Thanks for making time for a coffee in between your meetings at the Oprah Winfrey Network.
This is the most stylish coffee date I’ve ever had. I’m giving you very L.A.-casual today. I feel a little underdressed now.
Is black coffee always your go-to?
Well, I have an unhealthy obsession with coffee. I have at least five or six cups a day, in addition to the morning pot. It’s pretty deep. It’s always either black or I’ll do an iced nonfat latte. I usually get up at 4:45 a.m. because my daughter is apparently trying to ruin my life. I don’t really know what I did to her besides give her everything she could ever want. She gets up, I get up, I give her a bottle, she goes back to bed and I have my morning, which is so nice because everyone is asleep including my husband. It’s quiet, I have my coffee, it’s perfect.
Where does your daughter’s adorable name, Poppy, come from?
I’d never met a Poppy or known a Poppy, but when Nate [Berkus] and I first started dating we were traveling somewhere and I had this crazy dream about us on a beach with this little girl with blonde wavy hair and her name was Poppy. I told him about it and fast forward four years later we find out we’re having our daughter and I looked at him and he goes, “It must be Poppy,” so that was always it.
I could cry. That’s the best story.
It was pretty good. I did cry, which is shocking. I’ll probably cry three times during this interview. I’m a real pillar of strength.
What has surprised you the most about being a parent?
I really think that parenthood cracks you open, which sounds so vague, but it is a different type of vulnerability. That’s the bottom line. There isn’t a second that I’m with her that I don’t appreciate every moment we have. I just posted some photo yesterday and I really genuinely don’t imagine what my life was like before. I was never that guy. I thought I was going to be by myself in the hills with a bunch of dogs. Now I have this little thing and she’s this innocence that you wake up to and you put to bed. All you want to do is protect her and create the best bubble possible for her to view the world.
She’s so cute.
Yeah, until she annihilates us. Which is about six months away.
Where is home base going to be for your family?
We go back and forth between here and New York, but I think L.A. is going to be home.
When you were designing your home, I love how you asked yourself, “Where will I hold my daughter on a Saturday morning?” and, “Where will my husband and I sit and reflect and recharge?” You’ve painted such a nice picture of what a home with someone should be like.
Let me tell you, you should have it. Move here and you’ll have it in 12 seconds, forget those Chicago men. The most important thing that I’ve always felt as a designer is the idea of creating rooms around the moments that people are going to live in them. It’s one of the reasons I loved doing the show “Home Made Simple.” Every space is this opportunity to create a moment for these people to live in beautifully. Nate and I made the decision that we will always come first. For us, we had the beautiful gift of surrogacy. We had a lot of space to have the conversations about kids that most people don’t get the chance to have or even want to have. It sounds harsh, but the truth is it starts with us and ends with us, which is easier said than done. Creating a room for us to fall back into, relax, recharge and reconnect brings a different type of strength through the entire experience, however, it changes. Our home has changed five times since Poppy was born because she changes and we change even more. Now she is crawling. I’m like, “I guess that vintage marble table isn’t going to be a good idea.” So the baby proofing is the newest heartbreak. Let me tell you, it’s not cute. I’m like, “This rubber comes in three colors.”
That could be a new business.
Yeah, seriously. A nice brass-colored rubber. Gotta figure that out.
How do you merge two personal styles in a home?
I have a philosophy that you’ve always got to honor the past, acknowledge the present and leave room in your space for the future. There are certain things that are so important to my husband— paintings from his ex-boyfriend who was lost in the tsunami. Those will always have a place in our home. I’m honoring the past. There are things that we’ve purchased together. I really believe in editing. So I think like any relationship, your space should be a conversation. Talk to the person you are in love and sharing with, understand what’s important to them and really allow the space to be a reflection of both of you. So many people move in with somebody and try to hold on to who they were before they were with that person and that’s not what the space is about. You have to allow it to become the both of you.
I’ve wondered how it would feel moving into someone’s place that we didn’t create together.
