Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent Explain the Right Way to Design a Small Space for Maximum Impact
High design isn't often thought of as "practical" or "affordable," but bringing those ideas together is the challenge designers and married couple Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent tasked themselves with as they created their latest furniture collection with Living Spaces. Drawing from their own experience as parents with little ones (the couple have two kids, Poppy and Oskar), the duo aimed to "strike the right balance between utilitarian without sacrificing style," says Berkus. "As parents, it really did shift our perspective more than we were willing to admit. Gone are the days when things can just be pretty for pretty's sake."
The results of their effort are a line of gorgeous furnishings inspired by a mix of stylish references—1940s French design, Italian mid-century, and the couple's travels to exotic locations—that are grounded in reality thanks to performance fabrics, hidden USB plugs, and an approachable price point (the collection ranges from $35 for throw pillows to $2,895 for a sectional). Another key feature is the versatility of most items. Nesting tables can be stacked away to clear the floor while a bench that's perfect for the foot of a bed can also easily be carried into the living room for extra seating when company arrives.
The interest in multifunctional pieces might have something to do with the fact that the couple recently moved from their grand 12,000 square foot house in Los Angeles to a townhouse in New York City's charming West Village, which is a third of the size of their former home. "When we were designing the house here in New York, every part of it had to serve a function," says Brent. "It's 18 feet wide so it's like living on a spaceship!" Sure, their house isn't small by most people's standards, but nevertheless a major change for the duo who had to let go of a lot of their belongings. Having just settled into their new space, we asked the couple for their tips on maximizing square footage in a way that's still stylish and comfortable.
Avoid Small Scale Furniture
"People tend to make the huge mistake of buying smaller furniture when they have a smaller space," says Berkus. "You really end up with nowhere comfortable to sit." His advice: Use fewer full-size pieces instead. "We are the opposite," adds Brent. "We have a family room with a massive sectional. Try and create a space around the moments you're actually going to use in the house, and not worry about shoving in as many pieces, because it's not comfortable."
Only Keep What Makes You Happy or Serves a Purpose
"With small spaces in particular you have to really follow the rule that if it's not absolutely beautiful or absolutely functional, then get rid of it," says Brent. "We got rid of so much. Nate is like a fancy hoarder." Now the couple focuses on collecting things that are really special, like objects they've discovered on their travels.
Avoid Saturated Colors
Unless you have a fine arts degree and really know your way around bold colors, Berkus suggests sticking with a friendlier color palette of neutrals. "A lot of people in design might disagree with me, but I've found that using a series of layered textures and layered neutrals—and things that have patina and character—are really better in a small space than an explosion of vibrant pattern and color," he says.
Take Advantage of the Ceiling Height
When designing your humble abode, make sure to take the walls into account. "They're square footage, too," says Berkus. He loves adding "something vertically scaled that's really good looking," like an old gilded mirror. "Something long and tall in a small space really drawers your eye up," he says.
Invest in Organizational Items
Berkus and Brent value organizing tools in their smaller household, and they say you should, too. "I never thought I would say this, but we have a storage ottoman," says Brent, but he's quick to add that they've made sure it fits with the rest of their décor. "Don't get me wrong, I've got fringe on it and made it tufted." Brent also says they designed their latest collection so that a number of the items, just like the ones in their home, have drawers for storage. "It's just about smart utilization of space." As for Berkus, the most important organizing tools are in his closet. "Huggable hangers. I'm not joking," he says of his must-have product. "The ones with the velvety textures are so much thinner than traditional hangers. I honestly won't even look at another type of hanger."