Nate Berkus Shares His Top 7 Secrets to Style

If every home tells a story, what's your home saying?

It isn’t every day that you get to hear one of your favorite designers talk about one of your favorite things. So when the opportunity to hear interior designer Nate Berkus discuss his love of antiques along with his main principles for cultivating style, I jumped at the chance.

As the keynote speaker for the 2017 Nashville Antiques & Garden Show, Nate was full of practical advice along with expert tips for incorporating unique pieces into your home. And for a design nerd like me, every word he said was gold. But I’ve done my best to break it all down and bring back only the best nuggets for all of you. Let’s dive in, shall we?

No. 1: Style Is Cultivated

While Nate admitted not everyone has a personal style, he believes style is something that can be acquired. He explained, “There are people, and everyone knows who they are, who move through the world in a really stylish way. But the icons of American style that we think about, all of that is cultivated.” Nate went on to say that sometimes, it’s not even interior design that inspires his own decorating style. “I like to be inspired by regular people: the way they dress, cook, entertain, even serve water. It’s every little thing.”

No. 2: Style Is a Decision

According to Nate, finding your style is all about making that first decision to do so. “I can’t make a grilled cheese. Rachael Ray even tried to teach me,” joked Nate. “I don’t like to cook. I hate everything about it. If I wanted to be a better cook, I’d have to decide that.” And that’s what you do when finding your style. “It’s about being observant and not flip-flopping all over the place once you find something that works for you, whether in design or fashion. But what works for one person may not work for another. Style is so personal.”

No. 3: Style Is Collected

“I believe in living with things we love,” said Nate. While it may be easy to find a space online or in a magazine that you want to duplicate down to the bookends, Nate would strongly discourage that. For him, creating a space you’ll ultimately be happy in means incorporating pieces that have special significance to you. And finding those special pieces is worth the wait. 

No. 4: Style Tells a Story

Similarly, Nate explained that his favorite pieces in his own home are special because of the memories they hold. “When I look around a space, I can tell you where I was and who I was with when I found that piece of furniture or vase,” he said. “I can tell you who I loved or who I hoped to be at the time. I see things in my home, and they remind me of where I want to go and people that I’ve lost. That’s how we tell a story in our home.”

No. 5: Style Breaks the Rules

For someone who is so familiar with the ins and outs of interior design, it may come as a surprise that Nate Berkus is more interested in understanding the rules than actually following them. For example, when designing a space for a client, Nate works hard not to infuse his own personal style. “My staff gravitates toward similar things, but it’s not about us,” he explained. “It’s about applying principles on top of what the client’s inspiration really is. The best interiors are the interiors where people actually break the rules.” 

No. 6: Style Is Curated 

Know when to say no (and when to say yes!). As a lover of antiques, sometimes finding a good deal is more thrilling than finding the actual piece itself, and it’s easy to get swept up in all that excitement. But there comes a point when you have to reassess the design of your home and decide if your purchases add or subtract from your overall style. “Knowing how much to display is different for different people, but my rule of thumb is that if you don’t know what you have anymore and you’ve stopped appreciating the time and money that went into a collection, it’s time to edit.” 

No. 7: Style Has No Borders

Travel is a huge inspiration for Nate, but he doesn’t expect everyone to be able to jet across the country in search of the perfect table linen. But that, of course, is where the internet comes in. “You have to be really bad on the internet not to be able to find what you want these days,” laughed Nate. “Look at eBay and Etsy. I found a butter knife I wanted on a plane on the way here!” He went on to say that style should reflect your heritage and anything that’s important to you. “It’s not about being able to have a passport. It’s about living in a way aesthetically that is without borders.” 

Interior Design Styles Defined

See All Photos

Art Deco

Streamlined, geometric style of home furnishings popular in the '20s and '30s featuring rounded fronts, mirrored accents, sleek lines and wood furniture with chrome hardware and glass tops. Design by Erinn Valencich.

From: Erinn Valencich

Arts and Crafts

Arts and Crafts style furnishings became popular in the United States between 1910 and 1925. The focus was simple in form, without extraneous decoration, often showing the way pieces and materials were put together. Architecturally speaking, Arts and Crafts covers Craftsman style, work by Frank Lloyd-Wright as well as the bungalow style popularized by Greene and Greene. "Truth in Materials" was very important to Arts and Crafts designers, who often used local materials. Design by Thomas A. Conway.

Asian

Inspired by the design elements from Japan, China, Vietnam and Thailand. This look fuses natural fiber elements, bamboo and colors taken from nature to create a serene, calm environment. Furnishings may be lacquered or handpainted with ornamental designs, punctuated with brightly-colored accessories or statues of animals or mythical creatures. Design by Erinn Valencich.

From: Erinn Valencich

Coastal

This look is inspired by the ocean. It evokes a light and breezy feel by way of airy fabrics for window treatments, and the emphasis on nautical or beach-themed accessories such as lighthouses and seashells. The classic Ralph Lauren-inspired palette of navy and white with gold accents is a striking look for any home. Design by Layla Palmer.

Contemporary

Contemporary design often has clean, sleek lines and is marked by solid colors, predominantly muted neutrals or bold punches of color in furniture and accessories. Furniture is sleek, lower to the ground and often has metal frames or straight legs with an emphasis on basic shapes and forms. Graphic elements in artwork or as accents work well with this look. Design by Josh Foss.

