Peninsula design guru Julia Berger dishes on her family’s historic estate and the elements of California style
It’s a broiling, sunny summer day when we meet up with Julia Berger, also known as style maven Julia B., at her family’s iconic Peninsula estate Green Gables for a chat about fashion, history, her new home collection and, of course, the essence of timelessness.
Berger is a Bay Area native who spent decades on the East Coast before permanently decamping for the leafy Woodside enclave she now calls home. The move was an obvious one, Berger tells the Gazette. “I love being back in the Bay Area. Besides having the wonderful opportunity to enjoy our home at Green Gables on a continuous basis, I feel a sense of freedom and creative inspiration that I have never felt before,” she says.
Berger’s making some serious moves in the design world as well — her company, Julia B., just rolled out a Labor Day launch of its Quattro Mani (Four Hands) line, a limited-edition, completely handmade collection which features the four essential aspects of a tabletop with linens, plates, glasses and silverware. For Berger, who started the business in the trunk of her car 15 years ago, seeing the business grow and thrive has been rewarding in spades.
“When I first started the business I was selling other people’s linens and was basically seeking a manageable way to put food on the table for myself while caring for my young daughter. I quickly developed my personal design point of view, and from there I opened up a store in Greenwich, Conn., which offered a myriad of bedding, tabletop and fashion items,” she remembers. “Then in 2008, the crisis hit, and with it, I made the difficult decision to close the store and transform the business into an online direct-to-consumer and interior designer focused company. That model remains with us today,” she says.
It’s been a successful one — although the company does not disclose revenue, it’s become a trending topic for Bay Area socialites in the know and has gained traction with detail-oriented hostesses all over. She credits her growing local popularity to an innate understanding of the sensibilities so special to the area itself. “Despite the intensity of the Peninsula and Silicon Valley, the gritty edge of the New York City business mindset is largely absent here,” she adds. “Here, we play hard and we work hard, while in New York, work dominates, one might argue excessively. As crowded as the Peninsula’s roads have become, one is never more than 40 minutes from astoundingly beautiful nature and seaside and it is there where so many of our product inspirations begin.”
Being able to create the line in California after moving its headquarters from Connecticut to Healdsburg has been a blessing, Berger says, because of the deep connection to the area she grew up with as a child. “I was three or four years old when I first made the trip with my parents from our foggy San Francisco home to visit my great-aunt Janet Fleishhacker (wife of Mortimer Fleishhacker Jr.),” she says. “From that period forward, each time I visited I could not help but grow increasingly enamored with the amazing park-like setting, the fabulous pools and the sheer scale of the estate. As I grew older, I increasingly understood that I was blessed to be in an incredibly special place.”
The history of Green Gables, as told by Julia Berger
The Green Gables estate was built by Mortimer Fleishhacker Sr. and his wife, Bella (Gerstle), in the early 1900’s and was first occupied as a family summer residence in 1912. The renowned craftsman era architect brothers Charles and Henry Greene were engaged to design the house and grounds in what became the largest project they ever designed.
Green Gables has remained in the Fleishhacker family ever since and is used to this day by the third, fourth and fifth generations of the family, who continue to enjoy its beautiful setting, gardens and fabulous climate. The design of the main house and gardens, as well as what is purported to be California’s first free-form swimming pool, evolved over the better part of the estate’s first 20 years, culminating in the creation of the magnificent Roman reflecting pool. In 1988, the estate was included in the National Register of Historic Places.
Green Gables is shared by the three branches of the Fleishhacker-Ehrlich families. Roughly 50 percent of us live in the Bay Area and the rest are spread out across the country. Although primarily used as a summer residence, the estate is also enjoyed in the “off-season” for Thanksgiving and the many seasonal opportunities we embrace to bring our respective families together in this magnificent setting. My husband Marc Fleishhacker and I absolutely love our times at Green Gables and for one reason or another, we frequent the estate on a close to monthly basis.
With this backdrop, it’s easy to detail our designs and nourish our Hand-made For Life philosophy, which is such an integral part of everything we create.