WATCH: Nate Berkus Shares Design Tips For Your Holiday At Home This Year

Nate BerkusPhoto Credit: Ashley Burns Photography for Starbucks
With the holidays approaching faster than seemed possible and the art of entertaining more of a conundrum than usual, we needed some help. And so, we enlisted the aid of design expert Nate Berkus for tips on entertaining, seasonal decor and how to make the holidays feel, well, festive, despite all that’s happening in the world. Berkus, a regular guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, seemed like the perfect fit, considering he’s joined forces with Starbucks to curate the Holiday At-Home Portrait Series, with the intention being that Starbucks holiday coffee connects us through the little moments we share together at home – especially during a year that has been anything but picture perfect. While you percolate on that, check out our interview with Nate — as well as his holiday design tips — below!

Nate Berkus Photo Credit: Ashley Burns Photography for Starbucks

Why are you partnering with Starbucks for the Holiday At-Home Portrait Series?

First of all this has been such a crazy year for everybody. 2020 is a year that I think we will never forget no matter where you were or what you were doing. I think what’s sort of beautiful, the silver lining of 2020, is a renewed appreciation for the little moments of joy. In 2021, we may not have the focus or the ability to spend as much times with our families or notice the little things we’ve missed along the way. So I’ve teamed up with Starbucks to highlight these little moments that bring the biggest amounts of joy. One of those is the Starbucks At-Home Portrait Series. They came to me and said, ‘Everyone is doing everything at home right now. They’re having their morning ritual with coffee at home, they’re not going out. They want to take their holiday photo at home. They’re ordering everything online. What tips do you have to help people take a really cute photo?’ And I really sat down and thought about it. I shared those tips with them and got to work with four other families, including of course my own, to capture a really great holiday portrait that really encapsulates these small moments of joy in a year that has really been so insane.

With 2020 so different from years past, do you have any tips for still ensuring that the holidays feel festive?

Whatever rituals and ceremonies you have in the morning at home, those have become even more important… The time that we have — we’re all still multi-tasking, I’m Zooming with you right now, I’ve got a million things going on, I’m on the road in production — but the truth is when I’m home, I’m really paying attention not only to the interiors and maintaining the home, but also making the space to really see what my kids and our dog is up to. Taking a walk to the mailbox takes on a totally different meaning. It’s these little moments that hopefully we’ll all remember as the world moves towards a different reality.

With these portraits, you want to capture the little moments as well as the big ones?

We want to document the intimacy, the spontaneity. One of the tips that I have is don’t stop clicking after everyone is done posing. The little moments in between also matter. Embrace your space in a different way. Everyone should be looking at their homes with fresh eyes. Do you really need those two prints that have been hanging on the wall for fifteen years? They should come down if you’re taking a holiday portrait because you want the people to be center stage… Do you want them there anyway? Do they matter to you, do they serve you, do they bring you joy, do they make you happy? I’m asking that about everything in my home. Kick some stuff to the curb. I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be honest. That’s not cute. Why did I buy that?’

Nate Berkus Photo Credit: Ashley Burns Photography for Starbucks

Are you also buying a lot of stuff at this time? A lot of people are shopping.

My online shopping at this point — literally, whether it’s coffee or vintage frames… is at an all-time [high]. It’s dark.

Does coffee play a role in your day-to-day life?

No, in fact, it’s really fascinating to me. The one thing that my husband does that is entirely self-less — and Jeremiah [Brent] is a great guy [anyway] — every morning I get a hot cup of coffee on my nightstand. Every morning. He wakes up earlier than me. In seven years of marriage, it’s only not been on my nightstand twice, and I knew I probably shouldn’t come out of the bedroom. It wasn’t going to go well. He’s only been that mad two times.

Is it essential to getting through the holidays then, as well?

Absolutely. I tend to drink coffee once in the morning, maybe I’ll go for a second cup if I’m really exhausted or we’re filming and I know we have a huge day, but Jeremiah drinks it all day long.

How is filming looking in this climate?

It’s different. Jer and I agreed to compete on HGTV’s Rock the Block, season 2. It’s a much bigger endeavor than we expected. It’s a huge show, we’re competing against three teams. We’re in tight, tight quarantine being tested basically every day. Everyone is in a mask unless we’re filming a scene. It’s changed, it’s changed a lot. But we’re lucky to be able to be on the road with our kids. Our daughter is Zooming school, so we can really be anywhere which is amazing, and we’re really trying to take advantage of that opportunity that we don’t have to split up to go do separate projects in separate places right now.

Nate Berkus Photo Credit: Ashley Burns Photography for Starbucks

How is school going with the Zoom situation?

She’s doing OK. I’ve seen her be a little bit more engaged in class, she’s a little more reticent to raise her hand, which is interesting. We’re really looking forward to having her back in the classroom though.

What are five holiday decorating tips that are super appropriate for this year in particular for the 1%?

I love vintage or antique sterling silver and you can find that online really easily whether it’s at an auction — I use the website LiveAuctioneers all the time — Etsy, Cherish, First Dibs, they’re all great sources for that. I love a table with beautiful silver bowls and candles mixed. I even use metallic ornaments, loose just in bowls. If you want to start a collection of something that will retain value but will also shine at the holidays, I would say start collecting silver. If you had no budget, fine tableware, porcelain, crystal and flatware knows no upper limits. You can have it hand-painted with your monogram in Germany, you can have glasses hand-blown in Venice, you can have sterling flatware signed from Denmark from Georg Jensen, there is so much beauty in that one area. I like to buy things, as a universal tip, to buy things on the secondary market. So you won’t catch me going into a new gallery. I would never walk into Tiffany and buy a set of 12 dinner plates; I would buy them on the second market.

What to you is the greatest luxury in life and why?

Time. I really do believe that. I’ve had my design firm for 25 years. I’ve done so many things, but the things that I look back on are not being in the White House garden with former First Lady Michelle Obama, it’s not the parties I’ve been to with Oprah, it’s these little, beautiful moments at home.


Nate Berkus Photo Credit: Ashley Burns Photography for Starbucks

EMBRACE YOUR SPACE! Take a minute to really think about where in your home you want to set up for your portraits. Your home should reflect the best parts of you and your family. So, if you have a favorite moment in your home, think about setting up there. Be mindful of what will be in the shot; you want your home to shine and complement the portrait, not distract from it.

GATHER YOUR PEOPLE. There’s a lot to reflect on and be grateful for when you think about everything that has happened this year. No. 1 on my list, and probably yours, are the people in our lives. So, gather your loved ones, and capture a thoughtful, intimate portrait to mark this time – because none of us are going to forget 2020.

CAPTURE THE LITTLE MOMENTS. Your portrait subjects are likely to strike a pose. Let them. Then, when everyone thinks you’ve got the shot, keep clicking. The “in-between” time, when everyone relaxes and stops paying attention to the camera – that’s when you will get the shot. Crack a joke or be silly. You want to capture these candid moments and let your loved ones’ personalities really shine through.

BALANCE A BIG GROUP. If your portrait includes a big group it can get crowded quickly. Stagger people by height and make sure people aren’t blocking each other and that everyone’s face is visible. That being said, let go of perfection. If people are enjoying themselves, that will translate on camera. Posed and perfect are so not what 2020 is about.

DON’T STRESS OVER LITTLE ONES. As a dad I know too well how tricky photographing children can be. The end result doesn’t need to be perfect, remember that. My go-to’s – toys and snacks. And if they end up in the shot? Well, they are kids, and no one is going to care. The more natural the better and, as parents and pet owners, we all know that a little bit of chaos is real life! Celebrate those moments.