I moved into my husband’s first home when we met in New York and I had the entire house repainted. I moved every room around, I was getting so crazy. I was like, “You can pick three items that you can keep. Okay! And I’m going to bring three items that are mine,” but it works. The truth is you have to walk into a space and feel like it’s a reflection of you. And when you are starting a new relationship it’s allowing a space to feel like a reflection of both of you. So it’s just a conversation. That’s why I always say, “Decorators at heart are really good listeners.” They can hear what both people need and translate that in the room.
I also loved what you said about how great design is like great love— you follow your gut. When is a time in your life when you didn’t listen to your gut?
Oh my God, my entire twenties! The beautiful gift of my husband is that he saw me the way I’ve always wanted to be seen and there’s something really powerful to that. When you find true love I really believe that that’s what it is at its core. He makes me want to be a better person, but then he also sees me and reminds me that I am a good person. My entire twenties were filled with decisions that make me think, “You had to go there, huh?” But that’s part of exploration and I think a lot of the most beautiful moments of my life and a lot of the most amazing things have come out of some of the most tumultuous times. I mean, I met Nate when I worked for Rachel Zoe. There was a moment when I thought, “What’s the point of this? Why did I start working here? Why am I in fashion?” but then the truth is I met my husband because of that.
Did you know right away that Nate was the one?
Yeah. Ten seconds. I didn’t even want to go on our first date. We were friends for years and then we randomly ran into each other at a mutual friend’s birthday party. He said, “We should go out antique shopping,” because I was in New York for the weekend and I thought, “Great. Can’t wait to go antique shopping,” [rolls eyes]. So I came back from the beach and we had this insanely beautiful afternoon that never ended. That was it. I literally never left. It actually sounds scary when I say it out loud. It worked out. I definitely never really believed in true love because I didn’t understand it but now I’ve experienced it so… he’s pretty good. He happens to be a really good guy, too, which helps.
What was it about Sheri Salata, President of OWN, that made you decide you wanted her to be the one to officiate your wedding?
I met Sheri at a dinner and the truth is, Sheri is like a warm hug. Her personality is just like somebody is holding you and hugging you and there are not a lot of people who I connect with on a really intimate level. Especially as I get older because I understand the language of people better. She was somebody who, the second I met her felt like I had before, as if we had been friends in another life and it was mutual. I understood her. She’s always been so gracious to me and we have a beautiful friendship. I’ve been lucky in general for the entire OWN community. My husband has such a beautiful reputation and relationship with everybody, but mine is completely separate and they’ve really welcomed me in and opened up their arms. She’s one of those people who what you see is what you get and then some.
Did anything go wrong on the wedding day that your guests didn’t know about?
Oh my God, there is so much that goes wrong! I don’t even know if this is common knowledge yet, but my husband is Jewish, I’m a Buddhist, so you can imagine that fun conversation with Sheri. I’m like, “This needs to be a Jew-Bu wedding, with a lot of spirituality because I need to hear it!” At the end you’re supposed to step on the glass to seal the deal. Sheri knocked the glass over in the middle of the ceremony and it shattered everywhere. Everybody started dying laughing and cracking up. It was exactly what it needed to be. In general, everything is imperfectly perfect to Nate and me. I’ll never think something needs to be perfect. I mean look at my hair.
When you’re working with a client for the first time, what are some of the questions you ask to get to know their style?
It’s funny, it’s like any relationship. You really want to understand who they are. My favorite thing is to meet somebody and try to figure out, not only how they live and what they connect to but more importantly how they want to live. Everybody at the end of the day wants to live beautifully. It doesn’t matter how poor or how rich you are, so it’s really often a conversation of finding out from somebody what they connect to. Often I can find out just from a closet or how someone is dressing. Also it’s, “Do they feel worthy enough to have a space that rises up to meet them.” That’s one of the cool things about “Home Made Simple.” These people lived their lives so beautifully and walked through the world with such a grace and appreciation and to actually be able to create a room that rose to meet them was the coolest part.
