It’s no surprise that when you take a virtual stroll through Nate Berkus’ homes — via his gorgeously curated Instagram, that is — you’re surrounded by dreamy interiors that feel elegant, inviting, and accessible all at once. Open spaces, natural materials, pops of greenery, and neutral color schemes are hallmarks of the interior designer, author, and TV show host’s aesthetic. Even with two young children — 5-year-old Poppy and 2-year-old Oskar — Berkus and his husband, fellow interior designer Jeremiah Brent, decorated their airy Los Angeles home in a “sea of ivory.” (Maybe add “brave” to that list as well?)
Kitsch, color, and anything over-the-top? You won’t find it here — and that same approach holds for holiday decor. SheKnows talked to Berkus about all things holiday, from family photo-taking tips to how his family is celebrating the season differently this year — and, of course, how to make your home feel festive. Keep reading!
How to decorate a holiday mantel
“I like symmetry, number one,” Berkus tells us. “And so whether it’s a pair of candlesticks at both ends or a pair of glass hurricanes with white pillar candles inside or off-white, I tend to keep things very, very neutral. My husband, Jeremiah, is the same way. So our holiday decor is basically a mix of clear glass, off-white candles, natural materials like burlap, twig, bamboo, and greenery. And I feel like that becomes festive enough.”
Another Berkus-approved option: filling a series of different silver bowls or white pottery bowls with metallic ornaments.
“For me, the cleaner, the better,” he says. “I like a lot of festivity, but I just don’t love a lot of color.”
Berkus’ clean and simple holiday aesthetic has other benefits, too: it saves money — and saves on storage space. “Buy yourself a gorgeous pair of sterling silver candlesticks that you don’t take out just at Christmas time, you know?” he says. “The only thing that’s different when we decorate our mantel, as I described, is that the bowls of ornaments come out of the bin in the basement. But that’s the one thing we reuse every year. The silver and bowls and the candlesticks and all of that — that’s part of the rolling inventory whenever we have a dinner party.”
A neutral color palette also makes blending different traditions into your holiday decor easier. “If you keep things sort of neutral — metallics, ivories, and greenery and natural materials — that can be Hanukkah. That can be Kwanzaa. That could be Christmas,” he says.
That’s particularly important to Berkus these days as he and Brent are raising a family. “I’m Jewish. My husband is Buddhist, but was raised Catholic. Our kids aren’t anything yet,” he explains. “We want them to be spiritual, [but] we don’t really know how to navigate that, to be honest. So what we’ve decided is whether it’s in design or whether it’s in the food or activities, whatever is more fun and more engaging for the children is what we’re doing now.”
He continues, “so, I wasn’t raised with a Christmas tree in Minnesota, but I have a Christmas tree now in New York City. Jeremiah wasn’t raised eating potato latkes, but our kids think that that’s really funny to see those. So we’re sort of taking the best of both religions and filtering it through our children’s lens so that they’re attached culturally to some of the things that both of us grew up with.”
Celebrating the holidays this year
One thing Berkus did grow up with as a kid in Minnesota: snow! And after several years of spending the holidays in LA, he’s hoping daughter Poppy will get to experience the magic of a white Christmas now that they’re in New York this year.
It’s just one of many things that will be different about the holidays for the Brent-Berkus family this year; like many of us, they’re be celebrating as a smaller family unit, away from extended relatives, and using Zoom to connect from afar.
But some things — small, joyful things — will remain the same. Like the running list of things his daughter is interested in, which Berkus keeps on his phone throughout the year, so there’s something special under the tree that she can’t believe he remembered she wanted. And the joy of watching her face when she can barely close her eyes on Christmas Eve, because of the excitement and anticipation.
Berkus wants that joy for all of us, more than ever, this holiday season. “I hope people really go for it this year,” he says. “I hope people do whatever brings them the most joy. Even if family’s not coming or even if you’re not having your big annual holiday party or whatever your family traditions are, I hope you decorate the house in the way that makes you smile, even if it’s just for you. Because I think we all need that right now.”