
YOU ARE AN INTERIOR DESIGNER. DID YOU HAVE AN INFLUENCE IN YOUR YOUTH THAT SHAPED YOUR CAREER PATH?
My mother is an incredibly talented artist (potter, painter, basket weaver) and pianist, so I have always been surrounded by creativity. I had a grandfather who I am named after that I never met but, he loved fine things and collected antiques. From a young age, I was making architectural room models and filling them with furniture made from clay.
WHEN AND WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME AN INTERIOR DESIGNER?
As a young child, I designed houses with paper and pencil. I thought I wanted to be an architect and went to college for Architecture initially, but quickly realized I was more interested in the interiors than the exterior. I do have a great eye for space planning and structure. These are skills that I use daily in my interior design business.
YOU STARTED YOUR DESIGN FIRM JAB DESIGN GROUP ALMOST THREE DECADES AGO. WHAT AND WHO INSPIRES YOU?
Yes, I have been in this industry for a long time. Enough to see the color green and gold metals go away and come back. Of course, there are many well-known icons of design I could mention that have influenced me over the years but truthfully, life inspires me. I see every detail of what is happening around me all the time, be it nature, fashion, architecture or travel. I am most inspired by my senses that are always firing on full.
WHAT ARE / HAVE BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES IN YOUR CAREER?
I always say I am in the business of design, not the design business. What I mean is I am a businessman first and because of that, running a successful design firm and managing my employees is the greatest challenge. The creative part comes naturally and simply flows, but it must be supported by a good business machine. I am responsible not only for my clients’ homes and how beautiful they are but for the money they entrust me with as well. I take that very seriously!
IMPORTANT LESSONS ALONG THE WAY?
Be truthful and honest with yourself and the people you encounter. I am very open with my clients about everything that goes on. It is a team effort. There will be problems and bumps in the road. I never get derailed. I just solve problems and move forward. Know what you are capable of and push yourself to go beyond that. Design is about exploration. Like all things worthwhile in life, you must step out of your comfort zone to make significant accomplishments happen.
THE FAVORITE PART OF YOUR JOB?
Seeing a satisfied client. The design process leading up to that is fabulous, but making my clients happy is my greatest focus.
WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING AN INTERIOR DESIGNER?
I love being in a business that is about design, fashion, and style. I have always been interested in beautiful things and now I make a living shopping, arranging, and designing just that.
AND THE WORST?
The worst thing, like in all businesses, you will encounter people that are by nature unhappy or difficult. I like to work with good people. I enjoy laughter, collaboration, and kindness. I try to choose my clients carefully as it makes the experience so much more pleasing.
WHERE IS HOME TO YOU?
Penn Valley Pennsylvania. The “mainline” of Philadelphia as it is known. A very old and beautiful area with varied architecture and lush greenery.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL DECORATING STYLE AND DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE ROOM(S) IN YOUR HOUSE?
My personal design style is eclectic and a bit exotic. I like both modern and traditional aesthetics. My favorite room is a small den that houses many personal items. It is anchored by a huge carved teak armoire filled with my collection of new and vintage barware. On the wall are two beautiful Asian inspired masks from a trip to Bali. The seating is very cozy and conversational with a coral velvet sectional by Kravet and two natural woven club chairs with camel turquoise and coral windowpane check wool upholstery. Great spot for a martini.
WHAT KEY PIECES IN YOUR HOME CAN YOU NOT LIVE WITHOUT?
My piano, the foyer fountain, and antique porcelain and bronze carved vase given to me by my father, from his father (the antique collector).
TALK US THROUGH A TIMELESS INTERIOR DESIGN STYLE.
A timeless design is about a style that is not dated by today’s hot color or current trends. I always try to achieve a look that will live on and feel fresh many years after it is created. That is where some sense of eclecticism is valuable. The slightest mix of new and old will always create a sophisticated style that instills that sense of timelessness.
