Nate Berkus on Design… and DC

I was flattered that Nate Berkus’ team reached out to me one their quick-turnaround to DC yesterday, and I got to chat with him at the NBC Washington bureau after his interview with Barbara Harrison — it turns out that he has a lot of DC connections, and a lot to say about the design offerings in our city.

Nate and me in a conference room at WRC-TV

First thing out of his mouth when we sat down: Sixteen Fifty Nine, the fabulous MCM vintage store in Georgetown that, to my dismay, I realized had closed earlier this year.  Good thing it was still open last August, when Nate was here for fellow Oprah alum Art Smith’s wedding. He and his mom, designer Nancy Golden (who made her own name on HGTV), shopped there and he purchased at least 10 items, which now grace his apartment, which he just unveiled this week for the start of his second season on The Nate Show.

“I sent a truck home from DC the last time I was here,” he said. We proceeded to talk about where design IS these days, and why he maintains a design business in Chicago even now that he does a TV show full time.

“It keeps me informed,” he says, referring to his firm’s projects as opposed to TV makeovers. “It allows me to have a very credible relationship with antique dealers and vendors” in particular, he added. And here’s where he takes from his real-life design work and applies it to his TV audience: With so many home goods available that are so inexpensive, he said, “for many, many people, they have been sacrificing quality for style for a really long time. It’s time to take back the importance of what we allow into our homes. It’s important what we allow through our front door.”

Case in point: Nate was recently shopping at a big-box store, where he saw a set of 24 white bath towels, which happened to be placed near a case of toilet paper.






They were the same price.

“There’s something really wrong here,” he said. “I would rather have one good-quality towel than 24 towels that cost the same as toilet paper. … What we really need to do is care.”

Turning his sights to DC, he had lots of great things to say.

“I think DC has so many great things to offer,” he said, referring to his friend Ali Wentworth’s former home, designed by Elizabeth Martin, who took a very traditionally designed house and decorated it with elegance and whimsy. “I think what they did was amazing.”

Nate also mentioned the Besthesda home of his cousin, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, “who didn’t hire me to do their house — thank you! See you at the next family reunion.” (I couldn’t find pictures of the interiors though, and now I’m really curious!)

He’s also “a huge fan” of Darryl Carter’s work (as am I, since my former editor in chief at Washington Spaces, Trish Donnally, helped Darryl write his book, The New Traditional). Overall, he says, “I think DC has a very strong, vibrant design community.”

A quick look through the House Proud  section of “The Nate Show” Web site reveals two gorgeous examples:

The first, not surprisingly, is McLean’s Jill Sorensen, who has become an online design diva with Live.Like.You:

And then there’s Nicole Bourgea in Silver Spring:

(UPDATE: here’s a link to a video from when Nicole, sister of the fabulous Leah Moss of Apartment Therapy DC, appeared on The Nate Show to talk about her house)


These images get to the point of what we were talking about yesterday: These are people who obviously care about what comes through their front door, and curate their homes with details that are meaningful. (I’m sure they keep the toilet paper safely in the bathroom, and hang plump bath towels that didn’t come from the same aisle in a big box store.)

Nate told Barbara Harrison yesterday that the goal of his show in its second season is to become “a destination for how to live with great style in every area of your life without spending a lot of money.” I’m definitely going to have to set my TiVo for 2 p.m. weekdays on Channel 4.

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