Five Questions

5 Questions for Nate Berkus, Celebrated Interior Designer and Inveterate Auction Shopper

To hear Nate Berkus tell it, auctions are possibly his favorite thing, next to his children — 6-year-old Poppy and 3-year-old Oskar — with husband Jeremiah Brent, also an interior design pro. “It’s the thrill of the hunt,” says Berkus, a perennial on the top-talent lists of influential shelter magazines and a veteran TV host, with a portfolio of sexy, sophisticated residential projects worldwide. 

“I bid every single day,” he adds. “The rush that happens when I actually win something that I love — it’s like a serotonin surge.”

Berkus, a 1stDibs seller since 2014, has curated a special collection of covetable items for 1stDibs auctions, the newest way to shop the company’s expanding universe. 

As you might expect, his picks are a broad and confident mix, ranging from a 17th-century rustic Italian trestle table and a pair of ebonized English Regency armchairs with pony-hide seats to an exceptional Art Deco brass-and-mahogany bar cabinet, as well as maverick contemporary designer Mark Brazier-Jones’s gilded-bronze Pegasus chair with a winged back.

Before Berkus launched his design business — in 1995 at age 24 — and before regular Oprah appearances made him a household name, he interned at a regional auction house in Chicago, gaining a thorough education in paintings, furniture, jewelry and other decorative arts and picking up an auction bug that never went away. 

Nate Berkus's residence
Berkus and his husband, Jeremiah Brent, have filled their own residences with new and vintage finds. The 1940s Fritz Hansen club chair at right, purchased through JenMod Vintage on 1stDibs and seen here in their former West Village home, “is the chair that we fought over in the house,” says Berkus. Photo by Nicole Franzen

1.  What role have auctions played in your career, and how do they fit into your life today?

People may not know this, but I started out working for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago, where I was constantly surrounded by the most beautiful things and learned so much. 

Now, I basically spend the majority of my time searching for things online. I get alerts and notices every time a designer pops up, every time a watchmaker pops up, every time a furniture maker pops up. I use auctions to shop for gifts, to shop for clients, to furnish our own homes. It is just my favorite way to find unique, one-of-a-kind things.

English Regency Armchairs with pony seats
Berkus is also a 1stDibs seller and has included some favorite pieces from his own storefront in the auction collection, like these English Regency armchairs with pony seats.

2. Can you zero in on a memorable auction moment? 

There have been several. Perhaps one of my most memorable bidding experiences was many years ago, pre-Internet, at a sale of fashion, jewelry, luggage and small leather goods in Chicago. 

There was a horrible winter storm, and there were maybe ten people at most in the room. We just kept bidding on the most amazing things and getting the greatest deals. It was a very good Christmas and Hanukkah for everybody around me that year.  

Nate Berkus's former Los Angeles home
“I have always found a place for this mirror,” the designer says of the Louis XVI–style giltwood piece that he spotted at David Neligan Antiques on 1stDibs and had in the hall of the Los Angeles home where he and Brent used to live. “A gilded mirror is a great gift to get someone started with vintage and antique furniture. I love how this mirror can be hung in slightly more modern spaces as well as traditional ones. It’s really universal.” Photo by Christopher Dibble

3. What stands out to you as unique about 1stDibsauctions? 

Probably the most distinctive thing about 1stDibs’ auctions is the site’s reputation as one of the leading sources worldwide for extraordinary things. It’s a nice change from having to browse with a “buyer beware” mindset.

Nate Berkus's library in California, featuring a French 1950s saucer pendant in bronze
“I’ve always had a thing for vintage lighting,” says Berkus. “This fixture” — a French 1950s saucer pendant in bronze — “from my friends at Pavilion started out in my kitchen in Chicago, twenty years ago. Next it moved to my dining room in New York, then to the library in our home in California [above] and then back to the kitchen in the West Village. Currently, it’s in our design office in lower Manhattan.” Photo by Christopher Dibble

4. What are your top tips for shopping an online auction?

Make sure you know the correct spelling of the creator that you’re interested in so you can search accurately for things that may be coming up at auction. 

When you see something that you really love, do a little bit of research to gain some knowledge about pricing. The presale auction estimate is the amount the site thinks an item is going to sell for. You should know how that compares to what the price would be at retail or in a store. Take the time to decide what you feel comfortable paying. 

Make sure you understand the terms of an auction, whether there are any fees above the sale price. [At 1stDibs, there are no fees above the accepted bid except taxes and shipping.] 

Finally — and this is important — make sure you know how the item will be delivered or how you will pick it up.

“I always look for antique tables with their original stone tops, and this nineteenth-century oak-and-marble center table delivered,” Berkus says about the piece that sat in front of a marble fireplace in Berkus and Brent’s West Village townhouse. “It’s French but has a bit of a Swedish vibe.” Photo by Nicole Franzen

5. Do you consider yourself a competitive bidder?

I’m not competitive at all. It’s not a problem for me when somebody else is bidding on something that I love and have to have. The more the merrier. Just kidding. It makes me insane. I’m a triple Virgo — I want to win at everything!

 

 

Browse a Selection of Nate Berkus’s Auction Picks

Wrought-iron and brass console table with stone top, early 20th century
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Wrought-iron and brass console table with stone top, early 20th century
Percival Lafer for Móveis Lafer MP-41 sofa, 1960s
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Percival Lafer for Móveis Lafer MP-41 sofa, 1960s
Hollywood Regency Murano glass sunburst wall lamp, 1960s
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Hollywood Regency Murano glass sunburst wall lamp, 1960s
Cartier Santos Galbee steel ladies' watch, 1990s
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Cartier Santos Galbee steel ladies' watch, 1990s
Consalvo Carelli marine painting, 19th century
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Consalvo Carelli marine painting, 19th century
Giovanni Tommaso set of two Naked glass lounge chairs, contemporary
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Giovanni Tommaso set of two Naked glass lounge chairs, contemporary
Belfiore Jewelry pear-shape-diamond earrings, 21st century
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Belfiore Jewelry pear-shape-diamond earrings, 21st century
French walnut-root desk, mid-20th century
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French walnut-root desk, mid-20th century
Mark Brazier-Jones Zodiac mirror, 1987
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Mark Brazier-Jones Zodiac mirror, 1987

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