“My rule of thumb is that if it looks like it could have been there in 1920, it’s a safe bet for a kitchen that will stand the test of time that you won’t grow tired of. And I hate trends; I really do,” says nationally renowned celebrity interior designer Nate Berkus. “I think trends are designed to make us feel bad about what we didn’t do yesterday or what we didn’t buy last season. And I don’t believe in it. I think we should spend more time focusing on our own personal style and how we tell our own story in our home than worrying about what other people think we should be interested in.”
It’s this no-nonsense, down-to-earth approach to design that makes Nate so endearing and approachable. An interior designer of 20 years, a New York Times bestselling author and artistic advisor to LG Studio’s state-of-the-art line of kitchen appliances, Nate also just renovated his own kitchen in Los Angeles, California. So, we spoke with him about how to renovate your kitchen — where to invest, where to save and more. (Make sure to check out our video interview with Nate at the end of this article!)
Nate Berkus’ 6 Tips on Kitchen Renovation
1. Buck the trends.
Nate says this is the No. 1 mistake that he sees. “They go with the trend and they are so concerned with what their mother-in-law says or what they see online or on TV that they really let go of their personal style,” he says. “You don’t want to regret any of the design decisions. That said, err on the side of classic — things that will really stand the test of time.”
2. Find your personal style.
Nate says finding one’s personal style is a question of spending the time and energy it takes to do it. He suggests looking at imagery of interiors on Pinterest, Houzz, coffee table books or any of your favorite interior design magazines. “You’ll know when you look at a picture of something if there’s either an overall look or an element in that image that really makes your heart sing. And once you start to collect those images, your style starts to emerge, because we are all drawn to certain things, naturally, instinctually. And when you kind of go with the flow of that and shut out all of the noise of ‘Well, green is the color of the season’ and ‘You need these Moroccan tiles’ — when you quiet all of that down and really focus on what you love, you’re going to have a space that makes you happy.”
Nate reminds us that true personal style takes guts. “The best interiors throughout history are the ones where someone did something deeply personal; they didn’t follow the rules,” says Nate. “And they are the iconic interiors now that we all look to for inspiration.”
3. Take an honest assessment of what you have and what is salvageable.
In his own personal kitchen, Nate kept a whole section of cabinetry that had been there since the 1920s by simply repainting and updating the hardware. “If you can keep a portion of the kitchen — not everything has to match — you will end up saving a ton of money,” he says.
4. Prepare for construction mishaps and unexpected “things in the walls.”
“Especially in an older home, you have to be aware of the fact that when you open the walls, there will be things that you didn’t anticipate — upgrades in plumbing, wiring that might need to change, even the amount of electricity that you have going into a room,” says Nate. “You will run into stuff.”
The solution? Hire a great contractor who comes with fantastic recommendations. But this won’t change the fact that you may need to upgrade your electrical system for that fancy new fridge. So, Nate advises homeowners to prepare financially, saying, “You need to have a padded budget, so that you can accommodate those issues and it doesn’t halt your project.”
5. Splurge on appliances and built-in features.
People aren’t going to be impressed with your fancy brass knobs if your stove doesn’t work, says Nate. Pretty hardware doesn’t feed hungry family members, so be smart about where you invest. In addition to top-notch appliances, Nate says to invest in all of the pieces that are built into the home.
“You can get away with refacing cabinetry if your cabinet boxes are in good condition. You can get away with shopping for the best deal for the sink or faucet online. But once it’s built into your home, it’s a part of your home,” he says. “And you can’t change your own sink. I mean, maybe you can, but I can’t. And that involves both the contractor and the plumber and the countertop installer.” So, buy the best-quality products you can afford. And there’s no shame in waiting to buy them at the best price!
6. Save on the fluffy stuff!
Saving is actually the fun, decorative part of the process — window treatments, the area rug, the furniture, the objects displayed on your countertop. “That stuff is all so much fun to shop for, and none of that needs to be expensive. They can all be things that just have character and allow your personality to shine through,” says Nate.
And he encourages creativity. Repurpose a vintage vase into a kitchen utensil holder. Or “shop your home” for interesting pieces that would add interest and personality to your space.
So throw the rulebook out the window and zero in on the style you are consistently drawn to — that’s your personal style. Then hire a blue-ribbon contractor, pad your budget and get crackin’!