by Lou Mancinelli
For some, a career in law via Ivy League schooling, working on political campaigns, working for the Department of Justice and graduating from a prestigious law school just isn’t compelling.
Take eight-year Chestnut Hill resident Mona Ross Berman, whose interior design work, through her company Mona Ross Berman Interiors (MRBI), is featured in the upcoming September edition of national design magazine House Beautiful.
It is rare that a Philadelphia designer comes to be published in House Beautiful. According to Berman, editors told her she was one of a handful of Philly designers featured in the magazine the past decade.
The Berman feature is extensive and starts with the cover page. Her work is illustrated in an eight-page spread that includes an interview. But this is not the first time Berman’s worked has been featured in a prominent publication during her short career.
She’s twice been featured in Philadelphia Magazine, where, according to her website, her work was described as “a seamless and chic interplay of pattern and color, heirloom and contemporary, classic and kid-friendly, elegant and artistic.”
Her work has also appeared in numerous trade magazines and Main Line journals.
After graduating from Brown University in 1994, with a degree in political science, Berman, who is originally from Chicago, worked across the country in political campaigns for three years. She worked for one year at the Department of Justice. Four years after graduating from Brown, she enrolled at the Georgetown University Law Center and earned her law degree in 2001.
But a year-and-a-half into her law career, Berman began to think she wanted to do something different. And, unlike so many others, she listened to the voice within and heeded to its call.
Berman said during a recent interview that her work lobbying for the interests of health-related associations, like the Nurses Association, “wasn’t compelling – I didn’t want to be part of such a big institution,”
“I decided I wanted to do something really different,” she said, “something where I could be more creative. Something where I had more control over my work schedule and my work life.”
Berman said she began to think about comments her friends made about her creative prowess, “about what they might be – how I might use them.
“I thought about a lot of things, and ended up on interior design,” she added.
Because she had intensive schooling, Berman decided to learn interior design as an apprentice rather than attend traditional design school. After months of research and networking, she found a designer in 2002 she wanted to learn from and was taken on as an apprentice for D.C.-area interior designer Caldwell-Beebe.
“Before I started,” Berman said, “I wanted to see if I was any good, before I invested the time and money. I was so excited when I started working [for Caldwell-Beebe.] I tried to learn everything I could.”
Following the completion of her apprenticeship in 2004, Berman founded MRBI. With her staff, which includes designers educated at Drexel University’s interior design program and the world-renowned Parsons New School for Design, Berman concentrates on high-end residential interiors. Her team has imbued rooms in homes from the shores of Nantucket to the suburbs of Washington with Berman’s eye for style.
The Mona Ross Berman Interiors portfolio is a vibrant collection of bright lime greens, banana yellows, watermelon pinks and berry reds set among bright-colored rooms. While most of her work featured in her online portfolio is an example of brightness, there also exist subtle olive greens and a use of space and light that is at once angular and expansive.
The rooms, which she says are mostly custom collaborations between Berman and her clients, are sharp, yet calm.
“A common thread in my work is I try to make the spaces as authentic as possible,” Berman said. “It always reflects the client’s lifestyle and has a timeless feeling with the combination of traditional and new styles.”
Clients who work with Berman have the opportunity to essentially design a room any way a client can imagine. Berman has a team of skilled artisans at her disposal (and tens of thousands of fabrics) that can help her make a client’s vision come to reality. That goes for anything from a Technicolor pinstriped couch to a traditional marble countertop on an island in the kitchen.
“From day one,” Berman said, “I had a lot of friends and friends of friends that gave me enough confidence to say, ‘okay, you can do this on your own.’”
And it has been by word-of-mouth, through friends and referrals, that Berman, 39, has built her business the past seven years. When she started out, she said, “everyone knew someone, who knew someone.” That networking chain, something she learned and leaned on during her days as a political lobbyist and campaigner, has been her backbone.
“At the end of the day, I’m in the client/service industry, just like I was as a lawyer, only now the service is interior design,” she said “I came in with a leg up in terms of knowing how to run a business and working with clients. Referrals are the best source of clients.”
As far as other aspects of her initial career and law training that still ring true in her work, she said, “I’m constantly thinking about what might go wrong – where might there be a problem.”
“There’s a thousand details in what I do,” she explained. “There could be 15 to 20 different fabrics on one sofa. The thing I love most is every single house and every single space is different. Each one has its own challenge, like the details and challenge of each new case.
“I don’t want a room necessarily to look like a Mona Ross Berman room, but more like the clients did it themselves, with some expert help.”
Berman lives in Chestnut Hill with her husband, Michael, and her 4-year-old daughter and baby boy. For more information visit MonaRossBerman.com.