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Andersonville architect Joel Berman has big plans for the city’s small business owners…

Take a walk around Andersonville with architect Joel Berman and you’ll quickly realize how entrenched he is in the community: The number of smiles, waves and “hellos” pointed in Berman’s direction would be right at home in Mayberry, but they feel a little foreign in this burgeoning urban neighborhood.

Yet Berman has earned his big-man-on-campus status rightfully, playing a huge role in shaping this hot North Side ’hood by designing and helping develop several local hotspots, including new Southern-inspired restaurant Big Jones (5347 N. Clark St.,773.275.5725) and In Fine Spirits Wine Shop’s recently opened wine bar (5420 N. Clark St., 773.334.9463). Home store Urbanest (5228 N. Clark St.), indie design boutique Andersonville Galleria (5247 N. Clark St.), Italian pastry shop Pasticceria Natalina (5406 N. Clark) and The Coffee Studio (5628 N. Clark St.) are a few of Berman’s other projects in the area.

“This street acts like my portfolio,” Berman says while strolling down Clark. “I walk down the street and know half the people by first name. It sounds odd, but the neighborhood really has a small-town feel.”

While Berman, 44, is an Andersonville man through and through (he also runs his full-service architecture and design company from an office on North Clark Street), he’s not averse to putting his mark on nightspots and more in other parts of the city.

In Wicker Park? Stop by the new Chocolate Grape (2113 W. Division St., 773.772.3990)—a restaurant and wine bar encouraging the pairing of chocolate and vino—which Berman infused with a sense of refinement and intimacy. West Town? Berman is the visionary behind Relax Lounge’s (1450 W. Chicago Ave., 312.666.6006) exposed brick and raw feel. In Lincoln Park, check out the gooseneck lights Berman place on the outside of new sports bar The Spread (2476 N. Lincoln Ave., 773.857.5074).

After 23 years in the architecture game, Berman, who grew up in Rogers Park, Skokie and Wilmette, has perfected his style, which he describes as simple, modern, practical, green, efficient and not fussy. “Things are better simpler. If you throw too much in, it’s overwhelming. It needs to be spiritually balanced, have a Zen feel to it,” Berman says.

While bigger projects are sure to keep coming to Andersonville’s favorite architect, Berman says he will always continue going back to small business owners—like those behind Relax, Chocolate Grape and In Fine Spirits.

“I’ve done corporate work, but the projects I enjoy the most are with small businesspeople who have one or two or three shops,” he says. “I like dealing with people who are just starting something new and have really worked hard to get there. I like people who have earned their keep.”

17 Jun 08  By: Joel Berman

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