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Nate Berkus and The Things That Matter

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Things matter to Nate Berkus.  In a world as fast-paced as this world traveling interior designer, Berkus cherishes the little touches that reveal most about a person.  It’s not a materialism thing… it’s something far, far deeper and truer than that.

Whether it’s a collection of seashells picked up during travel or a series of postcards that only share the hour at which the sender awoke, Berkus sees these pieces existing beyond the shoe box.  In his latest book, The Things that Matter, Berkus explores the homes of those who influenced him most to reveal the tokens and mementoes that tell their stories and history — while recalling his own personal loss.  From a rustic cottage in the Hudson Valley to an exploration in stark minimalism, Berkus presents these stories intimately and with deep caring.

In honor of his Saturday book signing, Berkus sat down with 5th/58th to share what matters most to him — in addition to design tips for the space-strapped New Yorker, heavy traveler and last-minute holiday decorator.

5th/58th: For you, home is deeply embedded in collections… or in the Things that Matter.  What collections have impressed or moved you most?  What advice do you have for the novice collector?  Is there a certain presentation that surprised and delighted you?

Nate Berkus: I love collecting things. I gravitate towards boxes and what’s found in nature like stones and fossils and minerals, which I have all throughout my home. And I love seeing what other people collect. But really, all it takes is one, single, solitary item to say volumes about who you are, what you love and where you hope to go in this world.  For me, it’s always been about letting your interiors be a true reflection of who you are and what matters most to you.


5th/58th: Speaking of collections, your pages are often peppered with old notes, postcards, photographs and trinkets saved from previous travel…. space-strapped New Yorkers want to know: where and how to you preserve all of this history?

NB: I believe every horizontal space in your home is an opportunity — whether it’s your coffee table, night stand or a book shelf. By using all these surfaces to layer in your photographs and objects you love, you create a space that feels collected over time. That’s not to say that you need to display everything at once. I’m a ruthless editor of my home and you should be too. Only keep things that you truly love, and change things out with the seasons. That way your space always feels fresh.


5th/58th: And while we’re on the topic of tiny New York apartments, what’s your best advice for small-space living?  How can we all adapt to your Virgo ways (even if we may be an Aries…)? If there were…say… five things from our Seventh Floor (or anywhere else in the City) that could totally transform a tiny New York apartment, what would they be?

NB: Right off the bat, make sure you’re organized.  In a small space, clutter can kill the overall impact of the room. Steer clear of small scale furniture. It’s a common mistake.  People think small room should equal smaller items.  But, it has a dollhouse effect.  Instead look to multi-use furniture.  A side table that, when the arms are extended, turns into a dining room table.  A daybed sofa that turns into a double bed.  A stowaway desk.  Each of these helps to maximize the way you use the space.


5th/58th:  This is a question that we ask all of our designers: What is your New York City Secret?  It can be a flea market, a garden or even a memory (Giuseppe Zanotti’s was a night at Studio 54).  For us, like collections & things, your NYC Secret tells its own little story about you.

NB: Get out there….Manhattan is all about discovery.  I spend far more time outside of my apartment than in it, when I’m here. An early morning run along the West Side to clear my head, latte at my local cafe, great shopping, lunches, brunches, dinners…this town is meant to be explored.  Take advantage of that and you’ll never run out of inspiration.


5th/58th: During all of your travel and hopping from place to place, is there a certain something (a photo or talisman, perhaps) that you take with you to keep you rooted to home?  And what would treasure would you take back home to mark the journey?

NB: I’m an avid reader.  Wherever I go, you can bet I have a book in hand.  I can’t fall asleep without reading a chapter or two.


5th/58th: Are you a postcard person?

NB: I’m not.  But, I am a HUGE letter writer. I think words are the best gift you can give someone.  So, I’m always leaving little notes for those I love.


5th/58th: In The Things that Matter, Kathryn Stockett mentions an autographed copy of Lolita being the thing she’d grab in the event of fire. What’s your ultimate treasure?

NB: I’d have to say it’s the woven Joshua Tree photograph my late partner Fernando Bengoechea made.  There are only a handful of them in the world and I’m lucky enough to have two of them.


5th/58th:  When creating The Things That Matter, what item or element surprised you?  And was it Barbara Hill’s bookshelf mounted on skateboard wheels?

NB: I can’t say I was surprised but I was honored by how open each person was. I wasn’t just asking about their paint color selection or where they got their rug.  I was asking to throw open the cupboards and hear the real story of who they are and what their home has to say about it.  The fact that they were so willing to do that was pretty special.


5th/58th: We’re approaching the holiday season when we’re inundated with gift ideas (some soulful, some not).  In your opinion, what gift has the most meaning?

NB: Books are my favorite gift to give.  I don’t think a home is done until it has plenty of books.  So, sharing your favorite read or a coffee table book on their favorite topic.  It’s something that will inspire them for years to come.


5th/58th:  Ok. Quick. Suddenly you’ve discovered you have to host a holiday party in your apartment… in three hours.  How would you decorate it?

NB: Loads of candles…unscented so as not to overwhelm.  Fresh pine sprinkled about with white lights draped over the mantle; white candles and metallic accessories running down the center of the table.  Greenery, candles and mercury glass ornaments in silver and gold are really all you need to make your home feel festive.


5th/58th:  And finally for kicks: since this is a coffee table-sized book (albeit not your traditional coffee table book in any way) and since we have been discussing books, what’s the most outrageous or creative book display you’ve seen? It can be in a shop or a home.  Was it Fabiola’s pellmell under-the-stairs display? And what are your thoughts on vertical bookshelves or organizing by color.  I hear you enjoy re-organizing books during your spare time….

NB: I don’t think there are any rules when it comes to books.  You can stack them on the floor, on an ottoman, even under the stairs — like Fabiola, who’s featured in my book, did.  They make a home feel storied and rich.  I say get collecting and scatter the titles you love most in every room in your home.

Meet Nate Berkus as he signs his new book, The Things That Matter,  this Saturday, December 1 from 3-5pm.

Call 212 872 2570 for more details.