Nate Berkus Biography
Birth Name: Nate Berkus
Birth Place: Orange County, California, USA
Birth Place: Orange County, California, USA
Nate Jay Berkus was born on Sept. 17, 1971 in Orange County, CA, but grew up in suburban Minneapolis, MN. While sharing a room with his younger brother, Berkus discovered his love for keeping his space neat and aesthetically appealing. His father, and mother Nancy Golden - who, herself, was also a designer - then gave the budding designer his own bedroom and bathroom in the family's basement where he could arrange and decorate it any way he pleased. While other kids spent their time after school at nearby beaches, Berkus raced home to put his room together, from installing fixtures to hanging wallpaper. "I think I was the only kid on the block who knew about furniture scale by the time I was eight," he said. His parents' support inspired the designer to go after his dreams instead of shying away from what he felt was much different from what other kids his age were doing.
Making home improvements in his own space eventually brought Berkus to design for others - whether it was for his neighbors, or as an intern at Dominique Aurientis in Paris and Sotheby's in Chicago, IL. He graduated from the Windy City's Lake Forest College in 1994 with degrees in French and Sociology, but honed his keen eye while working at Leslie Hindman's auction house, his first job out of college. Working there also exposed Berkus to the television industry because his employer also hosted two shows on HGTV (Home and Garden Television). His first job was from a walk in the park for the fledgling designer who worked 70 hours per week for not a lot of money, and he was often fined for being late.
At the age of 24, having had enough of working at the auction house, Berkus decided to open his own company in Chicago. Nate Berkus Associates opened in 1995, and things started rolling fast for young upstart. Even though he did not have much of a portfolio, he had friends in real estate who recommended him to top clients, as well as a confidence, charm, and talent that earned him an excellent reputation in the industry. His major projects included Wolfgang Puck's Spago, Barney's New York, and the W Hotel chain. "It's funny, as a kid, I think I rearranged the rooms of almost every house in the block," he said. "I feel like I'm still doing the same thing."
Six years after opening his firm, Berkus had dinner with a family friend who also happened to be an executive producer at "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The meeting led to a project for the designer to give a makeover to a small Boston apartment - in 72 hours - for Winfrey's show. It was a challenge for Berkus, but at the same time, he knew this was the perfect opportunity for the country to fall in love with his work. Sure enough, the audience and Winfrey herself went wild for Berkus' design. He was invited numerous times to appear on her top-rated show as a design expert, making over celebrity homes from Kirstie Alley to Jerry O'Connell, to working on Winfrey's personal office. The designer also contributed to the media magnate's O at Home magazine, wrote the book Home Rules: Transform the Place You Live into a Place You'll Love in 2005, and launched a collection of products for Linens 'n Things.
The most memorable appearance Berkus made on Winfrey's show, however, did not involve a design makeover. On Jan. 20, 2005, he took center stage on his mentor's program a month after losing his partner, Fernando Bengoechea. The couple had been on vacation in Sri Lanka when the deadly tsunami hit and killed more than 200,000 people in South Asia, including Bengoechea. Berkus and his partner's hut washed away and they were able to cling to a telephone pole and each other for 30 seconds before being separated. The heartbreaking story touched millions watching the show - even those in Oprah's demographic who may have disapproved of his heretofore undisclosed sexual orientation - which was also the designer's first time speaking out about his homosexuality.
Berkus' tragedy struck a chord among so many people, gay or straight, and his episode raised almost $2 million for the regions struck hard by the tsunami. His courage to come out on national television also made Berkus a hero to millions of young men and women dealing with their sexuality, who wrote supportive letters to the designer. He also won accolades for his bravery, including a Human Rights Campaign's Visibility Award in 2005. The award joined many other honors that Berkus had previously received for his design work, including Chicago Social Magazine Design Director (2000), House Beautiful's Next Wave Design Talent (2003), and Craine Business Magazine's 40 Under 40 To Watch (2003). "After almost dying, you realize that your word and your actions are all that you have in the end, and you're forced to think a lot more about what your impact will be when you're gone," he said.
In 2008, the ever loyal Berkus became the host of "Oprah's Big Give," a reality show where people competed to see who could change other people's lives through a charitable fund provided by Winfrey. Years after losing his partner, Berkus also found love once again, with shoe designer and Bally brand creative director, Brian Atwood. To add to his upswing, it was announced on an early 2010 episode of "Oprah," that was, in fact, a valentine to the designer from the magnate, that he would be leaving her show to host his own. "The Nate Berkus Show" premiered later that year to stellar ratings. A combination of talk show and design makeover show - complete with visiting A-list celebrities - Berkus proved as smooth and amiable headlining his own program as he had popping by Winfrey's.