Exclusive: Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent Open Up About Their Own Struggles With Design
Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent have just returned for Season 2 of their HGTV show, “The Nate & Jeremiah Home Project”—and although they’re total pros at making over their clients’ homes, that doesn’t make curating their own spaces as easy as you might think.
“I’m still not over it,” Berkus revealed to us about furniture the couple sold during their most recent move. “If you go on Realtor.com, you can see the old listing photos. It was great stuff!”
And it turns out, this urge to hang onto things runs in the family, as these married dads admit that their daughter is their “most lovable little hoarder” ever.
Eager to hear more, we had a heart-to-heart with these designers to learn what they love about their new home, as well as their own personal challenges decluttering and making it perfect. All in all, it will convince you that even designers’ homes aren’t always as pristine as reality shows might have you believe.
When working with clients, how do you determine what counts as a keepsake and what’s just junk?
Nate Berkus: By having the homeowners walk us through their stuff, it allows us to get to know them. To edit it, we bring them back into the space once it’s been renovated, and then they have to decide whether or not it’s something they really want to keep. Oftentimes, they don’t.
Jeremiah Brent: Life changes and there’s an evolution to not only who we are as people, but our stories of family, and your home doesn’t often represent that evolution. We’re in the business of telling people’s story through their things and really getting to understand what brings them joy, what brings them happiness, [and] what they need to move on from, because you wake up one day, and you’ve been living in the house the same way for 10 years and it doesn’t reflect who you are anymore.
That’s the fun part for us, getting to show people a version of themselves that they maybe didn’t realize was there.
Have you ever been too emotionally attached to anything in your own home?
Brent: Oh, my God, our house changes every 5 seconds—I was moving things around this morning! I was like, “Does that need to change?” I think we’re really tapped into being present, not only in life as a couple, but also our space. We went through a recent move and had to practice what we preach. [The new owners] wanted to buy the majority of the things in the house. Nate had such a hard time with it, and I was like, “Let it go, it’s just stuff!”
Berkus: Honestly, it was so traumatic, and the fact that we have the nerve to go out in the world and craft a TV show on something that I’m so terrible at personally was laughable. [Jeremiah] had the time of his life watching me spin out about it.
What item did you let go of that still keeps you up at night?
Berkus: I have a real connection to things, and not just things that have memory, but things that I think are really beautiful. And so for me, this was an opportunity to not be tied to feeling obligated to use all the stuff we’ve lived with and collected, both before we were a couple and after.
In the end, am I happy about it? Yes. But if I start to focus on some of the pieces that are still sitting in our old house with the new owners, it makes me a little bit sick.
Sounds like a move is a good time to sort through what’s worth keeping?
Berkus: Moving is such an amazing opportunity. You can go through every single category of everything you own, from coffee cups to athletic socks, and really only bring the best of the best and the things you really care about. You have to tap into that opportunity to craft something new in terms of your space for yourself.
What’s the most important thing homeowners should keep in mind when designing a space?
Brent: Understanding what kind of life you need to live in it, because, at the end of the day, beautiful design doesn’t keep you anywhere. It’s about creating a space that can really hold all of those moments that are important to your family. Where does your day start? Where does it end? What’s important to you? Are there ceremonies or rituals that matter to you?
In our own house, a formal dining room used to need to be a formal dining room, but then we realized, why? That’s not what we use it for. So, yeah, there’s a dining table, and [it’s] way less formal with a great long bench you can sit at.
Berkus: A home should … tell the story of the people that live there. Your eyes should land on something that reminds you of where you’ve been, and reminds you where you aspire to go.
Jer always says you need to leave room for the future because things change and ideas come in, and you get inspired from a trip and come home and want to change something. If the home doesn’t represent you, then it’s not done, and it’s likely not well-designed. It might be beautiful, but it’s not well-designed for you.
What’s your favorite spot in your home?
Brent: Kitchen island for me because it was where we brought our daughter home to, it’s where we’ve written wedding vows, where we’ve had some of our most difficult discussions as a new couple. It’s now where we dance every morning with the children around. It’s the heartbeat of the home.
Berkus: It’s really every angle of every space. What we see when we open our eyes in the morning: the wallpaper in our bedroom, and the beautiful antique fireplace, and the chest of drawers that we saved up for that we had to have because it’s made by this Swedish designer from 1940 that we love. I love our house. I’m so comfortable there. Our kids are so comfortable and happy there.
As designers and parents, how do you handle the clutter that comes with having kids at home?
Berkus: Bins with their name on it.
Brent: We’ve got the children in a really nice rhythm where they have to donate things continually because they don’t want to play with [it] anymore. They’re part of that rhythm of the household, which is we have to donate. We have to edit. We have to curate. It’s a constant thing. It’s always shocked me how our daughter can accumulate things out of nowhere.
Berkus: Like from the garbage can—she’ll take boxes that things come in and then the next minute they’re dioramas and they’ve got little marker windows and doors.
Brent: She’s the most lovable little hoarder you’ve ever met. She goes, “Dad, I need this napkin.” For what?
What’s the most common design mistake you’re currently seeing clients make?
Brent: Pace. A lot of what we’ve seen, it’s all about doing it quick and fast, and you’ve got to have this house done by this weekend. We don’t subscribe to that. We believe you should take time and be thoughtful with what you choose. Doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money—it’s the opposite now. You can really curate a beautiful life and not break the bank. Finding a way for people to slow down, take a minute, think through decisions: that’s the biggest hurdle I’ve seen with clients.
Berkus: Good design is not going out on the weekend and filling your car with accessories and being done. Good design isn’t going to the furniture store with no payments [until] 2029 and buying a set of new furniture. Good design is taking the time to really figure out what makes your heart sing. That takes time to curate a lifestyle that feels really good to you.
“The Nate & Jeremiah Home Project” airs Wednesday nights on HGTV and is streaming now on discovery+.