Step into Jonathan Berger and Robert Nachman’s contemporary pueblo-inspired dwelling and it’s immediately clear this isn’t your standard Southwest style. A Louis XV commode is joined by 18th-century French chairs covered in chartreuse leather, a Tim Davis photo and a Navajo rug–and that’s just in the entrance hall. Of the unexpected juxtapositions, Berger says, “We were relocating from New York and said, ‘Do we dare bring this stuff out here? It doesn’t necessarily belong.’ But Southwest style is really very eclectic, so we thought, Why not?”
The couple’s fresh take on integrating the region’s Native American and European cultural influences was also a matter of merging their own disparate collections. Berger, an interior designer, favors classical antiques, while Nachman, formerly the design director at Robert Allen and now a marketing consultant in the home furnishings industry, tends toward midcentury modern and contemporary furnishings. “This is the first time we’ve really had the space to combine our collections,” says Nachman. “As things go, it was a very easy process,” Berger adds. “We seemed to agree on all the different elements.” For Berger, who oversaw the interiors and contributed his own lighting and furniture designs, it was about deciding which pieces to incorporate and how to make them work together in a house with strong architectural features, like vigas, kiva fireplaces and rough-hewn lintels. “It has the quirkiness of an old adobe, with ceiling changes from room to room,” he says.
The dining room reflects Berger’s eye for not only furniture selection and placement but also space planning. “You pass through the dining room to get to the living room, which isn’t ideal,” he points out. Rather than the typical rectangular dining table centering the space, he crafted a circular version that he placed off to one side; it’s made from a slab of travertine atop a base of notched timbers inspired by the minimalist sculptures of Carl Andre. Arranged on the opposite wall are photos by Irving Penn and Steven Meisel, drawings by Jeanne Mammen and George Grosz, and a Picasso etching, among other works. “When we were looking at our respective collections, I noticed we had a lot of faces,” Berger explains. “So I thought, Where could we get away with putting different things together? And that’s how the salon wall came about.”
The room’s laminated cardboard console is another Berger original. Says Nachman, “Originally Jonathan wanted to do it by embedding Japanese shou sugi ban wood in resin, and he was Googling for weeks and months how to do it.” Adds Berger, “The whole idea of the cardboard was simply, What could I get here at home and make easily without very many tools?” Berger’s DIY training started early: His father was in the lath-and-plaster business in Los Angeles and had a large workshop at home. “We’d spend weekends making things,” he recalls. “My mother would look at design magazines and point to something she liked and ask, ‘Can you make this for me?”
Berger’s touch is felt strongly in the living room, which features custom slipper chairs and a sofa as well as his hand-sculpted table lamp and bronze floor lamp. Flanking a large abstract by artist Mary Mito are saguaro cactus skeletons found at a shop in Santa Fe that he electrified and turned into torcheres. The diverse mix continues with a 1940s American chair that once belonged to Berger’s grandmother and a pair of Louis XV-style armchairs along with a vintage Florence Knoll table and a ’70s Lucite, glass and chrome bar cart.
Featuring an 18th-century Chinese rug, Louis XVI chairs, a contemporary bed and a welded-steel-and-glass table from the ’70s, the master bedroom was designed to be a “comfortable cocoon,” according to Nachman. “Part of it works because of the jewel tones,” Berger says. “I’d purchased the rug for a client, and then it came back to me. I absolutely loved it, so it ended up over the flat-weave well-to-wall carpet. If you look at the classic ’20s to ’40s American design, you see a lot of Chinese carpets like this with what they called ‘fine French furniture.’ I purchased the chairs in San Francisco many years ago. And we reupholstered the bed to match the dark shade of brown in the rug.”
The effect of such pairings is like a lively dinner party attended by a fascinating assortment of guests of all ages, backgrounds and interests. “That’s something we tried to achieve,” says Nachman. “It’s an inviting place to entertain but also a cozy and warm space, not only for friends and family but for the two of us.” Berger views the house as an ever-changing canvas. “You’re always learning about new things,” he reasons. “Some go away and some come in. It gets boring to look at the same thing all the time.”