Lisa Kogan: You like beautiful things.
Nate Berkus: I do. But even more than that, I like things that remind me of where I've been. Who I've loved. Who I love. And where I want to go.
Lisa Kogan: Wow...my things remind me that I should probably dust more often.
Nate Berkus: [Laughs] I'm just saying let's admit that our things mean something to us when they do. But let's also admit when they don't. Let's really look at what we want our homes to say about who we are.
Lisa Kogan: Mine says I like a good tag sale. Actually, I hit a few flea markets after seeing a makeover you did on your show. I spotted the coolest little creamer, and I could hear you whispering in my ear, "That doesn't have to be for serving cream." So now there's a silver Deco creamer on my dressing table, and it's holding a bunch of Q-tips—one of a bazillion things currently cluttering my apartment.
Nate Berkus: For a long time I was hell-bent on clutter-free living. I was a ruthless editor when it came to my possessions, to the point where my homes were very sparse, very minimal. Then I realized that's not who I am. I wanted to be surrounded by things that moved me. I wanted to have tabletops piled with books and shells and candles. But it took me a while to let go of this very rigid idea I had, of what my space should look like. Once I started letting stuff in, I really started making a home for myself.
Lisa Kogan: How do you decide what to let in?
Nate Berkus: What I've come to understand is that if things have meaning, if they sing a little song to you when you look at them, that's when you can really start breaking the rules, quote-unquote, of design. Why not take a two-dollar creamer with the lid missing and fill it with Q-tips? Who says you can't reupholster your chair with a shearling rug or take the fantastic vintage necklace you never wear and hang it around the neck of a lamp?
Lisa Kogan: Your place is full of wild cards. This chunky pine table next to a sleek modern chaise is a surprise.
Nate Berkus: That table wasn't drawn into any floor plan. I fell for it the first time I went to Mexico City and stumbled across an amazing antiques store tucked away in the basement of a building. It was the most impractical thing in the world. But when I look at it, I remember the exact moment I was standing there—too hot, a little hungry, tired from the night before—and thought, "That's a beautiful thing."
Lisa Kogan: I like that your idea of beautiful is something that's got a few miles on it. You're not afraid of the occasional scratch and chip.
Nate Berkus: I'm a big fan of the chip. I like it when something's a bit damaged.
Lisa Kogan: That's why you hired Henry and Emma [Nate's two endlessly teething shelter mutts].
Nate Berkus: Exactly. [Laughs] Those two are masters at messing up whatever comes in here. That's why about 80 percent of the stuff I live with is old. I like letting things take on the character they're meant to have by really being used. You know, even some of the finest antiques show some wear and tear. Think of the feet of a chest of drawers from the 17th century—they're always corroded because people used to wash their floors with lye, which ate away the wood. And that's one of the signs that the best antiques dealers look for to see if the piece is authentic. So when you own things that have the imperfections they deserve, that they've earned from a well-lived life, it frees you from feeling as though they're untouchable.
Lisa Kogan: I bought a very expensive zinc dining table about 20 years ago. It was just totally flawless. And I thought, "I should have people over for dinner." Then I thought, "And we could eat sort of buffet-style, standing up...right near the table. Like maybe in the vicinity of the table."
Nate Berkus: To admire it, without actually making contact with it. Nice!
Lisa Kogan: Did I mention that it was expensive and, for one brief, shining moment, totally flawless? What can I say? It's hard to keep your stuff from owning you.
Nate Berkus: People first. Dogs second. Things last. It's a simple philosophy.
Next: How to surround yourself with things that are genuinely nourishing
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