The Untold Truth Of Nate Berkus

If there was ever a vote to find television viewers' favorite interior designer, it wouldn't be surprising to see Nate Berkus take the title in a landslide. After launching his own design firm at age 24, according to his website, Berkus attracted the attention of producers at Oprah Winfrey's daytime talk show. "I have adored you since the first time you were on the show," Winfrey told Berkus, who spent years doing decor makeovers on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

That led to Berkus stepping out on his own with "The Nate Berkus Show," a daytime series that was canceled after its second season. From there, Berkus went on to host NBC's home-renovating reality competition "American Dream Builders," which premiered in 2014 and aired for a single season. Next, Berkus and husband Jeremiah Brent teamed up for their TLC docuseries, "Nate & Jeremiah By Design," which aired from 2017 until 2019. In late 2021, Berkus and Brent returned with a new series for streaming service Discovery+, "The Nate & Jeremiah Home Project." 

Even though he has a new show on the air and a television career that spans decades, there's much that fans may not know about this versatile celebrity designer. Read on to find out more about the untold truth of Nate Berkus. 

Nate Berkus followed in his mom's famous footsteps

When Nate Berkus decided to pursue a career in interior design, he was following the trail blazed by his mother, Nancy Golden. That name may be familiar to longtime viewers of HGTV and the DIY Network; as Minnetonka Magazine pointed out, Golden is an interior designer who's appeared on such home improvement TV series as "Room for Change," "Decorating Cents," and "Weekend Decorating." 

As the Star Tribune noted, it's not surprising that Golden's design choices presumably influenced her son's own tastes. "Nothing is there [in my house] because it was good design, but it's because of good feelings," she explained of her design philosophy.

In addition to her eye for good design, Golden also influenced Berkus in another key way, which he detailed in a blog post he wrote to commemorate International Women's Day. Lauding his mother's "courage" to get a divorce during the early 1970s, "when it was still stigmatized," he celebrated her subsequent decision to return to school and achieve a degree in design. "She showed me — at only 18 months old! — that she was not going to stay in something that made her unhappy," Berkus wrote. 

He lost his partner in a natural disaster

Nate Berkus has been very open about the heartache he's experienced from the loss of his partner, Argentinian photographer Fernando Bengoechea. Berkus and Bengoechea were vacationing in Sri Lanka in 2004 when the deadliest tsunami in recorded history struck; Berkus survived, but Bengoechea was one of more than 230,000 fatalities. 

In 2019, Berkus shared a photo of his late love on Instagram, 15 years after Bengoechea's death, to commemorate his birthday. "It's been almost 15 years since the tsunami, when we lost Fernando. Every day I think of him, but especially today on his birthday," Berkus wrote in the caption. 

Berkus previously paid further tribute to Bengoechea when he and husband Jeremiah Brent welcomed their second child, a son, naming him Oskar. "His middle name was Oskar," Berkus told People of his late partner, revealing that it "was actually Jeremiah's idea" to name their son after Bengoechea. "It's such an important chapter in Nate's life," added Brent, noting that it was "exciting to us" to be able to honor the late photographer in such a poignant and personal way. 

Nate Berkus owes his career to Oprah Winfrey

After launching his own design studio at age 24 in 1995, Nate Berkus received his big break when he was contacted by producers of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to perform a makeover of a single room. As he told Forbes, he quickly realized that he "loved doing it," and he eventually became the resident designer on her massively popular daytime talk show. That platform led Berkus to a prosperous television career, and he counts Winfrey as one of the biggest influences behind his success. "You can't be around Oprah and NOT have her influence you," Berkus said, describing her as "a force" who "leads with truth and follows her heart."

Berkus' regular appearances on her show eventually led to Winfrey's Harpo Productions offering him his own daytime show. As The New York Times noted, Harpo had previously launched "The Oprah Winfrey Show" regulars Dr. Phil McGraw and Dr. Mehmet Oz in their own respective hit TV shows, with hopes that Berkus' show would continue that trend.

As shared in a 2010 announcement, "The Nate Berkus Show" premiered in fall 2010, with Berkus promising viewers they would "laugh, create, transform, inspire, uplift each other and have a lot of fun each and every day."

Nate Berkus was overwhelmed by the demands of his own daily talk show

From the outside looking in, it may have seemed as if Nate Berkus hit the jackpot when he was tapped to host his very own daytime talk show. However, the daytime talk genre is notoriously competitive, and "The Nate Berkus Show" had some difficulties gaining traction with viewers. As the New York Post reported about a month after the series premiere, the show wasn't doing so well in the ratings, falling behind Nancy Grace's "Swift Justice" in the same time slot. After the show was renewed for a second season, The Hollywood Reporter reported in 2011 that it would not be renewed for a third season.

