In Greenwich Village, star designers Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent—and their daughter, Poppy—settle in to family life in spirited style
For a certain segment of New York society, having a Fifth Avenue address means one thing: upper Fifth Avenue—that gilded corridor lined with gracious limestone edifices overlooking Central Park. But there is another patch of Fifth that has an equal yet quite different cachet. It’s the beautiful stretch just above Washington Square Park, where the avenue begins and the surrounding prewar buildings are prized by those who seek elegance but also cherish the vitality, diversity, and cultural heritage of Greenwich Village. When interior designers Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent set out to find a new home, lower Fifth was at the top of their list.
“This neighborhood, particularly the blocks around West 11th and West 10th streets, has a unique magic,” says Berkus, who rose to fame as Oprah Winfrey’s home-design guru and has since hosted two TV shows (most recently, American Dream Builders on NBC last year) while overseeing a busy interiors firm. When he and Brent began dating a few years ago, Berkus was based in New York. Brent and his burgeoning design business, meanwhile, were in Los Angeles. After getting engaged on a Peruvian mountaintop, the pair married last year in front of 220 guests at the New York Public Library. Then, this past March, they celebrated the birth of their daughter, Poppy. Choosing where to center their new lives, they say, was easy.
“We knew we wanted to have a family and that we wanted to raise our child in New York,” Berkus says. The couple also felt strongly about living in the Village, where Berkus owned a residence (Architectural Digest, November 2012). Finding a three-bedroom in a prewar doorman building in this neighborhood, however, can require some luck.
One place they saw early in their hunt was a two-bedroom duplex penthouse with a terrace. “We loved the views and the apartment,” Brent recounts, “but it was a strange layout.” Indeed, it sat on the market for months. That’s when good fortune struck: The owner of the one-bedroom next door opted to sell. “We couldn’t stop thinking about the apartment, believing we were meant to live there,” Brent says. “And then, suddenly, we were able to create the home of our dreams.”
Anyone who has survived a renovation with a significant other knows the stress of navigating the countless decisions. Now imagine both of you are acclaimed decorators with different styles. And yet this is the story of two lives and two visions uniting to achieve something transformative and triumphant. “The energy we discovered working on our home together is unlike anything else,” Brent notes. “It’s totally unfiltered. We do our best work when we are together.” Says Berkus, “I look back and realize that before I met Jeremiah, I had sort of stopped seeing. Being with him and starting to see through his eyes—I was rejuvenated.”
While one wouldn’t exactly call Berkus a maximalist—his focus is on crafting welcoming yet sophisticated interiors—he admits his “instinct as a designer was always to add more to a room. One more piece. One more table. One more object on top of that table. I love to surround myself with furniture and objects—they tell our stories and give us comfort.”
Brent, by contrast, prefers more pared-down environments. “Until I met Nate the mantra I approached every room with was, ‘Unless a piece is beautiful or functional, get rid of it,’” says Brent, who will take over as host of OWN’s Home Made Simple in January. Berkus, he says, opened his mind “to the heritage of design, to why pieces work together and have meaning in a room. He totally shifted my paradigm.”
In envisioning their apartment, Berkus and Brent agreed that they didn’t want a sterile design showcase—they wanted a home to live in as a family. “In all of my work, I look at a house and think about the moments that will happen there, the moments we all long to create,” Brent says. “Where will I hold my daughter on Saturday mornings? Where will my husband and I sit and reflect and recharge?”
For him, the spot for both of those things is the sun-drenched living room, where a worldly mix of mostly vintage furnishings—roomy 1960s club chairs, a Jansen brass cocktail table with a smoked-glass top, a ’70s sofa seemingly designed for slumping—is inviting as well as stylish. “I love the light,” Brent says of the space. “And being from California, I connect with trees. Which is why I also put a Canary Island dragon tree in the room.”
Berkus, for his part, is especially fond of the master bedroom, a study in neutrals, with a vintage low table and floor lamps adding softly shimmering brass accents. “It’s the epitome of serenity to me.
”Something the couple agreed should be a focal point in the home is a handwoven photograph of Joshua Tree National Park by Fernando Bengoechea, Berkus’s former partner who died in the 2004 tsunami that struck Thailand. “That work is central to Nate’s life,” Brent says. “So we put it in the center of our house, Poppy’s playroom.” Adds Berkus, “Everyone should be able to sit in a room with pieces that spark memories. If you create the feeling that a home is a vessel for stories and memories, you have succeeded.”
The designers consider their home a great gift. “The day we closed on the apartment,” Brent says, “we were walking through Washington Square, and I told Nate, ‘We have to treasure this.’ For two kids from Minnesota and California to be living in this apartment on lower Fifth? It’s insane. I always wanted to live beautifully, and the idea of Nate and Poppy and me creating a life here together?” He shakes his head in disbelief. Berkus looks at him and says, “Great design is like great love: You trust your gut.”
For more information about this blog Click Here!