Courtesy of Max Montgomery; Penguin Random House
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Bobby Berk is bringing his on-screen approach to mental wellness-minded design to his first-ever book.
The Emmy-nominated Queer Eye host and interior designer has debuted Right at Home: How Good Design Is Good for the Mind, a 304-page book that guides readers in creating a wellness-focused space that suits their lifestyle — not Instagram.
“I wanted to do a book that would really help people figure out what makes them happy, not just in their design, but in some aspects of their life as well, and help them with sleep and grief and their kids and cooking. I really wanted it to encompass every single square inch of your home,” Berk tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Heartbreakingly, dealing with grief through design was advice Berk had to take for himself.
“I’m going to try to tell you this without starting crying, but I lost my father a few weeks ago,” Berk reveals. “When I wrote this, I didn’t think it would pertain to me, but two weeks ago I went home and I brought a copy of my book with me for my mom to see, and that section was not really on my mind. None of it was, but I came down the morning from my room and my mom was sitting at the counter reading it and telling me how much it’s really helped her. I made me really happy to know that there are parts of this book that are really helping people emotionally and literally right at my home.”
Right At Home marks Berk’s first foray into the book world. The 42-year-old designer also has his own namesake line of furniture, wallpaper and decor, as well as collections with A.R.T. Furniture and QVC.
The Hollywood Reporter sat down with the Netflix star to chat more about how his new tome is more than just a book with pretty living room pictures, why he doesn’t recommend gifting decor and some of his favorite essentials for wellness, staying cozy and more. Keep reading below, and shop Right at Home at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target and other booksellers.
Right at Home: How Good Design Is Good for the Mind
What was your jumping-off point when you started putting the book together?
My original idea for years, I’ve been asked to do a design book, but I didn’t want to just do a design book of, “here’s how to put together a room,” or “here’s a bunch of pretty pictures of inspiration” because — and this is not a knock on any other design book, they’re all amazing and I love anything that cultivates design — but there are some books that make even me feel bad about my space.
Because I’m in this business, I know how those rooms are styled, and that’s really unachievable for anybody that actually lives in a space. But even still, I’m a designer and my space doesn’t look that perfect all the time. So I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to do a book that made somebody feel bad about their space. I wanted to do the very opposite. I wanted to really help people; I want to write a self-help design book that’s not just a design book. Yes, it’s in the design category, but I almost really think it should be in the mental wellness, self-help category because there’s so much in it that is more focused on your mental health, and it just happens to be design tips that will help your mental health.
So that was my whole inspiration and where I really wanted to go was I wanted to do a book that would help people. I wanted to do a book that would really help people figure out what makes them happy, not just in their design, but in some aspects of their life as well, and help them with sleep and grief and their kids and cooking. I really wanted it to encompass every single square inch of your home.
I recently read a story on Insider about how social media and home makeover shows are inspiring homeowners to not take risks in their decor, or they’re designing in order to impress others. What’s your advice for people who frequently entertain at home, or who have fallen into this hotel-inspired design rut?
I absolutely don’t think that you should design for people coming over because it’s not their house. Your home is like your phone charger. You have to get fully charged every night or else you’re not going to make it through the day, just like your phone. Filling your things full of stuff for other people, that’s not charging your battery, that’s charging theirs. So my advice to that is do not design for other people. Do not design for your friends and family, design for you.
That being said, when it comes to real estate and investments, if you are in a home that you know is simply an investment, maybe a few years stop-over on your way somewhere else or a different home, or you absolutely know this is not your forever home, I would think it is poor advice to say, “You put that crazy tile in and this and that, do it all for you!” That would be irresponsible of me because if it is an investment, it is about making you happy, but it is about making you money.
So you need to make smart investments. But if it’s your forever home, go for it. Make that home exactly the way you want it because your kids or somebody else is going to have to deal with it when you’re gone, but you’re the one who worked hard for that home, so make that home a happy place for you.
How do you hope people feel after reading your book?
I really just want to see people following their gut and going for what makes them happy, and not designing for friends or for resale value. Again, unless it’s a home that they know they’re literally just living in for resale value, I really want people to start reflecting on what makes them happy in their home and realize that their home has a huge effect on their mental health.
As we’ve seen with home makeover shows about hoarding, mental health can often be tied to how a space is (or isn’t) organized. What are your organizing go-tos?
I try to stay away from plastic as much as I can with organizing or organizing. I love using wood containers and wood boxes as much as possible. Honestly, you can get some amazing cardboard boxes. I think those are always much better go-to than anything plastic. And that’s not to knock any of our amazing organization queens that are out there that do use a lot of plastic. Hopefully, it’s being used for years and years and years. But my favorite is to definitely try to use as many biodegradable cardboard things as possible, unless it’s with food and then obviously glass.
What direction are you seeing design going right now?
I feel like design is kind of going from, in the last five years, kind of a cold, neutral — it was very light, very airy — to now more of these warmer new cools, like with the Jake Arnold collection and Colin King. Collection. It’s neutral still, but it’s darker. It’s moodier and warmer, which I love and I’m so glad that they’re moving the needle in a different direction and I love it.
On to our fun quick-fire round. I’ll ask you some fun random questions about your favorite things, decor-related or not. First question: what’s in your project tool kit?
I’m lucky that I don’t really have to go around with tool kit anymore! Even though I’m a spokesperson for Command, I love Command Strips. I became a spokesperson for them because I’ve used them for years. So yes, they have definitely made renting a whole lot easier for sure, and staging for that matter.
These things though aren’t really surprising. We have this big plastic tub that we keep in the back of a vehicle or in the garage when we’re going to the first meeting filled with paint swatches and laser levels. If you’re doing any type of remodeling, a laser level and a laser measure are your best friend and they will make your life so much easier.
