The dapper Nate Berkus takes great pleasure in transforming lives through design, both on and offscreen. Upcoming episodes of "The Nate Berkus Show" feature Nate spreading holiday cheer through a series of surprises called "Nate's Crates," in which he gifts unsuspecting fans with trips, experiences -- even room makeovers! Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Nate, who generously discussed what it's like to share his gift for design wizardry on the small screen and imparted a vast array of design tips we all can use.
"I really always believed that our surroundings have a great impact on our effectiveness, on our happiness, on the way that we view ourselves and the way that we sort of react to other people," says Berkus. "The magic of makeovers is not really about the transformation for me, as much as it is knowing that I've done my homework and researched who these people are and what's important to them, what will impact them and what will make their lives better by what I do in the space. To have the opportunity to be out there in the world and surprising people with new spaces and new environments is just something that I've always loved."
Berkus has always had an impressive design bent -- even as a kid! "When I was in elementary school, I'd invite a friend over for a sleepover, but they'd never come back, no matter how many times I invited them, because I'd still be asking them to help me push the nightstand to the other side of the room at 2:00 in the morning," he says. "I know that all children aren't as interested in their environment necessarily as I am, but I do think it's universal that everybody needs to have an area of their own."
When it comes to designing or redesigning a home, Berkus says comfort for all inhabitants is key. "I tend to start always with the purpose, and then I buy the major pieces and build from there," he says. "'Is it going to be durable with no panic when somebody's got a Popsicle in their hand?' I also stop before I do anything and think, What is the story that this room needs to tell? If this room could speak, what would it say? Would it say, 'I'm a comfortable place filled with family photos and kid-proof coffee tables?' or is it a no-coaster zone, full of investment pieces?"
In designing kid-friendly spaces, Berkus says it's all about safe storage and personal touches. "I'm always very conscious of little fingers being slammed in heavy things," he says. "I like the idea of being able to organize a space that has storage options that kids can access themselves without getting hurt. You want to put stuff up on walls they can't wreck. Whether it's a wall of different framed objects mixed with images, mixed with artwork -- whatever, you know, sort of tells the story of your family and who you are -- that's always a safe place to decorate with children."
Describing himself as a "short, thinner, Jewish version of Santa Claus," Berkus is excited to unveil an unprecedented design-makeover concept on his show, called "While You Were Sleeping." Explains Nate, "We've been sneaking into peoples' homes every Sunday night and redoing a room top to bottom while they're sound asleep -- sometimes five feet away behind a very thin door!" So what runs through his mind just before an unveiling? "'I really hope I got this right,'" he says with a giggle.
In keeping with the holiday season, his show and website will soon feature ideas for inexpensive hostess gifts for under $20. Here are a few: "Most people grab a bottle of wine when they're walking out the door," says Nate. "But if you buy a good bottle of wine, by the time everybody gets around to it, they're already drunk, so what's the point? I prefer to give gifts that actually can be used all year 'round and that are practical. A beautiful vase that comes in a great package can cost under $20. So can a vintage piece of silverplate or silver you found at a yard sale that can be engraved with someone's monogram at the trophy store. [I prefer] thoughtful gifts and things that aren't just for the holidays that cost the same as a bottle of wine, but that last forever."
If you're the one doing the hosting, Berkus says that the gesture of anticipating your guests' arrival is always appreciated and doesn't have to be costly. "It can be making their favorite dish or putting your favorite read on their nightstand with a printed note inside that says, 'I just finished this book and I know you're going to love it, so enjoy this before you go to sleep every night,'" he says. Fresh flowers on the nightstand, a new bar of soap and new towels are simple gestures that also make an impact, according to Nate. "I'll print out pictures of my guests and use them in tiny frames from the Dollar Store as place cards around the table," he says. "People like to see their name written and to see photos of themselves in other people's homes. I don't know why we do, but it always makes us feel really, really welcome."
Don't miss Nate's "Ultimate Holiday Survival Guide" episode of "The Nate Berkus Show" November 24th on NBC! Check your local listings for times!