Years later, Berkus sat down for a candid heart-to-heart with Oprah Winfrey for an edition of her "Super Soul Sunday" show. As he told Winfrey — whose Harpo Productions was behind "The Nate Berkus Show" — he considers himself "ambitious" and said he recognized that hosting his own daytime series was "an opportunity of a lifetime." 

However, Berkus quickly discovered that churning out five episodes a week was both grueling and all-consuming. "I lost sight of what was important and what mattered to me," he admitted, adding, "I felt overwhelmed, I felt exhausted ... I felt like there was no way I could do a good job."

He made a bold request after Oprah's team contacted him

Being contacted by Oprah Winfrey's production team to appear on her show quite literally changed the life of Nate Berkus, yet he almost didn't accept the offer. That, he explained in an interview with Fast Company, was due to the terms they initially sought when they asked him to do a single-room makeover in Boston. In his initial conversation with producer Jenna Kostelnik, he explained, Kostelnik wanted the Chicago-based Berkus — along with the crew he'd need to get it done — on site in Boston that afternoon. 

Recounting a moment he said he'll "never forget," Berkus thought, "There is no way I'm gonna gather all those people, put them in their trucks, and require them to go to Boston — they won't do it."

With that realization understood, he called Kostelnik back, telling her that it could be done but not with the Chicago tradespeople he normally used. Instead, Berkus pitched a bold alternative, advising Harpo to "reach out to a national retailer that has these people in every major market, and they need to do a deal with them." That's just what happened, with Berkus confirming that precise "formula" was used throughout "12 years of Harpo makeovers."

Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent were the first gay couple to wed in the NYC Public Library

As fans are well aware, Nate Berkus and husband Jeremiah Brent have been a couple since 2012. After announcing their engagement in 2013, the couple got married the following year. As People reported, their nuptials were held in the New York Public Library, with a star-studded guest list that included Oprah Winfrey, Rachael Ray, Food Network's Katie Lee, actor Busy Philipps, and "The Young and the Restless" star Elizabeth Hendrickson. In addition, pop singer Estelle regaled guests with a performance of her song "American Boy" at the reception.

Not only was the couple's choice of venue both iconic and unique, but it was also history-making; according to the Los Angeles Times, that ceremony was the first same-sex wedding to ever be held in that storied venue, which can be rented for weddings, cocktail parties, corporate functions, fashion shows, and other events. 

Ahead of the wedding, Brent told E! News that he and Berkus were going for a ceremony that had a "really masculine but sexy feel."

He's appeared on the soap opera Days of Our Lives

Hosting his daytime talk show, appearing with husband Jeremiah Brent on their TV series, and providing home decor makeovers for Oprah Winfrey are not the entirety of Nate Berkus' on-camera television experience. According to a July 2011 report in Soap Opera Digest, Berkus was scheduled later that year to appear in an episode of venerable daytime soap opera "Days of Our Lives." As Soap Opera Network reported, Berkus' appearance on the show aired that October, and his on-screen self assisted Madison (played by Sarah Brown, a real-life pal of Berkus) with some styling decisions. 

In an episode of his daytime talk show, Berkus offered fans a sneak peek at what he described as his "first-ever acting debut." Revealing he was portraying himself, Berkus jokingly hoped he'd be able to convincingly play the part while acting alongside "Days" actors Alison Sweeney, Eric Martsolf, Lauren Koslow, and Brown.

"I'm sweating, I'm nervous," Berkus admitted in the behind-the-scenes footage of his visit to the "Days of Our Lives" set in Los Angeles. "I think I did a good job," he told viewers at the end of the segment. "You be the judge."

Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent started a family via surrogacy

Following their 2014 wedding, Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent decided to start a family. As gay men, having children in the conventional manner was not an option, so the couple instead turned to surrogacy. They also didn't waste much time; in March 2015, they announced the arrival of daughter Poppy, sharing the happy news on FacebookThe couple clearly took a shine to parenthood. A few years later, in 2018, they announced the birth of son Oskar, also via surrogate. 

Speaking with USA Today, Berkus discussed their "lovely relationships" with both the surrogates they'd used, insisting they'd be "thanking them forever" for "completing our family." 

The surrogates who brought their children into the world, Brent told She Knows, are "part of the story and the fabric of our family." For that reason, he added, they planned to foster relationships between their children and their surrogates, leaving their children with the message that "it took a lot of love" to bring them into existence.

He has a solid strategy to balancing work and family

Balancing two successful careers while parenting two young children is a challenge for any couple, and maintaining a balance between their hectic schedules and their family life isn't always easy.

Appearing on Canada's "Cityline," Berkus explained that being able to strike that balance is "a thing." According to Berkus, it's important to "really like the person that you're married to ... it goes way beyond love." As Berkus explained, he and Brent approach their marriage "from a place of admiration," each allowing each other with the space to just be themselves. 

