it all began—
on The Oprah
Dr. Oz offers
and Berkus film an
opening for the show
Berkus shares a
laugh with his
With his eponymous talk show now in its second season, it’s hard to imagine that it was only 2002 when Chicago-based designer Nate Berkus first appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, transforming a 319-square-foot studio apartment into a stunning French country pied-à-terre. Now those blue eyes, boyish good looks and talent for creating stylish yet livable spaces are everywhere from NBC to HSN—and even the big screen—as he adds executive producer of this summer’s critically acclaimed film The Help to his already burgeoning résumé. “Oprah has been such a role model for me,” says Berkus. “Every time I feel my schedule is insane, I look at what she was able to accomplish in a single day and I know that there’s a way to do it.”
Wake up. I’m attached at the hip to my Nespresso coffee maker (when it broke, I panicked and called the company’s toll-free help line and an operator walked me through the steps to get it working). Then I go meet my trainer, Rich Barretta.
Head to The Nate Berkus Show studio to meet with my team. Last year was our first year out of the gate, so we had the summer to learn from our mistakes. We kept everything that was really spectacular about the show and we let go of the stuff that didn’t work. I eat a breakfast of oatmeal with skim milk and Splenda, and hot water with lemon at the studio.
Prepare for our first taping of the day. I love some of the ideas that I came up with the first year, like “House Proud,” where I share a viewer’s home with my audience. That’s a way for me to bring the best of real-people design, facing real budgets that are accessible to everybody, and hopefully the show becomes a place that people go every day for inspiration.
With the first taping wrapped, I change into a pair of jodhpurs and a riding helmet and head outside to meet Carson Kressley, who is dressed in Western wear. We’re filming the opening of the show on horseback for the next episode he’ll cohost with me this fall. Afterward, I run to my dressing room for a quick soup and sandwich.
Second taping of the day begins with a rehearsal. The show this year has a much more unplugged feel. I’m taking viewers behind the scenes—the process of a makeover, why we make the decisions we do, and what they can take away from that. My design team now has a role on the show, and they should. They’re working around the clock transforming spaces around the country. Everybody—no matter who you are, where you live or how much money you have or don’t have—everybody wants to live better. It’s a universal thing.
Wash the makeup off my face and go back to my house. If I’m not exhausted, I usually go for a half-hour run, but tonight, I’m going to watch last night’s episode of Design Star, where I was a guest judge.
Spend time making tweaks to my new product line that comes out in the spring of 2012. It’s beautiful; it maintains what I’ve always hoped my name stood for, which is accessible luxury and quality—that does what it says it’s going to do. If I say this lamp is going to be amazing in your room next to that forgotten chair, and you bring it home and it really is, that’s important to me. I don’t live with everything new in my home—about 80 percent of what I have in my home is vintage, reused or antique; 80 percent of what we do as a design firm is vintage, reclaimed or antique. I think that’s what gives a lot of soul to interiors. I like things to be imperfect; I’m not happy until something has that first ding.
Settle in for some writing. I always wanted to write a book about the philosophy behind design, why stuff is important to us. I think it’s beautiful to acquire new things and have a passion for design and be constantly on the lookout for things that sing to you from a shelf, but I also think it’s important to reconnect to the things that we allow into our homes.
Dinner with friends, but no matter how good the food in New York is, it can’t compare to the lad nar with chicken from Penny’s Noodle Shop. My family lives in Winnetka, and last time I went back, I picked up Penny’s from the airport and ate it in the car. I also miss Dusty Stemer (Brian Atwood’s mom), whom I used to have dinner with all the time; jogging at the lakefront; my friends who work on Oak Street; and going to that Starbucks [on Rush and Oak]. I miss the Randolph Street Market; Deborah Colman and Neil Kraus, the owners of Pavilion; seeing my staff every day; my office; and all the dogs that come to work.
Come home and check e-mail; find one from Oprah. We’re on e-mail every week. I’m so excited to tell her about this season of The Nate Berkus Show. We finished the house for Monica Jorge, who Oprah says is one of her most memorable guests of all time. She’s a mom who had her arms and legs amputated because she caught a horrible bacteria while in the hospital. Last year Oprah asked me on her show to design and build a home for Monica. We were able to do that over the summer. It’s those moments that still connect us.