I’ve known interior designer Nate Berkus since I moved to Chicago a decade ago. A story about Nate’s former Old Town rowhouse was the first magazine feature I ever wrote, and we’ve sat down for plenty of interviews since. After his many Oprah appearances, wherein scores of suburban soccer moms swooned for Nate’s piercing blue eyes, it’s no surprise that he has his own program, The Nate Berkus Show, which began airing this month.
Here are my personal highlights from five DVRd episodes of Nate’s big first week on the air. If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out every weekday at 2 p.m. on NBC 5.
Day One: The Premiere of the Instant Design Studio
The premiere episode is full of what Oprah would call heartstrings moments. Dina, a divorced teacher with two young sons and a house falling down around her ears, is the first person to get a Nate makeover. Her kitchen goes from drab to fab with plenty of help from “our friends at Lowe’s,” as Nate explains. Lowe’s gets major product placement throughout the segment, but can you blame Nate? Somebody has to pay for all that stainless steel.
A lot more emotions are packed into the rest of the hour. There are tears when Dina’s new kitchen is revealed. There are laughs, when hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons donates a black Japanese screen to Nate’s “Curbside Pickup” segment, and Nate makes it into a bright yellow headboard for a bed. I fast-forward through a pick-your-paint-color game during which a couple in matching HAZMAT suits reveal they have no idea what each other’s favorite colors are.
Day 2: Going Vogue at Home on a Budget
A young couple is fixing up an adorable shingled house. I’d like to know where it is and more about the couple’s background, but I must have missed that part. Oh well, because it’s time for two perky homemakers go shopping for furniture bargains on Craigslist. Nate gives them $650 to spend, along with this tip for us, the viewers: Never go look at Craigslist furniture on your own. Danger!
Day 3: Dolly Parton Joins Nate Berkus for “Nate’s Crate 911.”
I just love Dolly, don’t you? Here, country music’s sweetest star tells Nate how her family of twelve grew up in one tiny mountain room. “Most people have four rooms and a bath; we had one room and a path,” Dolly giggles. She talks about restoring the old house, putting in a screen door with a squeak that sounds original.
At this point I’m pretty sure I spot NBC Chicago entertainment reporter LeeAnn Trotter in the audience; later, I e-mail her to confirm. LeeAnn has this to say on being a Nate Berkus audience member: “My favorite part is the swap thing they do at the end of each episode. People were bringing in crazy stuff! The show reminded me a lot of the Oprah show. The episode I sat in on was very emotional, in a good way. I talked with some behind-the-scenes people, and they agreed Nate’s one of the nicest people to work for.”
Day 4: Look Thinner in Pictures
The title of this episode says it all. First we watch a game about paint myths, some of which Nate busts (like the one that says you should never paint a room black). “I use it all the time in a powder room or an entry,” he says. “It adds drama.” Then we get to the photos tips: Scoot your bum to the front of the chair. Angle yourself at the camera, eliminate chins, and get bossy with the person taking your picture. Never let them shoot you from below.
Day 5: Design After Divorce
We get a tour of Elizabeth Edwards’ cozy North Carolina home. She shows a picture of herself with John Edwards and says, “I look at a photo like this that’s taken in October 2006, and he’s looking at me with such affection. I can only wonder what might have been really going on. I may never know.” Nate and Elizabeth walk down a hallway and she points to another black-and-white photo of the once-happy couple. “There are some family pictures I’m not entirely sure what to do with yet,” she says. “What do you do with that?” ventures Nate. Elizabeth replies with a piece of advice from a friend: “Never have your portrait painted with somebody to whom you’re not related by blood.” The Elizabeth Edwards interview is clearly the coup of the week, and pretty serious for a Friday. Inspirational quotes are exchanged, along with a few design tips. Nate tells Elizabeth the wood of her entertainment center is too dark, and suggests “painting it out” and papering the back of the case.
The Nate Berkus Show is earnest, nicely produced and doles out what seems like a design tip a minute—a good start. Our hometown star is as easy on the eyes as ever, and as Nate warms up to the gig, maybe we’ll get to see more of his lighter side (though I sincerely wish I hadn’t caught him uttering the phrase “hot mess” during one episode—it’s so
the “you go girl” of 2010). Basically, what we’re seeing right now is a cup of Extreme Home Makeover
, a cup of Oprah, and about a tablespoon of Rachael Ray. You know what I’d like to see? A droll little dash of Flipping Out