This Celebrity Design Duo Give Us the Scoop on their New Collection
Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent offer their advice and insights on the latest trends.
By Rebecca L. Rhoades
Design stars Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent have a lot of things on their plates. Berkus, who rose to fame on the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” and husband Brent, who has a full-service interior design firm with locations in Los Angeles and New York City, recently completed a remodel of their California home; wrapped up season two of their TV show “Nate and Jeremiah by Design,” which airs on TLC; and this past spring welcomed the birth of son Oskar, who joins 3-year-old daughter Poppy. And if that wasn’t enough, in fall 2018, they launched their first capsule upholstery collection for home furnishings store Living Spaces. Later this year, they’ll be releasing a full line of products for the retailer, including casegoods and furniture for every room.
We sat down with the design duo to chat about their takes on all things fresh and timeless and get their tips on what makes a house a home.
Phoenix Home & Garden: Should interior design be tied to a home’s architecture?
Berkus: No. We live in a Spanish colonial-style house from the 1920s, and we have old, brown English-style furniture mixed with 1970s Italian sofas. There’s an interplay, an exchange. Phoenix is a very interesting town for design in that you have these two specific types of architecture: Pueblo and midcentury modern. They’re the building boom and history all wrapped into one. We suggest looking at silhouettes and shapes that are cleaner for the older architecture or adding pieces that might be a little bit more ornate or fussier in the minimalist modern architecture.
PHG: As designers of upholstered goods, what advice would you give to someone who is interested in changing or updating their interiors?
Brent: I’d start with the sofa. It’s important to really invest in that piece. It’s like a little black dress that you can have for 10 years or more, and it’s a great place to start and build from. Then you can introduce as much personality as you want. What’s important is to find what speaks to you and what translates your voice.
Berkus: Most people like to use new things to decorate, so you need to counterbalance that by adding some pieces that are vintage, antique or have some patina. I love new upholstery. I love new sofas, mattresses and bedding. But if you’re going to bring in a new coffee table, find some crusty, beautiful items from a yard sale or flea market that you can layer in with your books and accessories. That’s where people start getting tripped up. Everything is new, and they look around and their home doesn’t tell their story anymore.
PHG: How do you tackle arranging furniture in open-concept homes?
Brent: I always try to approach larger spaces completely unconventionally. For example, floating a sectional in the middle of the room and creating a focal point and then adding various smaller groupings around it.
Berkus: I have a hard time with large open spaces. I equate it to a writer sitting down with a blank piece of white paper. You’re starting from nothing. My best advice it to get online and look at other furniture arrangements. We keep files of things that matter to us, and one of those files is all about space planning. Old English country houses were comfortable, and it wasn’t because they used pattern on pattern or stripes with florals. They were comfortable because a chair was always positioned next to the fireplace in a certain way or there were multiple seating areas that felt cozy. Take those ideas and let them inspire you.
PHG: What are your thoughts on some popular elements often seen in today’s interior design? First up, metals.
Brent: I like mixing metals. It makes a room feel, at least in my opinion, more expensive and more curated.
Berkus:: There’s so much more to metals than only silver, gold, black, or copper or some variation of it. For example, there’s matte brass, brushed brass and unlacquered brass that’s allowed to tarnish and patina over time. For black, there’s iron, gunmetal and wrought iron. Each has different properties and different tones. I agree with Jeremiah—mixing metals should be the goal. In a kitchen, we’ll mix and unlacquered brass faucet with bronze hardware and a wrought-iron bar cart.
PHG: Subway tiles?
Brent: They got very trendy for a moment, but there’s a reason for their popularity. I think they’re really versatile, timeless and a great material to introduce into your home. They have longevity.
Berkus: A good rule of thumb for people to have in mind when they’re renovating and choosing construction materials is that if it’s been around since the 1920s, it’s probably a safe bet that it’s not going to go out of style and you’re not going to get tired of it. Kitchens in the 19th century had subway tile walls from floor to ceiling.
PHG: Accent walls and wallpaper?
Brent: I love wallpaper. It can be really effective in a smaller space, such as a foyer or powder room. On the other hand, I hate accent walls. I think they show a lack of commitment. You either marry the color or you don’t.
