Q&A with Queer Eye’s Bobby Berk
The celebrity designer tells us about his latest local project.
By Rebecca L. Rhoades | Photography by Dave Pisani
AS ONE OF THE “FAB FIVE” on the Netflix hit reality lifestyle show “Queer Eye,” Bobby Berk has risen to bonafide “it” status in the interior design sphere, thanks to his hip, youthful aesthetic that’s geared toward millennial homeowners. The 37-year-old Texas-born and Missouri-raised self- taught designer got his start in the retail industry, working his way up from early gigs at home furnishing stores to opening his own online decor shop that evolved into several brick-and-mortar locations in New York City, Miami and Atlanta. In 2015, he launched his eponymous firm, Bobby Berk Interiors + Design, headquartered in Los Angeles.
In between traveling the countr y and helping style-challenged “heroes” remake their lives and living quarters on “Queer Eye,” Berk recently completed a project in the Valley: designing the interiors of six model houses for Maracay Home’s newest development, Avance, a master-planned community at the north base of South Mountain. The sophisticated abodes range in style from modern farmhouse to industrial, midcentury and colorful eclectic.
We recently sat down with Berk to discuss his artistic vision and get some tips on giving your home a designer look.
Phoenix Home & Garden: Tell us about the interiors you created for these model homes.
Bobby Berk: I wanted to do looks that would appeal to ever yone, which is why every single house is different. Oftentimes, the way a model home is designed makes it feel as though you’re walking into just that, a model. I like to make homes look like people actually live in them. The goal with these designs was to attract the millennial buyer—younger people who are a little reluctant to move out to the ’burbs because they like the downtown city feel.
PHG: How have millennials changed the face of design?
Berk: My generation is very design aware—much more so than our parents were. For example, previous generations didn’t have Pinterest; if they wanted inspiration, they had to buy shelter magazines. We have instant access to design, and I think that we hold builders to a much higher standard. We want the elements that make a home look really expensive even if it’s not a multimillion-dollar house. Also, the way millennials live has changed what is important in a home. Our parents loved the big master bedrooms and closets that were just so excessive because they had all this stuff. For us, the entertaining areas and the indoor-outdoor spaces are most important because we love to have people over.
PHG: What are some key elements of desert modern style?
Berk: When it comes to desert modern, the interiors should be a bit more minimal. There is so much going on and so much to look at outside—the mountains, the rocks and trees, the views of the city— that you don’t want it to be too overwhelming inside. It’s important to create harmonious flow between indoors and out and make it really feel as though you’re one with nature.
PHG: What tips do you have for someone who might want to re-create one of your designs?
Berk: People always ask me, ‘How can I achieve this look?’ If you love a particular style, go for it, but if you’re just doing it simply because it’s something you saw in a magazine, don’t. Find that one detail that you’re really passionate about—one that sparks joy, as Marie Kondo would say—and start with that. If you like circles, bring that into the design throughout. For example, in the midcentury-style model at Avance, the curve of the sofa matches the curve of the fire pit area outside, the dining room table, the occasional chairs and even the area rug in the living room. It’s much easier to design a home by starting out with one element instead of tr ying to think of all of it at once.
PHG: When decorating my house, what room should I begin with?
Berk: Designing a home can be overwhelming because people think it has to be one big project. But if you can, start small. Begin with a powder room, bedroom or the kitchen. Personally, I’d start with the great room, which often includes the kitchen, because that’s where you’re going to spend most of your time entertaining yourself, your family and your friends. Take elements you like from TV design shows or magazines and value engineer them. Find a copy of that $100,000 painting you love—or paint something yourself. DIY is a great way to make your home look even more expensive.
PHG: How can I maintain a stylish yet personalized decor?
Berk: Great design and personalization can go hand in hand. You don’t have to choose one or the other. It’s all about the architecture, the way a house flows and a color palette that’s cohesive throughout. Put up those family photos, but make sure you’re using beautiful frames. I hate seeing a gallery wall that’s just all paintings. Mix mediums. Combining 3D works with photographs and paintings makes it feel homey but still designed.
PHG: What’s your favorite design trick?
Berk: Darker walls. Everyone thinks that darker walls make a space feel smaller, but they actually make it feel larger. Painting the ceiling in a small bathroom black gives the illusion that the ceiling isn’t there, and it makes the room feel bigger. Or, adding Stikwood, an inexpensive adhesive wood, to a ceiling or wall can make a room look custom, even when its not. Wallpaper on a ceiling is really cool, too. I also love painting an accent color on baseboards and room and closet doors. Doing so makes it look as though there are more layers. Many newer homes aren’t as ornate or feature a lot of woodwork, so the more things stand out architecturally, the more expensive the house looks.