SPECIALTY: Interior and exterior decorative and functional metalwork (including furnishings) for home and commercial spaces.
BACKSTORY: What’s a Nice Jewish Boy doing in a place like this? Surrounded by equipment, grease, and metal shavings, you’d think he’s the farthest thing from the stereotype of NJB (doctor, lawyer, academic) you can get.
But maybe he is the NJB for the 2010s. Maybe he’s not as far from a surgeon as you’d think. Like a surgeon, he works with his hands. He uses education, experience, and creativity, and takes advantage of the latest high-tech tools. The only difference is that Eli and his firm, Berland Design, create custom furnishings and decorative elements for homes, offices, restaurants and even building exteriors. Oh, and he has a better way with people than most surgeons are reputed to have. It might be tableside instead of bedside, but it’s still a great manner!
Berland Design’s work ranges from handwrought and organic and almost romantic to sophisticated, streamlined, modernist and industrial (but still warm), often incorporating materials such as wood, concrete, advanced thermoplastics, and resins.
The path that led him to a studio oasis in a gritty part of Oakland is pretty much that same classic journey we’re all on…the one to find a sense of home, and to forge a way of living that’s true to who we are.
Eli’s particular journey took him from his childhood home in Berkeley to the University of Michigan (where he discovered seasons, and received a BFA in Industrial Design) to New York (where he learned how to weld and work with a lathe, while working as a fabricator at Atlas Industries, and to carry out large-scale, high-profile commercial projects) and then back to the Bay Area (“because you never know what you have till you leave it,” he says). Home at last, he worked with Kytin Design on larger commercial projects. Then, having fallen in love with furniture design, and hungry to take on more intimate projects where there was less material and time wasted, more direct connection to the client, and fewer moving parts, he formed Berland Design.
While the elements he uses in his trade are hard (stainless and cold rolled steel, metal and copper) he is, very predictably (as these things go) all about the soft stuff: the relationships he has with his customers and co-makers, and most importantly, family.
Eli’s Workspace and Studio
What’s your sign? Libra (makes sense)
What motivates you? My family. When my son, Henry, was born, everything changed. I know it’s a cliche, but now everything is for him. It’s not about me anymore.
What’s your favorite part of your work? Completing a piece. Walking around it, delivering it, seeing peoples’ reactions to it. People feel like they’re getting something that’s going to stay in the family for a long time. As a father, I can relate to that.
What are you proud of? That we provide informed design, execution and delivery of well-executed pieces. And the hand-built element–something you just can’t get in a broadly manufactured piece. But it’s more than just the craft….for me, design and craft are interconnected. You can’t have one without the other. Lots of people forget this.
What’s your favorite thing to make? It’s got to be a dining room table–for all the obvious reasons: it brings people together, it’s about families, important things happen there. You can show off beautiful materials, but you’re also being incredibly practical; practicality is key.
How do you feel about working with clients in the up-front, creative process? I love to work with clients on co-creating a piece. I hope that working with me, people feel like they’re a part of the creative process. Then again, not everyone knows what they want, not everyone wants to be part of the design process. It’s my job to figure that out and make it a meaningful process for everyone.
I’m a big believer in using 3D tools and computer rendering–it helps us get on the same page as our clients, helps them figure out what they want.
What do (potential) clients need to know? That making new things – especially with new materials – is really hard. It’s a journey that takes guts but is incredibly creative. There are a lot of problems that need to be solved, a lot of knowledge you have to apply. At the same time, even if you have experience there’s a lot of trial and error. That’s why it’s more expensive–all that experimentation and design and detail-sweating goes into one item, instead of being spread across many. But my clients feel it’s an act of creativity, that it can be simple and uplifting…and that it’s about the results you can get and the way it feels.
I think the other thing that people forget is that material–particularly metal–is expensive, and the cost just keeps going up! It’s funny but the cost of that dining room table is affected by China’s demand for steel. A price quote from 30 days ago may change. We’re part of a global market.
What’s the future bring? Still defining myself, my business. Would love to find a way of bringing beautifully designed and still unique pieces to market at a lower price point. There’s room for that. But I love working on a small scale…it’s more sustainable, less wasteful. And most of all, I love working with people–the experiences with interesting, creative people who are willing to take risks are what keep me going.
What 5 things define you? (Much shrugging ensues.) I’m not sure that anything defines me. It’s funny but I’m not much of a stuff guy. I’m more about relationships and family and happiness. Maybe before my son was born I could have described myself with objects, but now I’m more about the stuff that surrounds him. Sophie the Giraffe, or the 5 letters hanging above his bed, for example…
Reach Eli at 734.834.3093