Jerry reconnected with a high school classmate, Sherrill Broudy, in 1956. Sharing a love of architecture and design, they decided to become business partners. Jenev became ERA Industries, the name the business retains to this day. After several years, the Ackermans bought Broudy out. With this transition, the couple began to apply their talents to a wider variety of media, designing home accessories and architectural elements in the form of textiles, wood, metal, and mosaic. They employed an innovative combination of traditional techniques and modern production approaches.
Later that year the Ackermans bought a small tract house in Culver City from Evelyn’s brother Milton, who had graduated from Art Center School as a photographer. Milton had begun work on a studio addition and Evelyn and Jerry completed it several years later. It eventually became their design studio.
Harold Grieve, a well-known interior designer, held an exhibition of Jerry and Evelyn’s work, which included a mosaic table, a wall mosaic, and Jerry’s hand-thrown stoneware pottery. The show was in the first home of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Exposition Park. Evelyn completed designs for two exterior architectural mosaic murals commissioned for buildings in West Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Fantasy Landscape, developed for an apartment building, was featured in an article in the Los Angeles Times Home magazine and is registered with the Los Angeles Mural Conservancy. In Santa Barbara, Sea, Land, and Sky still graces the front of a law building.
Always exploring new materials, Jerry and Evelyn became interested in several processes involving aluminum and created a number of special commissions. Warrior King was selected for the second “California Design” exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum.
Evelyn had taken weaving in college and they decided to add woven tapestries to their product line. It soon became apparent that Evelyn alone could not meet the demand. They found a family of skilled weavers outside of Mexico City to execute the designs. Their relationship lasted for many years. Evelyn’s first design, Hot Bird, featured on the cover of the Los Angeles Times Home magazine, was followed by a steady stream of new tapestries. Evelyn also designed a number of wall hangings that were silk-screened onto fabric.
The Ackermans decided it was time to have their own showroom for the architecture and design trade featuring their unique designs. They opened their first showroom in 1959 on Melrose Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard, across from where the Pacific Design Center is now located. The next year, their daughter, Laura, was born.
In 1964, when they outgrew their showroom on Melrose, they moved to larger quarters on Beverly Boulevard, across from the Herman Miller showroom. This location, in the heart of the design trade, offered premier exposure and better opportunities for interactions with architects and interior designers. In the following years, Jerry and Evelyn created designs individually and as a team as the business grew. Eventually, Jerry decided to concentrate on product design and development and marketing.
Contract furnishings and interior design represented a large market. Ackerman designs were featured at major department stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Bullock’s, as well as at established contemporary design stores across the country. To better serve these clients, the Ackermans decided to showcase the work of other artists and craftsmen and pursue more custom projects. At the same time, they realized the need to continually add new designs to each of their lines. One of the most popular lines was a group of hand-hooked wall hangings Evelyn designed that were produced in Japan.
The Ackermans’ knowledge of traditional craft techniques led them to utilize the handwork skills of craftsmen in Greece, Kashmir, Italy, Japan, and Mexico. By pursuing limited production runs, they were able to maintain high quality while keeping their products affordable. Detailed instructions, with full-size drawings and color keys, were sent for each new design. By adding new designs on a regular basis, they were able to maintain a fresh look in their lines.
While many of their artist-craftsmen peers became known for working in one medium and style, the Ackermans’ creative expression was multifaceted, broad, and diverse. Evelyn’s versatile design styles ranged from geometric minimalism to biomorphic abstraction to whimsical stylization. She and Jerry were able to translate imagery from one medium to another. The same design could be made as a woven tapestry as well as reproduced in metal, mosaic, or wood to maximize both the development investment and the design’s appeal. In order to accommodate homeowners’ differing tastes, Evelyn developed palettes for textiles and mosaics in both cool and warm color schemes.
Jerry adapted production techniques to create products that maintained a handcrafted look. Woodcarvings, for example, were first roughed out using the furniture manufacturing technique of multiple spindle carving, then each piece was hand finished by a carver. Evelyn designed a series of modular carved wood panels with tongue-and-groove details for their former business partner, Sherrill Broudy, to be used in architectural applications. These panels formed the nucleus for Broudy’s company Panelcarve (later Forms+Surfaces). One of Evelyn’s most popular carved wood designs was the Ucello series.
Responding to a need for more well-designed, contemporary cabinet hardware, Jerry designed a new series. His hand-cast solid brass pulls and knobs were produced in Italy with a variety of inlays and finishes. They supplemented ERA’s line of recessed plastic pulls designed by Count Sigvard Bernadotte and produced in Denmark that were favored by architects.
From the beginning, much of the Ackermans’ work was special commissions. In 1968 Evelyn began the execution of 12 custom 6’ x 8’ needlepoint tapestries for the new Litton Industries corporate office in Beverly Hills. The tapestries were made in Greece using Evelyn’s full-size drawings and specifications. The project took a year and a half to complete.