ANDERSONVILLE’S EVERYMAN ARCHITECT

In Andersonville, back to basics plus cutting edge equals hybrid architecture.     Just ask architect Joel Berman, the Andersonville specialist who brought you Urbanest (traditional home furnishings store at 5228 North Clark Street), In Fine Spirits (wine shop at 5418 North Clark Street), Big Jones (Southern-inspired restaurant at 5347 North Clark Street), Andersonville Galleria (design boutique at 5247 North Clark Street), Pasticceria Natalina (Italian pastry shop at 5406 North Clark Street), and The Coffee Studio (5628 North Clark Street), just to name a few.   From residential additions to retail spaces (note the new 8000 square foot Brown Elephant Store on Balmoral and Clark), Joel Berman is everywhere you want to be – most notably in Andersonville.

If you want to work with Berman, you’ll need to have a chemistry with him – he really cares about developing good relationships with his clients.   Berman loves design perhaps as much as he loves helping people – especially the small business people who sweat and toil to get where they want to be.     Berman can relate to building a small business:   He was there himself 7 years ago.   Berman’s passion for process overflows in his Andersonville projects.    When you visit Berman’s Clark Street strip, where you can see Berman’s signature on seven different storefronts within five blocks, you can tell the architect behind the designs loves his work.   Yet Berman  remains humble.   His designs in character seem an extension of his personality.   Berman loves process, and it’s almost as though Berman falls in love every time he takes on a new project.    In Fine Spirits, designed by Berman in 2004, is the perfect example.   In 2004, Berman built a strong relationship with the owners and, having discovered their skill in carpentry, tailored his design to allow the family to build displays themselves and save money.   That is not only skillful design – it is taking care of your clients.   Berman loves both.

Fast forward to 2009, where you can visit the newly opened In Fine Spirits Wine Bar (5420 North Clark Street), a Berman sequel just due north of the wine shop.   The bar owners, Jill and Shane Kissack, Paul Hasenwinkel, and Johnnie Grozenski, wanted to honor the history of the building’s original 1906 architecture; to keep the bar approachable and friendly; and wanted the opportunity to hold private events and offer wine education.   Berman exposed tin ceilings and common brick walls and exposed/restored the American-Olean pinwheel-motif mosaic floor tiles.   Most of the seating is artfully arranged for easy conversation between staff and patrons.   The wine bar logo nicely resembles the wine shop logo.   The second floor has not only restored hutchwork but plenty of open space for those special events.     Berman makes things happen for clients who have great ideas but need a creative solution to get there.    You may have met some of them when you’ve shopped locally and visited these businesses.   If you have, you’ll know they have a good relationship with the affable Berman, who may just know as much about psychology as he does about design.

An Illinois native and life-long resident, Berman earned his Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.     Early in his career, Berman worked professionally at Altman-Saichek-Adams, Lester B. Knight, and VOA Associates, Inc. (VOA Associates touts the revitalization of Chicago’s Navy Pier and Northwestern Memorial Hospital).

In 2002, Berman took the leap and become an entrepreneur.   He opened his full-service architecture and design practice in April of that year.     In the years to follow, Berman would work from his humble home office, then from a temporary office space, and finally from his current location at 5212 North Clark Street.    From freehand 3D sketches to digital building technology to building animations, Berman combines classic and cutting-edge techniques to his designs.     Berman also is LEED-accredited (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).   LEED is an important certification that’s recognized worldwide and provides third party verification of sustainable design (energy conservation, water efficiency, improved indoor air quality, and other vital green design elements).

Berman’s down-to-earth philosophy of design, as he says, is of “practicality and simplicity.”   Berman favors the uncluttered, in his office as well as his design.   Simplicity is simply beautiful.     Berman learned this lesson well as he streamlined his own fledgling business.   A creator and an innovator tends to need help with the more linear aspects of an enterprise.   The accounting/administrative parts of a business can get scattered during creative brainstorms.   The linear aspects were Berman’s challenge in getting his business running full speed.   Berman, true to his philosophy, took a simple and practical approach:   He asked for help.   After taking classes through Jewish Vocational Services for the budding business owner, Berman simplified his business.   Berman also hired a financial software consultant to help him organize his accounting system.   With administrative processes streamlined, Berman now had systems that allowed him to focus more effectively and efficiently on his true passion:     Helping small businesses achieve their design goals.   Last year, Berman’s business generated revenue in the range of $200,000.   That’s what happens when a wise business owner asks for help.   His personal success story seems to inspire him to empower every client to enjoy that same success.

Another Berman success story can be told by Nicolas and Natalie Oravec-Zarzour of Pasticceria Natalina (5406 North Clark Street).   Berman once again developed a relationship with his clients and learned that they valued beauty, Sicilian aesthetic traditions, not to mention affording customers an old-fashioned behind-the-scenes baking view.     With that, Berman got to work.   Visit the bakery and you’ll see how well Berman got to know his clients.   Pistachio green walls and tempting displays in the storefront artfully draw customers into the bakery.   Nothing is overdone-much to the delight of Berman and his clients.

Please shop locally and treat yourself to the beauty of Joel Berman’s designs in the historic Andersonville neighborhood, Berman’s pride and joy.   You just might see Berman hanging out in some of these businesses.   If you want to be able to recognize Joel while you’re at these Clark Street businesses, check out his excellent website.

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