Mona Ross Berman Interiors is a full-service interior design firm engaged in projects all along the Eastern seaboard. We’ve followed her work for a while and have loved everything about it. Mona has progressed in the industry from her first role as an assistant in one of Washington, D.C.’s well-established firms to establishing Mona Ross Berman Interiors in 2004. Today we have the luxury of interviewing Mona, getting an insight into her creative process and tips for young interior designers trying to be successful in the industry.
So Mona, tell us how did you go from an assistant to opening your own firm? Was coffee a good friend?
In all honesty, I always knew I wanted to open my own firm, but other than that there was no grand plan. The designer I was working for was winding down his business and I had a bunch of friends, and friends of friends, who wanted to hire me. So it all ended up happening somewhat by default. And it also started slowly. I had business from day one but by no means was I an overnight sensation. It definitely took a lot of years of hard work and persistence.
How do you begin the design process with a new client? What kind of questions do you like to ask?
Each of my projects is extremely tailored to each client, so I spend a lot of time at the front end of a project drilling down on how they live, what their goals are, and trying to get a sense of what they want and like. I try to emphasize to them that the one thing I cannot provide on my own is insight into how they live. So, I ask them things like “do they like to entertain?” If so, how many people? Do they have big dinner parties or are they more likely to just have a few friends over. And I also try to gage how concerned they are about durability and imperfections. Some clients want their homes to look pristine 100% of the time and hence we need select materials that allow for that while others like more patina and natural beauty which gives us more leeway when it comes to what we can use.
If you had a time machine, what period of design would you like to live in?
Great question! Late 1960’s I think. I love so much of the design from that general era. I love the glamour of the Kennedy Administration but also the futuristic vibe that became so popular. Lately I’m obsessed with all things Pierre Paulin who seems to epitomize so much that was right about that period.
Do you source the products to use in your interior projects yourself? How do you find them?
Yes. I’d say I am responsible for selecting 90% of what gets used in our projects. I cast a super wide net when sourcing. I like pieces to come from as many places as possible to help the end result look layered and unique. I find pieces all over — trade shows like ICFF in NYC, showrooms, traveling and visiting small shops, and of course the internet. I must google search ideas 10 times a day.
Do you have a favourite magazine / social platform you use? How about your favourite interior design website / blog?
I really love the New York Times T Magazine. They find such innovative and provocative projects to highlight. Surface Magazine is also very fun to look through. I try to keep evolving and growing as a designer so I seek out places that are not showing what everyone else is showing. I also love Instagram and have come to rely upon it for inspiration and ideas. I don’t look at blogs much – there just aren’t enough hours in the day!
What is your favourite place to design? and why?
Summer homes! Clients generally feel more free to go outside the box. They don’t take themselves as seriously as they might in their main house. And the materials, colours, patterns, and details are all fun with which to work. And they are happy places to go and be generally, so there is just a good feeling about working on them.
What are you most proud of so far?
Professionally, I’m proud of what I’ve built pretty much on my own and from the ground up. It’s just very gratifying to know that I created a successful business and that my work has been so well received by both my clients as well as the shelter press. This past January, a project of mine was featured in AD Online which was thrilling and definitely felt like a milestone accomplishment for me and my firm.
What advice do you have for young designers or architects reading this interview?
Working in residential design is very much a client-services-forward business. By that I mean, interactions with your clients will be extremely important to the overall success of what you do. The creative driven part of design and architecture of course are also vital, but having good, honest, trust-based relationships with clients is paramount. Also, look for opportunities to network and share information. I find that a lot of others in these professions don’t want to share resources and ideas. I think that really stunts your own growth and potential. The exchange of knowledge and expertise can be a very valuable tool as well as give more meaning to your work.
So, what’s next?
I have a lot of large projects just getting off the ground, including a renovation of a house on Nantucket Island and a gut renovation of a property clients purchased behind their existing house and plan to turn into a carriage house. My goal, as always, is to keep growing, evolving, and taking on interesting and challenging work for appreciative and fun clients.
All images used credited to Richard Powers Photography.