What have you learned about yourself since you’ve joined the OWN family?
I’ve learned a lot about gratitude because of the show. “Home Made Simple” is a really great DIY show that shows you how to create high design at a low cost, but it’s also about gratitude. We walk into people’s lives and say, “I see how you live, I see what you do, I see what you believe in, I appreciate you, let’s create a room and space to reflect that.” It was really empowering. I learned a lot about myself. I think a lot of times with high design we kind of disconnect. Everybody wants to live beautifully and we are all the same. Literally. We are all the same. We are all connected, it doesn’t matter where you are from, your socioeconomic status, anything. I mean, I cried in every single episode. So embarrassing. My daughter’s teenage years should be a blast. I won’t know though, she’ll be in Switzerland in a boarding school [laughs], but I’ll get postcards. Like “Downton Abbey.”
When was the last time you built a piece of furniture?
I made a dining table on “Home Made Simple,” which I was very impressed with. However, there were about 12 people helping me. When I was young I started making furniture because I couldn’t afford to buy any. I would go to thrift stores and dismantle stuff and remake it and I ended up making some of the craziest pieces, some I still have. That passion started my entire career, so it’s very full circle to be back at “Home Made Simple” doing these DIY projects, which — by the way— are a little bit better built than mine.
How would you summarize this time in your life?
I’m going to enjoy every moment. I don’t know how to describe the way I feel everyday. Life is so imperfectly perfect and I don’t stop. Nate always jokes that he’s never met somebody that moves through the world as quickly and ferociously as I do. I never stop. I’m always like, “Let’s go, let’s go. Let’s keep going. Let’s find this.” There’s only so much time to do it and to experience it so I never take that for granted.
Who has given you the best career or life advice?
Well, my husband is kind of smart which it pains me to admit. I’ve gotten a lot of great advice. Even back to Rachel Zoe who told me, “You need to be in interior design, you’ve got to follow your passion.” Brené Brown’s TED Talk about vulnerability. There’s so much out there and so many beautiful things that people are teaching if you’re willing to listen. The biggest influence on my life will be my husband without a doubt. Waking up to that kind of love is pretty good. If he only had a brother I could set you up with. We could wear our biker jackets together to dinner.
If you didn’t have to run off to a meeting would we be drinking a cocktail?
Uh yeah. You said it and my mouth started watering… which is weird because it’s like 1 o’clock in the afternoon. I’m a tequila guy. Blanco tequila, spicy margarita. It just doesn’t get old. I was literally at Sheri Salata’s house last night until 11 p.m. moving furniture, hanging art and drinking spicy margaritas. I thought, “This is everything you need.”
Where can you get the best spicy margarita in town?
There’s a restaurant called Ysabel, I don’t know how long you are in town but you should definitely check it out. A lot of cute guys, with jobs. It’s outdoor, under olive trees. Perfect ambiance, quintessential L.A. warm weather, spicy tequila.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
I’m uncomfortably obsessed with politics, which we won’t get into because I don’t need to ruffle any feathers, but I’d like to have a drink with Hillary Clinton this week. However, my number one answer is my grandmother who passed, who I actually grew up with. She was such a formidable force, but soft and delicate. I would have liked to have a conversation with her as a grown up. She always had hummingbirds around her. That’s why I have it tattooed on me. There was something very special about her. One of the reasons I started practicing Buddhism is this whole idea of totems and really connecting to something and it was a hummingbird for me. I had a hard time with religion and spirituality and didn’t really get it, it didn’t connect to me or resonate until I realized every time there was a moment of transition or beauty or fear or concern there would be a hummingbird randomly. It still happens. I got one this morning. I don’t even have a hummingbird feeder.
Photography by Tyler Curtis in “Oprah’s Book Club” meeting space at OWN.
“Home Made Simple” airs Saturdays at 9 a.m. PST on OWN.
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