PHG: Reclaimed wood?
Berkus: New wood that looks reclaimed bugs me, because there’s real reclaimed wood and it’s affordable.
PHG: Gray as a neutral?
Brent: It’s trendy right now because there are a lot of people using it, but gray is great because it’s about a kid-proof as it gets and it’s still chic. It’s forever.
PHG: How often do you rearrange your own interiors?
Brent: We move things in our house probably seven times a week. The layout largely stays the same, but Nate is obsessed with moving objects every three minutes. Whenever I turn around, something on a shelf has changed. We always preach that you should be constantly curating your house, and that’s what we really believe.
Berkus: Our home is constantly evolving. We stay largely consistent, but there’s always room for something else. We’re always collecting, shopping and sourcing. It’s important to not let your home get stale, and rather than going out and buying all new stuff, sometimes it’s just a matter of ‘hey, that entry table might look really cool in the dining room. Let’s carry it in there and see if we’re right.’ The rule in our house is that you can’t veto anything without trying it first.
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PHG: What are your thoughts on current trends in interior design?
Berkus: I don’t like trends because I think their objective is to make us feel bad about what we don’t have, couldn’t afford or didn’t buy last month. A home should be more personal than that. I’d rather see somebody spend the time and energy researching the styles and the imagery of things that really speak to them on a deep level. Get to know yourself and your own design style and then make decisions that are always in keeping with that. I’m not talking about a pillow that costs less than $40—if you find a pattern you like, bring it in, and then give it to a friend if you tire of it in six months or two years—but instead about the fundamental pieces—the sofas, the rugs, the paint colors, the finishes if you’re building or renovating a home. Stay away from the trends and stay as true to yourself as you can. That said, Jeremiah doesn’t feel the same way.
Brent: I think trends are fun. They’re a way for people to stay engaged. Terra cottas and rusts are really big right now, as is bottle green. But for us, texture is always going to be king. Think linen with a nubby feel or faux suede. Texture is timeless.
Berkus: That’s true. People are reaching for things that are a bit more tactile. They’re paying more attention to the hand of a fabric, about how something would feel if they sat down on it in a bathing suit or a cocktail dress. They’re also focusing on wearability.
PHG: Can an element such as a white sofa be textural and durable?
Berkus: We have babies, and we have white sofas. It’s all about performance. When you hear that something is a performance fabric, it means that it’s been tested and proven resilient, and it’s typically wipeable or washable. Texture is also pretty decent at hiding a lot of things. So choosing a woven material that has a nubby texture is great; it’s not just flat and one-dimensional. Of course, then you have to be the blue jeans police. Nobody is allowed to wear dark jeans on your sofa.
PHG: Speaking of babies, how has becoming parents changed how you live in your house?
Brent: The entire energy of a house shifts when you have a second child. Oskar’s not mobile yet, but Poppy is so cautious and aware of space. If something gets moved, she’ll put it back. We had this ottoman that we kept putting in another room, and it always ended up back in the living room. It was her. We also don’t have any glass in our house because Poppy dropped a marble orb through a glass table.
Berkus: Both Jeremiah and I grew up with mothers who cared about our environment. My mom is an interior designer, and Jeremiah’s mom used to take him to open houses every weekend and they would talk about what changes they’d make to the spaces. So we were both encouraged as kids to be creative and taught that our spaces mattered, to pick up our toys and to respect our parents’ things. So we’re teaching our children to respect the things that are in our home because we’ve worked for them and they matter to us. We still have sticky fingers and dirty feet—that’s why we like performance fabrics—but I think it’s important that kids understand that it’s okay to live with nice things.
PHG: What are some hallmarks of good design?
Berkus: True design and good design is not about budget. It’s about telling your story and allowing your personality to shine through. I’ve been in multimillion-dollar homes that have done that successfully, and I’ve been in studio apartments that have done it as well. It’s the job of the designer to not create spaces that are unrelatable. Magazines can also help. They can inspire homeowners to say ‘Oh, I love that color combination, or I really love the way they used a printed lampshade on that.’ If I see something in a magazine, I can go to the craft store and create it myself; then I’ll feel really good about the way my space looks.