I think the most important lesson is that we should decorate for ourselves, we shouldn’t be concerning ourselves with what other people have to say over what we truly like. If you see something you love, then realize that there is a place in your home for it. It may not be the first place, but eventually you will find the right place. Respond to the moment. If you bought it for the right reasons, which is that you felt a real connection to it, get it and realize it may work somewhere else other than where you planned. It’s important to take the pressure off yourself when decorating. The best rooms should feel layered and assembled over time.Q. In terms of how the book came together, what came first: the idea of sharing your personal story or sharing your design sensibilities? Or are the two inextricably linked?
I didn’t set out to be autobiographical but what happened was when I reviewed the spaces and did the research for the book, I asked people to share their stories, to answer where they came from, where they had been and why they had made their design decisions. I was getting such heartfelt honest interviews, it felt ridiculous for me not share mine.Q. Ultimately, if our home is a collection, a mosaic of things we love; if it is the sum of who we are, can there be such a thing as bad design?
I think you run a lot less risk of bad design when it’s truly reflective of your personality. Again, take the pressure off and allow it to evolve. Yes, there can be issues with scale, pieces that can clash or not sit well with other things. You can get a professional to help you achieve [good design]. If you are doing it on your own, you need to experiment with your own possessions. Q. In some ways, your book is a love story as you share some of the most intimate, revealing moments with your late partner, Fernando Bengoechea. Can you speak to how relationships organically inform personal design or design choices?
I think that when we are in love, it just makes everything better. We feel artistic and creative and free and open. That is a scenario that I am very fascinated with. If you look at some great artists, some of their most prolific periods are when they were having madcap affairs.Q. Conversely, what is the effect of love lost?
That’s a tricky question. Everybody grieves differently, and I would never try to judge that process. But what it meant for me was the ability to realize the gifts that I had been given and the treasures that were my own memories and that they could be part of my home. My favorite items from Fernando are two woven photographs that will always be part of my life. Q. You write about re-arranging rooms and loved items. Is it about the journey or the destination? And is it OK to return to what we know, to the familiar, maybe even comforting?
For sure, the journey. The idea is to try it. You can always go back.Q. You have had a design career full of movement and growth. Looking back, do you remember that singular, cogent moment when you knew you wanted to transform spaces for a living?
To be honest, that moment for me was not based on a creative spark or level of self awareness. I was working at an auction house in Chicago, and I just knew I wasn’t designed to work for a corporate company. I am not corporate by nature, I didn’t want someone to tell me what to do at what time. On the weekends, everybody knew they could find me at antique stores or flea markets. But I didn’t initially connect that with what I should be doing.Q. What are the elements of successful design?
Fearlessness. Confidence. Education. Exposure. The best design comes from seeing things, understanding things of quality, things of risk, from adventures and traveling.Q. Share with us the arc and bookends of your design aesthetic.
My designs have evolved as I have seen more things, met more people, been more places. As part of that evolution, I have [developed] a love of crafts and things that are handmade or locally made. A fine piece of furniture can often be paired with something finely made by hand, whether it’s a woven basket in Mexico that cost 10 pesos or a hand-woven textile from Southeast Asia that cost less than six dollars. Q. You recently introduced a home collection at Target. Tell us about it.
I have never gotten over the rush of finding a great item for a great price. Target as a company has always been attractive to me because it has so much energy, a fast pace and it’s fashion forward. It took me two years to design the collection with over 150 items. It’s long-term, not a capsule collection and will be refreshed constantly. It focuses on natural materials. The goal is for [customers] to turn the corner, walk down the aisle and find something in the collection that they can pair with something they already have at home.Q. What is next for Nate Berkus?
I am going to have to wait and see.