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Donna Heiderstadt | September 13, 2013
A New York-based interior designer, who also trained in architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, Bruce Bierman, 59, is renowned for his sophisticated and understated aesthetic. He has been defining East Coast style in upscale residences from Greenwich, CT, to Palm Beach, FL, for 30 years. Bierman was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame in 2000.
Interior Design: Whereas many designers want their interiors to scream "style," your spaces are like a soothing whisper. How do you describe your design aesthetic?
Bruce Bierman: I think Jen Renzi said it best in the Hall of Fame article: "Despite its immediate impact, Bierman's work is subtle. It whispers invitingly. Bierman strives to create environments that are both viscerally and visually soothing. ‘I want a client to walk into the space and sigh-a sigh of pleasure.' His methodology is guided by an awareness of and a deep respect for the ‘psychology of space,' an intuitive understanding of how we resonate emotionally with our surroundings."
ID: You use color judiciously, even sparingly. What is it about neutrals that you love-the richness, the sophistication, the interplay of texture and light?
Bruce Bierman: I find the use of neutrals serene and soothing and the use of tactile materials and textures appealing to many of our senses.
ID: Can you recall any particularly challenging client demands-for example, a request that would ruin a space's harmony-and how did you come to a solution?
Bruce Bierman: Great design requires an open and honest dialogue in order to be successful. Challenging can be great. When a client hopes to incorporate too much, or primarily design for occasion-driven events, rather than how the space is used every day, then problems arise. Communication is key. I have said to a client in the past, "You are watering down the design, and we can do much better." Sometimes just asking them to reconsider options is all that is required for a great solution.
ID: Is there one particular project that stands out to you-perhaps one that you resonate most with emotionally?
Bruce Bierman: Our recently completed penthouse in Palm Beach incorporates clean architectural design, French furniture from the '20s and '30s that we have purchased on our many trips to Paris, as well as 19th-century dog and animal paintings from my husband's gallery, The William Secord Gallery in New York. The mix of these three design elements, which are not usually paired together, makes the space feel very unique and special.
ID: How do you define the term "modernist?"
Bruce Bierman: Incorporating current trends and living requirements in a visually clean and uncluttered space while making sure that all creature comforts are provided.
ID: You have designed a 24,000-square-foot home as well as 600-to-750-square-foot living spaces (notably your Palm Beach carriage house and your Fire Island beach house). How does your approach vary from a large project to a more compact one?
Bruce Bierman: Designing for a small space is very much like designing a yacht. Regardless of the scale of a project, the key is proportion. The approach is always the same; it's the scale that changes!
ID: Are there any new materials or finishes that you've become a fan of in the 12 years since your induction into the Interior Design Hall of Fame?
Bruce Bierman: The only one that I can say that I've used extensively is crystallized glass. No matter how many new materials are introduced, I find I am always drawn back to natural materials in stone, wood and fabrics. When I was first inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000, Cindy Allen, the Editor, asked me to participate in a panel discussion with four other Hall of Famers in New York. The topic was "What's New, What's Hot." I brought Norma Skurka's book from 1976, "The New York Times Book of Interior Decoration." My comment on what's new was, "Everything old is new again!" I showed the work of David Hicks, John Dickinson as well as many others...the work was as fresh and modern as anything being done currently.
ID: How do you keep the design experience innovative and fresh?
Bruce Bierman: Keeping my eyes open wherever I am and being fortunate enough to travel extensively enables me to keep the design experience fresh and innovative.
ID: What or who is your greatest source of inspiration?
Bruce Bierman: Ruhlmann, Leleu, Jansen, Jean Michel Frank, Dupre Lafon-all French design legends from the '20s and '30s.
ID: What do you consider your greatest design indulgence?
Bierman: Fresh flowers