Nate Berkus: Is there a shelf you can use for those things? I mean, people are more important than things, but things are important. I think it matters what our eyes land on; I think it matters what our butts sit on. It’s important how we feel in our homes, because feeling good makes us more gracious. And that makes it easier to welcome others not only into our homes but into our lives.
Lisa Kogan: So what are the things that matter most to you?
Nate Berkus: To me it’s about the books that are out of print, and the photos in frames. And the letters and notes.
Lisa Kogan: The rest is gravy.
Nate Berkus: We all have so much: We open our closets, and so many things still have their price tags attached. We open our cupboards, and there are those dishes that we’ve never used because they’re “too good.” Under our sinks we’ve got the 25 glass vases that held every floral arrangement ever sent to us. Why not recycle the glass? Better yet, fill it with sand and white candles, and throw a party. Take the dishes out and set the table with them every day. I mean, what exactly is an “everyday” dish? Why do we have all these categories?
Lisa Kogan: So people can sell us more stuff?
Nate Berkus: Right! I’m the first person to say, “Do not buy everything. Please, buy a new set of sheets if you want. But pair them with your grandmother’s quilt.”
Lisa Kogan: Okay, but what happens when you’re ready for the next chapter of your story? What happens when your home seems to represent who you were a million somebody else’s ago?
Nate Berkus: I find myself helping people in that situation a lot—after a divorce, after a death. They want to do something new. Sometimes they even want to be someone new, and changing their environment can be part of that process. It’s a way to shed your skin. It’s a way to move forward.
Lisa Kogan: You have been faced with that situation yourself. Is it ever hard to be with Fernando’s stuff?
Nate Berkus: He was one of those people you just don’t want to sit next to on an airplane—the guy who’s always trying to cram a three-foot ceramic pineapple under his seat. Then one day I went to the 26th Street flea market and brought back some African beads and wooden bowls and an English picture frame and a tiny French-to-English pocket dictionary from the 19th century. And he said, “You mean I’ve been traveling the world, bringing these things home, and they’ve been sitting on a card table on 26th Street?”
When Fernando died, his brother allowed me to take whatever I felt a connection to. So the majority of his library, I have. And one of the things that he and I always used to do together was sit down and go through these books. He had stuck little Post-it notes on all the pages because he was always wanting me to see something I hadn’t seen before—a brilliant quote or some amazing place he thought we should visit or the pattern on a tile wall in Morocco or maybe just an incredible face. Now a part of what he collected lives on and is celebrated by the way I live.
There’s something beautiful and very circular about passing by something that was important to the person you loved, or touching something that once meant something to him—that brings me some peace.
Lisa Kogan: And yet it’s not a shrine around here.
Nate Berkus: I look at people who have lost someone and go for years without changing a thing in the room because they’re afraid even the tiniest change would just be too painful. And I always think, “Wouldn’t it honor the person more if you used the room for something that gave you joy? Because they’re not here. But you are.”
Lisa Kogan: You know, there’s a great sense of serenity in this apartment. How does somebody use design to create that for themselves?
Nate Berkus: Good design isn’t just about mathematical proportions and eyeballing and space planning. Good design is about imagination, and it’s about surrounding yourself with things that are genuinely nourishing.
Lisa Kogan: And anybody can do that.
Nate Berkus: Definitely. People should be proud of the home they’ve created and the memories that have been made there. You have to ask yourself if the place really does represent who you are. When your eye travels around the room, does it say something about the people who live in that house? About those who came before? Does it really tell the story of your life?
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