Golden Legacy Illustrious Additions to Walt Disney World Resort
raising the stakes gertler & wente architecture llp / regional focus: majestic homes of aspen, co
RMB Designs Inc. Curiosity creates fresh designs by Amy Howell Hirt
Berger, a residential architect and owner of RMB Designs in Westport, CN, doesn’t hesitate to ask subcontractors about audio/visual technology, how to support a floating staircase or the different techniques for applying Venetian plaster. He paints and sculpts – although not for projects, dabbles in woodworking and hangs out enough at the stone yard that the staff jokes that he needs an office. “I’m not afraid to ask questions and learn from anybody,” says Berger, who works primarily in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. With a lifetime of curiosity and several decades of home design and construction under his belt, Berger has amassed a wealth of knowledge that often challenges the duties traditionally ascribed to an architect or builder. Based off his lineage – an artist mother and psychologist father, Berger guesses he was destined to become an architect who sees home construction as a work of art, subject to analysis and scrutiny. Rather than beginning a design with mathematical coordinates plugged into computer software, Berger the artist begins on paper sketching what his mind sees down to the texture of the furniture. “My hand just draws it, and it doesn’t matter if the room is 17 feet long or 20. It saves time and we get everyone on the same page right from the start,” Berger says. For Berger, the work of art includes utilitarian features like the framing and plumbing that often will be concealed in the finished home.
“I truly design everything inside and outside of the house,” he says. Like any artist in a paying field, Berger is adept at skirting the line between the conventional and unorthodox, and building a touch of tension that creates drama. In a home that someday may be viewed as the origin of a french colonial modern style, a knock-down plaster finish wraps the walls and ceilings in an old world technique and a milky, modern silver glaze, providing a unifying background for the unusual theme. In the master suite, an asymmetrical – and unexpected – oval vestibule introduces a futuristic feel and offsets traditional features like the fieldstone fireplace. In the french-country-meets-modern kitchen, Berger played with the contrast of reflective crystals, seen in the Labradorite Big Blue island countertop, and the somber matte finish of a brushed Black Absolute granite on the surrounding countertop.
01 The exterior landscape is serene with a stone-inlaid pool 02 A vast master suite area looks out onto the surrounding woods 03 Beige and neutral tones accent the home’s living room 04 An avant-garde chandelier pulls together the simplistically-designed dining room 05 A grand piano is set against a natural backdrop in the living room
“It’s traditional but clean and modern and not cold. It’s a very inviting place,” Berger says. For Berger’s clients, this artistic, all-inclusive approach produces one-of-a-kind results but also a better bottom line. He now serves as decorator for most projects - allowing him to directly translate the furniture, colors, stains, light fixtures, surfaces and even area rugs depicted in his drawings. If a subcontractor says something can’t be done – such as creating the luxe look of a seven-inch-thick countertop by engineering a six-inch drawer that can support a one-inch stone slab – he simply will do it himself. And if a component of the design is outside of the client’s budget, he finds affordable options that won’t compromise the look. “If you’re picking out exterior stone, an architect might know enough to specify a Laredo Blend, but
there are standard and extra-large sizes, costing three dollars a foot and six dollars a foot. Because I’m also the builder, I can parlay that and suggest the homeowner do a combination so that you get the sense of the stones being large without the cost,” Berger says. While clients sometimes aren’t aware of the work that goes into the creation of a home, that’s OK with Berger. Artists often aren’t in it for the recognition. “No one knows the effort behind it, and oddly enough, that’s one of my goals,” he says.
photos: Melani Lust
Robert Berger enjoys learning new things, even if the information doesn’t directly apply to a project or his profession.
French Colonial Residence Just as Robert Berger’s unorthodox approach to home construction is rewriting what it means to be an architect or builder, it’s also creating new architectural styles. While he admits he was at a momentary loss when a client requested “an old world french and modern home,” the result has the makings of a style all its own. “The project basically developed a style that people call and ask if I can build,” Berger says. While the 03
exterior is purely french colonial, the interior is, in a word, unprecedented. By applying a modern tone to traditional features, Berger created a look that manages to be elegant yet edgy. Although the home boasts classic french doors and arches, it is a “trimless house.” A multi-step stain brings fresh depth to the reclaimed chestnut flooring, which traditionally isn’t stained, and in the kitchen, zebrawood brings bold detail to a classically shaped island. Clean-lined furniture and lighting – from the likes of Holly Hunt and Donghia and local resources including Artifact Design Group - is warmed by natural and old world materials such as antique hewn ceiling beams and fieldstone finishes.
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photos: Melani Lust
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