Nate Berkus dishes on why he hates trends

Plus: He gives advice on how to develop your signature style

Photograph courtesy of Nate Berkus

This might be bad news for his nearly 280,000 Instagram followers, but interior designer Nate Berkus doesn’t believe in trends. He told me this yesterday before his keynote talk was broadcast on AmericasMart Live—the market’s new high-tech stage with 70 feet of towering video screens broadcasting interviews, demos, videos, and celebrity panels both live and via the Mart’s digital and social networks. What I didn’t tell him was that I had just finished leading a buyers’ tour of the latest trends through the Mart’s high-design floors.

Nate Berkus
Nate Berkus and Betsy Riley at AmericasMart Live

“Trends are designed to make people feel bad about what color they didn’t buy last year,” said Berkus. “It’s planned obsolescence. That’s why I tend to use a lot of vintage and antique pieces. They already have a patina. I like an old water stain because it makes me feel like somebody’s lived their life there.”

Berkus has always been an evangelist for developing your signature style. Of course, that’s a lot more challenging than following the year’s hot list, as he’s the first to admit. “It’s the same thing as finding a style in your clothing,” he explained. “It takes time. It takes some living to get to the stage where you feel really good about what you wear. It’s a journey with a lot of trap doors and a lot of pathways.”

The first step, he said, is to “quiet the voices.” Don’t furnish your home to please your best friend or your mother-in-law. Your space should “remind you of the people that you love, the people you’ve loved, the places that you’ve been, and the places you wish to go.”

Don’t worry if you have a limited budget, he added. “Some of my favorite interiors were definitely not expensive but they were deeply, deeply personal—whether they started with collections or combinations of colors or a cultural tie to where someone’s family was from.”

Although he started his career working for auction houses dealing in rarified antiques, his years of collaborating with Oprah Winfrey helped him reach a diverse socioeconomic audience. That’s one reason he likes to create lines for affordable stores like Target and Jo-Ann fabrics. “I didn’t want to create a bunch of collections that were out of people’s reach,” he explained. “That didn’t feel right to me. I didn’t want people to take that whole look and incorporate it in their space. It wasn’t meant to be a grand overhaul. It was really meant to give people the tools to express their own personalities at a reasonable price.”

Speaking of real life, the last time I talked with Berkus he was about to become a father. Now his daughter Poppy is two years old. I asked how that had changed his outlook on design. “It has and it hasn’t. I grew up with a mom who was an interior designer,” he said. “There were definitely spaces in our house that we knew were grown up spaces. And we have that in our home. In our dining room we still have white upholstered dining chairs, so I’m on sticky finger police. That said, my philosophy in design has never been to be beholden to your possessions no matter how fine you think they are.”