Country

A rustic elegance is characteristic of this look. Some country looks are marked by extensive use of white wood paneling and soft floral patterns, muted hues and pops of red, black or pure white accents. Floral, checked and striped vintage fabric patterns are standards, and elements have a handmade, rustic quality: wood, handmade pottery, baskets and hand-forged metal to name a few. Primitive furnishings have history to them, and are bought in antique shops and flea markets. Design by Lori Dennis.

Eclectic

This catch-all style borrows from several other design styles and evokes a sense of imagination and surprise with unexpected contrasts. The style is not simply throwing together everything and anything, but rather relies heavily on the building blocks of design (color, pattern, texture, composition) to make the space look cohesive. A multitude of fabrics is characteristic, whether patterned, textured, solids or all three. Design by Andreea Avram Rusu.

English Country

A feminine look, with lush rose patterns, extensive uses of greens, reds, pinks and blues are characteristic of an English Country home. Ornamental, fine carved wood furniture, overstuffed sofas with tufting and skirted furniture mix with antiques and lots of small decorative accessories. Design by Phyllis Harbinger.

French

An ornate, fanciful and decorative style is characteristic of this look. Colors range from rich, sun-drenched Mediterranean hues to softer, muted shades. Often, one color or fabric is repeated throughout the space. It's characterized by rich details and extensive use of gold, bronze and gilt. Antique or heirloom furniture, layered dramatic window treatments and abundant fresh flowers fill out a French home. Design by Camilla Forte.

Mediterranean

Inspired by the coastal regions of Spain, Greece and Italy, this look favors colors that echo the sea and also include terra cotta, yellow and lavender. Furniture pieces are short with ornately turned legs and feet; hardware is heavy and often burnished. Velvets, linens and textured fabrics mix with textured walls. Design by Ammie Kim.

Mid-Century Modern

A look originating in the '50s and '60s and epitomized by the Rat-Pack days in Palm Springs. Scandinavian designers and architects were very influential at this time, with a style characterized by simplicity, functionality and natural shapes. Architecture shows off its minimalist design with walls of glass. Pops of deep colors such as orange, yellow, olive green and chocolate brown add to decor. An updated version of this look is found at stores like Jonathan Adler, marked by fun, colorful and quirky furnishings.

Modern

Rooted in minimal, true use of material and absence of decoration. A clean, streamlined furniture and architecture style from the 1930s. It's characterized by a neutral color palette, polished surfaces, strong geometric shapes and asymmetry. Design by SPI Design.

Moroccan

A heavily layered look consisting of intricately patterned fabrics, colorful mosaics, metal lanterns, textured walls, bold, jewel-toned colors, layers of Oriental rugs and pillows in luxurious fabrics and ornately-carved wooden accents. Design by David Bromstad.

Shabby Chic

Coined in 1980 by Rachel Ashwell, this cottage-inspired look includes weathered white-painted furniture, painted motifs, floral prints in muted colors, white slipcovered sofas and vintage accessories. A sense of brightness and airiness is always evident in these interiors. Photo Courtesy of Miles Talbott's Shabby Chic® Collection.

Traditional

Furnishings are usually 18th-century English, 19th-century neoclassic, French country and British Colonial revival. Use of classic styling and symmetry to create a calm, orderly decor. Color palette is usually in the mid-tones and fabrics are muted, usually simple florals, solids, stripes or plaids. Design by Tracy Morris.

Transitional

The transitional look bridges contemporary and traditional design. Offering a deep rooted sense of history in some pieces, while furniture often gets an update with cleaner lines. Leather ottomans used as coffee tables is very popular in this decor. Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn could be considered transitional looks. Design by Tracy Morris.

Tropical

A look inspired by beaches of Hawaii, French Polynesia or other tropical destinations. Thatched furniture, heavy prints of palm leaves and bright colored flowers find their way onto upholstery. Muted colored rugs or sisal and seagrass carpets cover the floor. Design by Linda Woodrum.

Western

Raw, rough hewn woods, inviting fabrics or cozy plaids play up the Western look. Worn leathers mixed with stone hearths or walls and other natural elements. Furniture is usually large scaled and wooden. Design by Shelly Riehl David.

From: Shelly Riehl David
Keep Reading

Next Up

Shared Space Decorating Ideas

Not sure how to make a small space multifunctional? City-dwellers Sarah Raskin and John Kerl turned their bonus room into a guest bedroom/baby nursery with some smart decorating ideas and storage solutions.

Paint Color and Decorating Tips

Quick changes with paint make your home sparkle during the holidays and every day.

6 Tips for Decorating Your First Home

Take it one practical step at a time, and don't buy into the myth about matching.

Small, Shared Kids' Room Storage and Decorating

An 8-by-10-foot shared Brooklyn bedroom for twins? Yes, it can be done with creative use of vertical storage space and multi-purposing tricks.

Meet the Team

Get to know the talented writers and editors of HGTV's show and design blog. 

Go Behind the Blog

From the Archives

Take a look back at our past posts, from entertaining and design trends to up-and-coming HGTV shows.  

Read All Our Past Posts