Inside Modern Interior Design With Nate Berkus

TV personality Nate Berkus has become one the most influential figures in modern interior design. From his early start with Oprah Winfrey that grew into multi-year home decor collaborations with retailers such as Target and Linens ‘n Things, Berkus has become an adored household name. Berkus is now serving as the artistic advisor for LG Studio, a collection of high-end kitchen appliances that take food storage, cooking and home life preparation to a new level via advanced technological integrations.

Berkus and I sat down at the Dwell on Design conference to discuss modern living and how consumers’ preferences are changing when it comes to their homes. The interview, set within the custom designed, compact live/work spaces at the Met Lofts in Los Angeles, covered lifestyle, home efficiency and why technology should complement home life.

What is the one thing visitors should take away from the Met Lofts designs?

The best interiors are the ones that are assembled, deeply personal and have been built over time. In developing this project in conjunction with LG studio, I want people to look at the styling: the appliances, cabinetry, countertops, backsplash, tiles, flooring and vintage furniture. I want people to realize that they don’t have to buy everything contemporary and new when they’re designing their kitchens. They should have elements of their own stories in the spaces, as well as hand-wrought and well-crafted items. This is what gives a home soul; a balance of old and new, vintage and modern.

As a designer, what are some of the important elements of a compact living space?

The one thing I’ve learned in 20 years of design is that the number one mistake people make in a compact living space is filling it with small scale furniture. I tend to pack spaces with more furniture than people believe will fit. There’s always a battle with television producers, clients, friends, my husband or whoever saying, “It’s never gonna work.” However, I like using generously scaled furniture in compact spaces.

I’d rather have a sofa that is super comfortable, and one less chair. Smaller pieces can make a small space feel more burdensome. The only challenge you face with small spaces is color. Color is a challenge because, short of an amazing Peruvian textile thrown over the back of a sofa, it’s not easily changeable. I tend to lean more towards layering accessories, books and things in order to accommodate for color and allowing to keep the furniture at scale.

What are the things you see consumers looking at for their living spaces today?

No matter who you are, how much money you have or what country you live in, everyone wants to live better. I’ve found this from extensive travel. I’ve seen people in Laos pin a textile in a hut just because it’s pretty. The fact that design is deeply, deeply personal is something that has always resonated with me.

I’ve come to realize that with everything online, including Etsy and other affordable shopping destinations, people can really personalize their spaces. For example, with my collections at Target, I try not to make them one note. This allows people to layer them in with other things. There is a different level of access so people can now really create their own stories in their homes. So what I think has become prevalent in the world of design today is to break the rules, creating a deeply personal environment that tells your story.

How are they incorporating technology into their spaces?

My design firm just finished an incredible project in Seattle. It’s so high tech and wired with everything a family could possibly need…touch screens with fingerprint recognition, touch security, the works. There are a lot of elements that go way beyond wi-fi and sound systems.

I find the growing need for technology in our homes intriguing. I’d rather invest in an antique chest though, rather than wiring something that might be obsolete in a year. For me, it’s about technology complementing your lifestyle…our homes should still feel personal, and lived in.  Especially because technology is evolving so rapidly. The desire to live well and with what we love. That never changes.

When it comes to technology, what are three things you have integrated into your own home’s design?

My husband takes care of that, he has totally wired our house; there’s Sonos and iPads that control all of our lighting, sound, locks and security cameras.

Why did you decide to start with retail collaborations?

When I first asked to be a part of the Oprah Winfrey Show, a lot of opportunities came with that. Many people think it’s a one-two punch, but it’s not. Designing at retail was actually really intimidating. I didn’t even know the standard size pillow dimensions! It was horrifying to be met with this. However, I realized that I had to stay at the helm of the brand vision, so I hired people.

Everywhere I go, my friends tease me for taking photos of say, the floor of a cathedral in Naples, and I then go make it into curtains or a bed pattern for Target. They ask me if it can just be a floor from the 15th century in Naples, and I say, “Yes, but let’s reissue it in a new way!” It’s become such a part of the way I see the world. I’m always asking myself, “How can that be transformed into something someone can use?” It feeds me.

Your collections seem to have become more refined over time. What are two things you have learned from your retail collaborations?

I’m actually going to do some limited run items. I really like the handicraft element of that. Even with Target, my team and I went to the factories where things are made and met the families that have run these places for generations. It’s been really interesting to meet the makers behind this huge retail entity. So, what I’m really interested in now is finding out where I can go so I can offer people, at attainable price points, things that they will never find anywhere else. When I reach for something at a flea market in Southeast Asia or Mexico, and am moved by it, I want to bring that feeling to others.

What are two interior decor and accessories trends you are watching for 2015-2016?  

I’m sticking with metallics and natural materials. I’m also looking at weaving, which has become really important. There is a return to craft, which I fully support. Basketry, tassels, fringe, quilting – all these things our grandmothers knew how to do – are coming back to life. When you have something in your home that is made by hand, it can sit next to a sofa or other item that has been mass produced, and it adds some originality. Minerals are also going to be huge, but not in the way we’ve seen them attached to lucite and polished geodes. Instead, we will see them in their raw, natural forms. I want to see bowls of pyrite on the coffee table. Why not?


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