What about your go-to places to shop for decor?
People are always asking me where to get inexpensive stuff. Target, really! Years ago, I had an affiliation with Target, but I don’t anymore. So this is no plug, but Target always has the best home stuff and good prices. That is the place that is always our very first stop. We use them in every single project.
All their in-house brands are absolutely great: Threshold, Project 62, Justina Blakeney’s Jungalow line for Opalhouse has always been amazing, but her stuff for Target is phenomenal, I’m obsessed with it.
Crate & Barrel has really been bringing it lately. It started with their Leanne Ford collection — all of my dishes, all of my servingware, all of it is Leanne Ford for Crate & Barrel. And recently, their Jake Arnold collection is insane. And West Elm also just came out with a collaboration with Colin King, and it’s super cute stuff.
And then CB2 recently has done a collaboration with Black designers and the furniture and the accessories and the lighting are just beautiful. And they’re all so unique and so special. There’s this cool black floor lamp [by Sandra Githinji Studio], and they also have a table lamp. It’s this cool cultural design that just has a single glass globe shade on the top. Just last week I ordered them for myself.
CB2 took themselves up from being — just to be frank, one little step up from Ikea. Every time I go and I’m just like, wow. They are bringing it. Unfortunately, their prices went up as well, but they’re worth it. A lot of their marble pieces from their vases and sculptures to coffee tables, they’re just sculptural, they’re a piece of art. There’s a sofa with a swooping arm, it’s a piece of art. So yes, it’s a little bit more of the expensive vibe, but honestly still not that expensive for a beautiful sofa. Things like that, spending your money on things that you look at and make you smile and think, this isn’t just a sofa, this is a work of art — those are the things that should go in your home.
What about your own personal wellness? Do you have any current rituals or favorite things to do?
I think my ritual is one of the things that I talk about — it’s in the book too — is sleep. There’s a whole chapter, it’s called, The 10 Bedroom Mantras to live by, and it talks about how to help yourself sleep, because so many people say, “I have such a hard time sleeping. I lay in bed for hours before I can sleep.” And one of the first things I asked them is, “Well, are you dimming your lights an hour or two before you’re ready to go to bed? Your body naturally starts to prepare itself. It starts producing melatonin when it gets dark. But if we’re sitting in a bright room, your body doesn’t realize it’s dark outside.”
[I said,] “Put everything in your house on a dimmer, and your body will be like, ”Oh, okay. It’s getting dark out.’ It’s time for me to start preparing like a car battery that prepares itself to charge. It’s time to start preparing myself for sleep.’” So in that chapter, I have my 10 bedroom mantras to live by: ‘I will honor my body and my mind by making sleep a non-negotiable priority. Sleep is not a reward I need to earn. It’s an absolute necessity for my mental and physical health.’
I’ve often had trouble with sleep in my life. So these are the things that have really worked for me.
With fall officially starting, are you excited to break out any Halloween decor?
I’m not a huge holiday decorating fan, but I do like to change up color palettes in my house for seasons. So although I don’t decorate for Halloween or Thanksgiving or Christmas, I do bring in different warm tones. So when it becomes fall, I do bring in terracottas and burgundies and brass tones that I switch stuff out in my living room and bedroom and stuff for, so that I’m excited about. I really love the warmer tones right now.
What’s your favorite gift that you’ve ever received?
My husband and I are not gift people. That is not our love language. It’s been probably more than 15 years since either of us has gotten each other a gift for Christmas or birthdays. We travel and do experiences.
What’s the most inspiring trip you’ve been on recently, design-wise?
Probably Portugal. We have a home [there] and it’s one of my favorite places. The architecture of not just Lisbon, but everywhere, how all the buildings are covered in blue mosaic tile. It’s just stunning. And you always know, you can see a picture of a building in Portugal. You might have never seen the building before, but you’re like, I absolutely know that it’s in Portugal. And I just love how such a small country can have such a distinct look.
Revo Cupping Therapy Massager
“I got these little battery-operated handheld cupping machines recently at Amazon, and it’s amazing because I struggle with shoulder pain, and so I just stick her right on my shoulder and I just go about my business while I’m doing stuff in the house, and it’s made such a difference, actually.”
REVO the Original 4-in-1 Smart Cupping Therapy Massager
Dagne Dover Landon Neoprene Carryall Bag
“My favorite tote bag is by Dagne Dover, it’s made out of divesuit material. I love their stuff.”
Dagne Dover Landon Neoprene Carryall Bag
Don Julio 1942 Tequila
“I am a firm believer that home decor is never something you should gift to somebody unless you know them very well, because they might feel like they always have to have it on display when you come over. I always say gift them something that would be good advice for decor, like my book, but don’t gift them decor. One of my go-to gifts is Don Julio 1942, because there’s nobody out there who doesn’t like tequila.”
Don Julio 1942 Tequila
Lola Faux Fur Cozy Blanket
“I love this throw blanket by Lola. It’s faux fur, and it feels like a real mink and it’s so soft, and it doesn’t shed. It’s really really pretty.”
Lola Faux Fur Cozy Blanket
Therabody RecoveryAir Prime
“I’m obsessed with my Therabody RecoveryAir leg compression. I do a lot of cycling, and so they really help with pain for cycling and that recovery time.”
Material Kitchen Knives with Stand
“My favorite kitchen utensils… I mean, I use chopsticks for everything. My husband’s Vietnamese, we’ve been together for 20 years so I literally use them to cook with. I use them for everything. We were at my mom’s house and I found myself being unable to operate in the kitchen because she had no chopsticks. But brand-wise, we do have a lot of kitchen knives and spatulas and stuff by Material.”
Material Kitchen Knives with Stand
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.