That, he said, was particularly true when it comes to design, with Berkus admitting he feels strongly about the ideas he brings to the table, while also being open enough to accept and integrate Brent's "interpretation" of those concepts. "The funny thing is that in our marriage we fight about everything but design — it's a safe zone for us because we're both designers." Berkus offered an example, noting that Brent would easily accept Berkus telling him a piece was "ugly" and that he had "no taste," but if Berkus criticized Brent's haircut "then I have to, like, move out into a motel."

These are his top design tips

Nate Berkus is a firm believer that style is something that can be learned, telling HGTV that it's all about making the right decisions. Finding one's own personal style, he added, is all about "living with things we love," incorporating objects that have mean something to you. Good design, he explained, should "tell a story" within a home; as a result, Berkus is keen on featuring items "that remind me of where I want to go and people that I've lost."

By keeping style personal, Berkus suggested, he was able to set aside his own personal predispositions and biases when designing a space for a client that reflects their personalities, so it's "not about us." However, he was also adamant that creating good design comes by understanding the rules — in order to break them. "The best interiors are the interiors where people actually break the rules," he shared. 

Another big tip that Berkus passed on to HGTV was to use the massive power of the internet to find pieces that are just right. "You have to be really bad on the internet not to be able to find what you want these days," he explained.

Nate Berkus' design philosophy is 'part psychology, part sociology and part magic'

Nate Berkus may be a TV personality, author, and celebrity, but he also feels it's important that everyone realize that he is, first and foremost, a designer. "Everything I do, the television shows, the books, that comes from the design work," Berkus explained in an interview with the New York Daily News. "It's what I love."

As the Daily News pointed out, Berkus brings a strong and well-defined design ethos to his projects, based on the premise that a person's "home tells a story about who you are and who you aspire to be." That's why he advises his clients to trust their hearts more than their eyes when it comes to selecting objects to fill a home, it's important to seek out "things we care about, that have meaning."

That, he explained, is reflective of his design philosophy, which he described as being "part psychology, part sociology and part magic." The objects within a home, he said, need to be more than just aesthetically pleasing, but should also contribute to telling the "story of where these people have been, who they have loved and what they value."

The parenting strategy that keeps Nate Berkus' home peaceful

When Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent welcomed their second child, son Oskar, into the family, big changes accompanied the newborn's arrival. As the couple told Real Simple, the obvious challenges of caring for an infant and a toddler — Oskar's older sister, Poppy — were exacerbated by the fact that all these changes were being documented by TV cameras for their TLC docuseries "Nate & Jeremiah by Design."

The secret, Brent explained, was to "practice patience," both with one's partner and with the children. Meanwhile, added Berkus, they'd also established a hard-and-fast rule to never "contradict each other in front of the kids," a pledge that he admitted had been "put to the test" as Poppy — who was then 3 — grew older. 

Berkus was also insistent that anyone seeking parenting advice should probably look to someone other than him and Brent, admitting the couple doesn't "pretend to be experts" when it comes to parenting. Berkus put it even more bluntly when he insisted that he and his husband "don't know anything," but they're "trying to do the best [they] can."

Why Nate Berkus loves decorating with souvenirs

Nate Berkus has made no secret of the notion that good design incorporates objects that hold deep personal meaning, and that also includes mementos brought back from someone's travels. As he told The New York Times, that philosophy holds true in his own home. For example, he pointed out a large black geode that adorned his coffee table, which he found in Paris. Whenever he looks at it, he explained, "it brings me back to the day," which included "lugging that thing around in my backpack in Paris."

Berkus encourages others to follow his lead, by decorating their own homes with souvenirs that they've "brought back from the places you were lucky enough to see." 

While discovering unique pottery, rugs, and other home decor items during travels will evoke special memories, he also admitted that there can be some logistical issues when it comes to transporting these objects back home. "That's when fun turns to tragedy," joked Berkus, who recommends using an international shipping company rather than having the vendor ship it. Berkus also conceded that the shipping costs can add a significant cost too and advised that "you have to factor shipping into the price" when making the purchase.

Nate Berkus' new Discovery+ series is a 'love letter' to viewers

In late 2021, Nate Berkus debuted his latest television offering, "The Nate & Jeremiah Home Project," as noted by Deadline. Once again sharing the screen with husband Jeremiah Brent — as they had in their TLC docuseries "Nate & Jeremiah by Design" — the new six-episode docuseries follows the pair renovating homes for clients, following the process from initial meeting and concept design to unveiling the final result. 

As Berkus noted in a press release for the show, "Home Project" is the latest continuation of his career-spanning philosophy that good design springs less from the style of an object within a home than it does with one's emotional connection to it. "We believe in telling people's stories through their homes," said Berkus. 

Speaking with TV Insider, Berkus reiterated his belief that people have a tendency "to connect more to things" when they know the history behind those objects. Meanwhile, Brent summed up their intent behind the show when he added, "This show is a love letter to people."