Nate Berkus's living room before the renovation

Photo: William Waldron

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If Nate's search and purchase took place in a New York minute, that's nothing compared to the lightning-speed renovation that transformed his apartment into a home.

Major initiatives involved a bathroom gut, a four-paneled French door installation and the removal of a wall—not to mention the usual laundry list of painting, tiling, cabinetry and appliance installation. "I call it renovation by BlackBerry," says Nate, who checked in with his contractors by e-mail whenever he had a free moment. "I think I visited the place only four times during the entire process."

But it wasn't Nate's hands-off approach that made his contractor anxious. "It's that he didn't want the place to look new," contractor Randy Polumbo says. Nate wanted to make sure the apartment didn't seem perfect—that it looked "archaeological."

Nate also wanted to make the most of his square footage by calling attention to the 10-foot ceilings and abundance of natural light. "You know I can tackle a small space," he says.