Were fans to get invited to their favorite TV designers' homes and be met with magazines piled on rickety tables, peeling paint, stained sofas and bare walls, it would be disappointing and somehow mark them as fraudulent.
So it's reassuring that Nate Berkus' private space, a few doors down from the Manhattan studio where his self-titled weekday syndicated show tapes, is precisely as it should be -- lovely.
Studio sets, by necessity, are functional places. What looks like a huge emergency room or the Oval Office on TV is often a small, cramped room where the walls don't meet the ceilings, and banks of hot lights are overhead while rivers of industrial wires snake over the floor. His set includes seats for a live audience, and as they file out, Berkus retires to his private space.
Shutting the door to his office blocks out everything else, and that's not easy on Manhattan's deep West Side where the Hudson River is just down the street."It's important for me to have a space not only that I am comfortable in but the producers are comfortable in," he says. "I used to get dressed in here."
But he was bustling about too much, so he settled into this room, the size of many apartments in Manhattan. He brought his beloved vintage lamps and couches, art and rugs from Chicago.
Hanging on the wall, framed, of course, is a beautiful quote from Maya Angelou: "Home is a refuge, not only from the world but a refuge from my worries, my terrible concerns. I like beautiful things around me, I like to be beautiful, because it delights my eyes and my soul is lifted up."
"I look at it every morning," Berkus says. "I asked her what home means to her."
As always, the poet and author manages to eloquently sum up what we all want to feel about home. And it is something that Berkus manages to make happen.
He comes by it naturally. His mother is designer Nancy Golden on HGTV. Berkus grew up in Minnetonka, Minn., where he has clear memories of enjoying the thrill of the hunt for the perfect home furnishing, visiting antiques stores and browsing at secondhand sales.
"I truly remember being excited when there was a garage sale between my house and the bus stop," he says. "I was always interested in things, not for the status, but to tell the story."
He credits his mom for making him do only one season of baseball and encouraging his natural talents. She allowed him to try out his burgeoning taste, and Berkus recalls, "I had a Ralph Lauren moment at around 11. Everything was plaid."
Berkus worked in an auction house, which, he says, "is a macabre industry. Death, divorce, debt. People are forced to sell."
He has owned his Chicago-based design firm since 1996, and though his daily show is based in New York, Berkus plans to keep his business firmly rooted in the Midwest.
He is as nice as he appears on TV, and Berkus explains that he would never ask those who work for his company to move from their home of Chicago because they have aging parents and children.
"I love living in New York," he says of his adopted hometown of 10 years. "I love the energy and how there's so much energy on a small island."
He adds to that energy, interacting with people who bring him design questions. Berkus listens and responds with sane, interesting solutions. He hears about all sorts of decorating woes, but the overarching problem, he says, is, "that people are not decorating for themselves. (They buy) what they think they should have. I feel very strongly that the most interesting interiors have derived from the force of personality."
So much is repeated that the catalogs and shelter magazines all tend to look alike. Berkus explains that it's fine to adapt some elements seen elsewhere.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with taking inspiration from anyone's look," he says. "When you are not true to yourself, you are using someone else's color because someone told you it's a hot color, you need to know who they are."
For his space, Berkus picks calming, muted colors -- no shocking hot pink walls or neon posters for him.
"Overall, I live in a palette of gray and white and browns -- naturals," he says. "I have to have that break when I come home."
He hugs a pillow as he relaxes against a cushion and considers his choice is probably because he is so visually stimulated all day that he needs the quietude that these colors give him.
He still hangs out at antiques marts. "I am always on a quest," he says, "for my own home or another's. It's the process of discovery."