Joe Berkowitz: Trust Your Instinct

joe-head-shot-008With experience comes confidence, and for Joe Berkowitz that means trusting his gut while also listening to his clients. It’s a combination that hasn’t failed him yet.

Thanks for joining us, Joe! Tell us a little bit about how you got into the design business.

Since I was  child I have been interested in design. I made my first model home out of clay and left over carpet from my parents home at age 7. By the time I was 18 I was asked to do a charming Historical Townhouse on Delancey St. in Philadelphia. I remember upholstering an existing Bar with a heavy Navy Corduroy Velvet that I purchased in NY.I created a hanging glass rack above it with a rustic log and some stainless hooks. It was a knock out. Throw in a camel pit sofa, some very eclectic accessories and the phone started ringing.

What are some of the first things you try to notice when meeting a new client at their space? Do you have a checklist, or is it a meet and greet to feel out their personality?

I’m sure there was a checklist 30 years ago when I started, but now it is instinct. I always listen carefully to a clients wishes but I find the real insight comes from observing their personal style, color palette in clothing and taste in art. Sometimes you need to see where someone has come from in order to know  where to lead them. Often I am asked to redirect a client, so they don’t do the same thing they have had all their lives.

Working as a designer is committing to a career filled with difficult challenges. Which problems do you face most often? Clients or space? Do you have a method to work through those problems?

Definitely not clients, I get along with everyone. Architectural limitations are the most common design challenges. Rooms with too many openings, walkways, or broken walls, make it hard to ground a furniture arrangement. Rooms with too little natural light really bring out the creativity in me. I am very interested in lighting quality. It is an often ignored decorating tool.

Design shows are very popular on television right now. How have they influenced your business? In what ways do your clients now interact with you that they might not have before the popularity of the shows?

Funny you should ask. I won HGTV’s Show House Showdown last year. It was an incredible show. We received calls from all over the country as soon as it aired, and every time they re-run it. The concept was for me to compete against a designer in another city. We each had identical houses and were given a budget to design a home. The public would tour the finished homes and select the one they would most want to live in. It immediately gave us a larger audience to design for. I find my clients are far more aware of products, materials, and even the installation process as a result of all of this exposure.

From the outside it seems like the Philadelphia area focuses on incorporating it’s rich history into many designs! Is that something many clients want? Describe if/how you might incorporate a sense of history into your designs.

It depends on the project. We did just complete a project designed to look like an “Old Philadelphia Manor Home”. As it was an authentic look. The exterior stone was reclaimed from a well known local structure. We selected traditional wood framed period pieces and the appropriate fabrics to complete the old feeling. As an accent we had our fine arts painter recreate a mural of a horse and buggy scene from photographic archives on Philadelphia history. The result is wonderful!

Do you have a design project you are most proud to have completed? What did it look like before? After?

I am very proud of so many of our projects. We have turned an old dental office into the only “Boutique Hotel Styled” practice in Philadelphia. We transformed a mission style home into an incredible “Lodge” complete with rustic wood details, antler chandeliers, distressed furniture and many stone and structural changes done by our craftsman. One of our Florida designs was a hip apartment at Canyon Ranch in Miami. We designed a hydraulic cocktail table that became the dining table. It sat in front of a custom banquette that had a hidden sofa bed in it. The overall style was Chic South Beach with a slight ethnic influence. I could go on and on, We run 30-40 completely different projects at a time.

We love rugs. Can you take us through how you use area rugs in your designs? Are there designs where you’re more likely to use a rug? Less?

As I mentioned, some rooms are Architecturally challenged. When there are no good walls to anchor a furniture layout I absolutely rely on a good rug to ground the furniture. Without it you get a floating lost affect. We also rely on area rugs for strong texture or pattern, both of which can make any space pop. We used an area rug made by a hammock company in a shore home to combat the moisture and sand. In my HGTV winning home I used an animal skin in the breakfast room and an enormous white synthetic Flokati in the family room. Both were fabulous design statements.

Which area rugs do you find most durable? Least durable?

Most durable are the flat weaves; Real sisal, sea grass matting,  wool textures, a tight woven rug can withstand kids, dogs, or commercial traffic. I try not to say least durable, I prefer most delicate. Like fine clothing, be prepared to care for the things you love!!

We know as well as anyone that rugs can be expensive. Any assistance on how to cut down on the initial price?

First I would say that a quality rug will last forever. You can’t say that about everything expensive. But if you need to cut back don’t be afraid to get a slightly smaller rug. Your furniture does not have to sit completely on it. Second find a fair reliable source. There is a rug in every price range. That is a fact.

Thanks for your time today! Any more hints for our readers

Yes, don’t be afraid to take a risk. Be bold with your ideas. Create your own ideas as often as possible. Do what hasn’t been done. Don’t buy the whole set, and remember; It’s not what you spend but what you select that makes for good style!



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