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Nate Berkus’ interview with Malcolm Gladwell gave us some unexpected insights |

It’s no secret that we regularly turn to world-renowned interior designer Nate Berkus for style inspiration – his timeless, feeling-first style is hard to beat. But it’s not every day that Nate sits down for a live interview with Malcolm Gladwell, host of the podcast ‘Revisionist History,’ and shares some of the life experiences that have landed him his all-star career in interior design. Though the full episode is certainly worth a listen, we’ve distilled some of our favorite bits – and the story behind the designs makes Nate’s interior design style even more special.

In the episode, Nate shares with Malcolm that he studied abroad in Paris when he was 17 years old – a stay that would shape the way he saw the world. The pair spoke about the beauty of allowing yourself to get a little bit lost in an unfamiliar place, and how modern technology has only made it more difficult to surrender to all the new experiences that going into travel open-minded allows. And while Nate was impacted in many ways by this trip abroad, he says Paris’ marvelous architecture had a particular impact.

‘There was something about being in a foreign capital, in a new culture, in a place that was so old and so beautiful. And the architecture was so special to my eye at that age that I wanted to be lost – I wanted to be lost every day,’ Nate tells Malcolm.

When in Paris, Nate picked up a habit he’s carried with him ever since: shopping. But not just shopping for anything – Nate says he always tries to familiarize himself with a new place by figuring out what its local people do best. When traveling, no matter how near or far, he much prefers visiting markets and shopping where the locals get their everyday essentials to visiting the tourist-centric, guidebook-recommended spots.

 ‘I spent 25 years doing makeovers in all these towns across the country – sometimes staying there for up to two weeks, sometimes being there for 48 hours. I always make it fun. I want to go to the local antiques malls, I want to find out who has the best hamburger. I want the vintage fashion, the coolest monument, the private museum house. I can’t sit still,’ says Nate.

Nate says that this mindset – maintaining the ability to get lost and staying curious at all times – lends itself well to the world of interior design. In fact, he shares that he gets quite frustrated with professionals who act as if they’ve perfected every aspect of any craft.

‘I’m really afraid of people who present themselves as like they’ve mastered a craft … In any creative endeavor, if you’ve made decisions about how things need to be or should be, you’re missing every other bright, shiny thing you can reach down and pick up and incorporate,’ he says.

Though he admits that there are certain technical practices and qualifications that set professional designers apart, he says to focus simply on ‘mastering the craft’ is missing a large part of the art form. ‘The creative, the magical, the imaginative, I’m always lost. I love it,’ he says.

Nate’s mother, an interior designer herself, also had an enormous impact on Nate’s design mindset, despite the fact that he’s not the biggest fan of her French country interior style. ‘I was always very sensitive to environment,’ he says, sharing that he was often tasked with carrying heavy wallpaper samples to and from the car. But what he did pick up from his mother, in a purely positive light, is what he calls ‘the shopping bug’ and a long-lasting love of antiques. In fact, Nate says she taught him the art of sourcing antiques, a skill he believes every designer should hone.

‘What I admired about my mother’s style is that she never reached for new things. She always reached for antique furniture or vintage things, and she loved an auction or an estate sale, and that was how I got the bug of caring so much about assembling interiors for other people with things that have a little bit of history and soul,’ Nate tells Malcolm.

When asked whether he ever feels ‘rage’ when faced with a less-than-perfect interior design scheme out in his daily life, Nate said he’s ‘never outraged’ – an answer that Malcolm found hard to believe. Instead, the designer shares that when he enters a space he’s meant to redesign, changes that need to be made come to him almost immediately.

‘The instant knee-jerk reaction of how the room should flow, how the space should be laid out – not for furniture floorplans because we’re two designers and we move stuff around all the time, but in terms of the actual bones of a place – it’s like a film just comes down and on the film I can see it,’ he says.

Nate Berkus
Nate Berkus

Since Nate’s first appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2002, he has become one of the world’s most recognizable interior designers. He has authored two New York Times bestselling books and stars alongside his husband, Jeremiah Brent, in HGTV’s Nate & Jeremiah Home Project.

A lovely glimpse into Nate’s daily work life, the designer shared a bit more about a project he completed just over a year ago for a family that often travels more than 300 days out of the year. Nate’s task?  ‘To create a home that they liked more than anywhere they’ve ever stayed,’ he says. 

By working closely with them throughout the process and paying special attention to the design features that truly made them happy and at home, Nate constructed a place they return to often, even though they have the means to stay anywhere in the entire world. Now, the family reaches out to Nate often – despite the project being finished over a year ago – to share how much they love living in the space.

‘I was so excited about this challenge because what it did was it allowed me to really figure out who they were as a family, what really mattered to them, what ceremonies they do in their home, how they spend time together. And it gave me the opportunity to build that tile by tile, pillow by pillow, book by book, and create a space that dreamt a bigger dream for them as a family than they had even dreamt for themselves,’ he says.

For quite a long time, Nate has been staunchly anti-trend, and his philosophy hasn’t changed. When it comes to design, he says, it’s really all about how you feel and what makes you happy.

‘I’ve always felt like all these waves, these trends, are designed to make people feel bad about what they didn’t buy at the last trend. And so my whole philosophy has always been if you actually take the time to get to know yourself well enough, to know what you really do enjoy, what really makes your heart sing when you look around a space, then you can shut out all that noise and build something that matters,’ he says.

It’s clear that Nate has picked up some interior design wisdom and taken the time to form his timeless, transitional interior style from scratch. And he’s taken his philosophy to heart, too, making it true of his own home, which he shares with Queer Eye star Jeremiah Brent and their children. When Malcolm asked where Nate goes to cure his melancholy and truly feel at peace, Nate gave a one-word answer: home.


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