YOU HAVE DONE SOME EXQUISITE INTERIORS. COULD YOU HIGHLIGHT SPECIAL ASPECTS OF THE INTERIORS YOU COMPLETED FOR:
BLUE BELL: The Blue Bell renovation was an enormous two-story addition to my client’s home. It encompassed a large structure on the back of the home as well an extension to the garage, new pool, and pool house, new kitchen space, mudroom, additional bedrooms, and patios. I had the opportunity to design all of the interiors in a transitional style as well, so it was a great project to be involved in.
RUSTIC MAINLINE MANSE: This project was for a young couple that did not want a stuffy home. We agreed to design their newly constructed house in a neutral palette and with an industrial edge. I chose to blacken all the window mullions to begin the look. We used distressed materials as much as possible to give the home a slightly rustic patina.
VACATION HOME THE BEACH BLOCK MODERN: An extremely satisfying project to design – my clients were so much fun to work with and totally entrusted me to do my thing. That means they let me be creative and were very much behind my vision for their modern beach house. Ideas like the cement tile on the steps and the painting I did directly on their dining room wall were received with enthusiasm. The master bedrooms ten-foot custom console/desk was one of my favorite pieces.
RITTENHOUSE CONDO: I had become great friends with these clients from a previous project, so it was a thrill to design their new apartment when they moved from the suburbs into the city. We created a very chic space that was based on good substantial pieces with very little fluff and accessories. The palette was warm, earthy tones and neutrals with a splash of color here and there. The master bedroom features an enormous custom mirror that had to be brought in and constructed on-site as it would not fit through any doors or elevators. I do love those types of challenges.
THE MARGATE BEACH HOUSE: I was hired from the beginning for this ground-up project and had the opportunity to style the house inside and out as well as design all the interiors. I do not like ‘cute’ beach house design so there are no shells or ‘this way to the beach’ signs. I created a very livable yet casual home that worked well in a beach town environment but had plenty of texture and style. The living room drapery is one of my favorite pops of color as is the creation of a cocktail table from four smaller tables in the same space. The master bedroom is truly a neutral sanctuary.
WHAT ETHOS DO YOU HAVE BEHIND YOUR DESIGNS?
To design spaces that can be stimulating and exotic, but still feel real and livable, as opposed to displayed areas.
HAVE THERE BEEN PROJECTS THAT YOU HAVE DECLINED? IF YES, WHY?
Yes, but more so as I became a seasoned designer and businessman. I decline projects where the client appears to be difficult and not what I call a designer person. Some people want to live in a place that has been professionally designed but are not willing to allow a designer to have the correct amount of control and trust necessary to do the job.
DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN THREE WORDS.
Creative, Driven, Fun.
YOU TRAVEL FOR BUSINESS AND HOPEFULLY PLEASURE TOO. WHICH HAVE BEEN YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO TRAVEL TO THAT HAVE LEFT A LASTING IMPRESSION?
Bali and Venice have been my favorite places. Both have an incredibly exotic edge to them. Bali was lush, green, and foreign to my eye in many ways. As a designer, I also appreciated the plethora of furniture and decorative products that are made locally. Venice is a stunning city both architecturally and sensory. I loved strolling thought the dimly lit alleys and over the bridges that connect the canals at night. There was something new around every bend. It was very intriguing and sexy.
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR FUN?
I love to exercise (which I do every day) and I love to sing. I have been in bands throughout my life. Currently, I am trying to get back to playing the piano more often.
IF YOU HADN’T BECOME AN INTERIOR DESIGNER, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE BECOME?
Some other form of entrepreneur for sure. I am one of four boys. My father instilled a business acumen and especially owning your own into all of us from a very young age.
ANY EXCITING PLANS ON THE HORIZON?
In business, I always have current projects that are exciting. One of the tables right now is a gorgeous flow-through apartment in Miami that has our full attention. In my personal life, I continue to strive to enjoy life and be happy every day. I live each day knowing that life is short …