David Berman of Trustworth Studios is a man of uncommonly varied accomplishments. Born in Brooklyn, he was raised to follow his father into the family business, D. Berman and Son, which sold high-power electrical equipment. But after a stint as a purchasing agent at his father’s plant he rejected this white-collar fate.
“Boredom with the corporate world forced me into my true nature,” he says, recalling the satisfaction of changing his old car’s exhaust system on his off hours and the joy of restoring antique musical boxes to working order.
David Berman at his restored 1901 Aeolian Pianola 65-note push-up player with Merryweather standing by
Berman moved to Massachusetts in his mid-20s, as did many of his college friends. It was the 1970s; as so many of us do today, you earned a bachelor’s degree (Berman’s was in English) and promptly found work in painting or construction. In partnership with a friend, he formed a company that specialized in rehabilitating old houses. Learning on the job, he found he had a knack for shingling. One day, while working on the roof of an oceanfront house, he happened to glance toward the water and saw the Mayflower sailing by. “I’m having a hallucination from heat stroke,” he thought. But it really was the Mayflower.
As his skills increased and his appreciation of historic buildings grew more refined, Berman took on more challenging projects. In 1979 he moved a barn to Nantucket and converted it to a house. He then constructed a frame house entirely from scratch: the fictitious house to which the barn might originally have belonged. The new “old house” would be used to accommodate guests.
The business partnership dissolved in 1982, and Berman moved to Trustworth in Scituate, Massachusetts, the iconic Arts and Crafts home of Henry Turner Bailey. “H.T.B.,” as Berman calls him, famously championed public education in the arts and authored the 1914 book Art Education. “It was like moving into Sleeping Beauty’s castle for Arts and Crafts,” he muses. He spent years restoring the house, hoping to purchase it from Bailey’s heirs.
While living at Trustworth he began making furniture in the style of New England antiques. “No one wanted to buy it,” he comments, so he turned his focus to furniture in the English Arts and Crafts style. An English course in high school had introduced him to late-Victorian literature; in an effort to bring the period to life, the teacher had shared a photo of the parlor at Wightwick Manor. Berman was entranced by the vision of wood-panelled walls, stained-glass windows, and Morris wallpapers, which he says “percolated in the back of my head.” The archives at Trustworth offered a treasure trove of research material. Berman immersed himself. Especially fascinated by the work of C.F.A. Voysey, Berman built a clock, numerous light fixtures in wood, glass, and copper, and a variety of furniture in his favorite designer’s style.
One of Berman’s Voysey-inspired light fixtures made in wood, glass, and meticulously hand-cut metal
In 1994 Berman’s dream of buying Trustworth fell through and he moved to Plymouth, where he purchased a 1910 shingle style cottage. “Not really habitable,” he describes its state at the time, what with broken windows, a leaking roof, and no working plumbing or electricity. He threw himself into restoration, then ran the place as a bed and breakfast for a few years. In the meantime he returned to building furniture and lighting, the income from which proved barely enough to scrape by on.
It was at this point that Berman realized he could parlay his knowledge of historic architecture and interiors into period design consulting. Which brings us to the subject of wallpaper. The digital technology for printing papers was “just good enough” at the time. He taught himself to use a computer, and as the printing technology improved, his skills grew with it. Basing his patterns on meticulously researched original Arts and Crafts designs, Berman produces a growing line of wallpapers and fabrics for residential and institutional interiors, in addition to commissioned papers for historic houses. You’ll find them at the Peabody Essex Museum, the High Line Hotel, and other institutional and commercial locations, as well as in homes on several continents.
An original Voysey chair with “Isis,” one of Berman’s Voysey wallpaper patterns
“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had,” he says of his work translating original drawings and paintings by Voysey, Godwin, Mackintosh, and others into wallpapers and fabrics. “When I am drawing and have music playing, I am happy. It’s a bit like puzzle solving: You have to break [a basic design] down into color, and you have to figure out the pattern breaks. There’s also the bliss of color—things that shouldn’t go together, but when you put them together, they just go.”
Coming next: The nuanced art of period wallpaper design