Berkus talks of stuff of life

The title and message of Nate Berkus’ book goes against the message mothers and preschool teachers have been drilling into our heads for years. “The Things That Matter” makes a compelling argument for why “things” are so important, after all.

“First of all, there is a priority system: people, pets, things,” says Berkus, who will sign copies during a personal appearance at J. Glenn today. “Design isn’t the No. 1 most important thing, but homes should represent our personal histories, who we’ve loved, where we’ve been and where we hope to go.”

And the objects that reflect all that are called things. We fill our houses with them and, if we execute it properly, we create homes.

Berkus wrote “The Things That Matter” to answer the litany of design advice, rules, standards and guidelines he kept encountering in books, magazines and online. All of it was leaving folks who just wanted to redecorate the newly finished basement much more confused than they started out.

So, Berkus called on people he knew who had mastered exactly what designing your space is about, and told each person’s stories of how he or she got there. Many of the featured homes were not designed by Berkus, just fine examples of what personalizing a space and making it special is all about.

One woman, for example, hangs a blackboard above her living room fireplace, a prime design spot usually intended to highlight expensive or long- sought-after pieces. Her children are encouraged to draw their own art there.

Another subject has stenciled the words “make tacos not war” above her “10-foot-long vintage cast iron apricot-colored sink.”

Another woman, a fashion blogger, has dress forms in her bedroom that serve as hangers and displays for accessories.

In his own home, Berkus has his grandfather’s coat hanging in a nook and prominently features photo pieces designed by his late partner Fernando Bengoechea, who died in the 2004 tsunami. The couple was vacationing in Sri Lanka when it hit.

Berkus kept their home exactly as it had been pre-tsunami for a long time because he felt changing it would be a disservice to his partner’s memory. He finally changed it when he realized Bengoechea would have found the notion silly.

He started by just switching the arrangement of the furniture, something he recommends when people feel they need a change but can’t afford new pieces. Start with buying well-built pieces that last, so this is an option.

When buying anything new, Berkus suggests asking yourself why you want it. Is it because it’s on sale? Is it because it’s expensive so it must be high-quality? Is it because your best friend thinks you should buy it?

All of the above, he says, are reasons why not to buy something.

Only buy new pieces if you genuinely love the shape of it, the texture, the age. This is how you make a home you. And, don’t expect that to happen with one trip to an antique mall, vintage boutique or pawn shop — all places he recommends shopping.

“A well-designed space should feel assembled and collected over time,” he says. “That’s why I don’t go looking for these things. I always let objects and pieces find me.”

Berkus has a 150-piece line sold at Target, aptly named Nate Berkus for Target, but the last thing he’d want shoppers to do is design their spaces strictly using pieces from that collection. That would take the personal stories out of the picture, which would fill a space with things that don’t matter.

There will always be rules when matters like scale and space are concerned, but when making a place truly your own remember this: “To let someone through the threshold of your front door,” he says, “is an invitation to get to know you.”

Contact Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.

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