Decorating & Design

September 19, 2011

Interview: Nate Berkus

Fans of The Oprah Winfrey Show know him simply as Nate, the program’s home-makeover miracle worker. The role of decor guru comes naturally to Berkus, who recalls playing decorator with his interior designer mother from an early age. Likewise, he was just 24 when he started his Chicago-based interior design firm, Nate Berkus Associates, in 1995. He first caught Oprah’s eye in 2001, when he was invited on her show to redecorate a 400-square-foot apartment. (A few years later, he received worldwide media attention as a result of surviving the tsunami in Sri Lanka, which claimed the life of his partner.) However, it was Berkus’s warm personality and professional acumen that led him to become Oprah’s favourite decorator; he appears regularly on TV, in her magazines, and as host of Oprah’s Big Give and his own XM satellite radio show. He continues to be in high demand as a decorator, with projects for Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, Barneys New York, and W Hotels. And with the 2005 introduction of his decor collection at Linens ‘n Things, and publication of his book Home Rules (2005 Hyperion), the rest of us can add a bit of the Berkus touch at home too.

House & Home: Describe what you like most about your home.

Nate Berkus: I like how personal my home is. It’s a mix of things that have meaning to me — things that I’ve brought home from my travels or mementos from my childhood. Your home’s decor should reflect who you are.

H&H: How would you describe your sense of style?

NB: Assembled. A touch industrial. And, I always include things that are made by hand.

H&H: Do you have a favourite colour or colour scheme?

NB: I love, and have always loved, different shades of grey; they’re calming.

H&H: Are you a collector of anything and if so, where do you find your items?

NB: I collect many things: modern paintings and photography, boxes, picture frames, French furniture and decorative arts from the 1950s to ’70s, things from my travels around the world. I buy everywhere and I love to search for things while travelling.

H&H: Describe your perfect vacation getaway.

NB: A beach shack with good fresh food and absolutely nothing planned.

H&H: What places do you find captivating or inspiring at the moment?

NB: Istanbul, Beirut, Bali, Indonesia, Milan and California. It’s quite the list, but I pull from each one in the way that I live.

H&H: What’s your idea of a perfect night out?

NB: Dinner at home. Or, a small dinner at a restaurant called Controvapore in Milan.

H&H: Whose personal style do you most admire?

NB: Honestly, my own. I’ve spent years admiring the great designers and talent out there and pulled what I love from each. All together, it’s given me a vocabulary that’s all my own.

H&H: Do you have a secret indulgence or current obsession?

NB: Watches and American junk food, like fries.

H&H: What is the best gift you’ve ever received?

NB: An Hermès travel bag as a surprise.

H&H: Name three people you’d love to have at a dinner party.

NB: Bill Blass, photographer Victor Skrebneski and Oprah.

H&H: What is your definition of beauty?

NB: Unconditional love is the most powerful and beautiful thing in the world.

H&H: What one item couldn’t you live without at home?

NB: That would be two: my dog Henry and his sister, Emma.

H&H: Finish this sentence: “I feel most comfortable when…”

NB: …I am lying in bed on a Sunday afternoon.

Author: Giancarlo La Giorgia

Fernando Bengoechea (left); Thibault Jeanson (right).