Back in 2002, Nate Berkus received a call that would change his life. In a recent one-on-one interview he took us on that journey from owning a design business to being one of Oprah Winfrey’s experts to becoming a syndicated talk show host to his latest sit down with Oprah’s on Super Soul Sunday.
The 41-year-old reflected on the experience of being asked to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show, saying, “I was sitting in my offices in Chicago and I’d met one of Oprah’s producers and become friendly with them about a year and a half prior, but I’m not the type of person that’s particularly strategic when it comes to friendships. After a year and a half I received a phone call from a different producer who was at the show, who asked if I wanted to makeover a small space.”
It’s the invitation that any entrepreneur would have dreamed about. As Nate recalled, “I remember thinking that it was going to be a lot of work and I remember thinking that it would be an incredible opportunity and how much preparation I would need to go into it. So of course I said, ‘Sure, of course, I’d be happy to. When is it and where is it?’ And they said it would actually be this afternoon and it’s in Boston.”
Certainly it was a demanding request. But the ambitious young businessman jumped at the challenge. He confessed, “I sort of panicked and then I started thinking about it and I said, ‘Let me think about how to achieve this and give you a call back.’”
Never one to pass up a challenge, Nate figured out a plan. “I sat and I thought about it and I thought the only way to make a makeover like that work with all this construction is to pair up with a national company that has local crafts people and trades in each town. So I called the producers back and I said, ‘I think we can do it but I certainly can’t bring my electricians and carpenters and mill workers and plumbers with me from Chicago. But if someone from ‘The Oprah Show’ can call a home improvement chain and find out if we can work with one of them then I think we could get a whole group of people there tomorrow morning by 10 o’clock and I’ll just do the design on the fly. And it was exactly that. It’s exactly what we ended up doing.”
The rest is history, after three whirlwind days and a trip to the emergency room from exhaustion, Nate cemented his place as Oprah’s featured design expert. His own syndicated self-titled talk show followed, but was canceled after two seasons.
But that doesn’t mean Nate has slowed down. He’s just published a new book called, The Things That Matter. And he’s taped a two-part interview with his old boss and friend, Oprah, for OWN’s Super Soul Sunday.
If anyone has a good perspective on what really matters it’s Nate. Along with the ups and downs of a career in the spotlight, Berkus was in Sri Lanka when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit and lost his partner Fernando Bengoechea. Now he says, what matters most to him are “people, pets and relationships.”
And then, of course, there’s design. Nate explained why he thinks fans connect to him and his aesthetic, saying, “They go hand-in-hand. I’ve always been interested in the people first and the space second. And I’ve always felt, even from the very beginning, that to make something beautiful on TV is a great opportunity and it can be really fun and can be really challenging. But to make a space for people that will persevere, that will really tell the story of who they are in their homes and really help them lead a happier, more organized, more beautiful life was the most important thing, the lens and that I look through every project with. And that still to this day remains important to me.”
And that doesn’t have to come with a big price tag. “It’s never for me been a question of having a big budget,” Nate remarked. “When you put the lens on that, decisions that you make of is this going to serve me well, is this going to make my eyes light up when I see it in my space, you don’t have to be a snob about where things come from. And you shouldn’t feel bad because you’re not buying or can’t afford the finest furniture or antiques or paintings. There’s an intrinsic value in a bowl that you find at a flea market or an estate sale that’s every ounce as valuable to me as something that I would see in a museum somewhere. For me, it’s always been about the quality of an object and also the story attached to it.”
That’s why the pieces that say the most about him in his own space are not extravagant but are personal. Nate revealed, “I have lots of [quirky handmade things] because when I travel I tend to reach for what is made locally, what’s found, what the best of the crafts are from that region or from that country or from that city. So for me it would be, I guess, the small things — the accessories and things like that in my home are probably the best representation. Because I can look around any room in my home and tell anyone exactly where I was, who I was with, what I was doing and what the memory holds of the day that I found a certain piece that I brought home.”
Watch as Nate Berkus shares his story with Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday in an encore episode this Sunday, February 23rd at 10am est/9am central only on OWN.
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