If you watched Season One of Netflix's Queer Eye, chances are you benefitted from the Fab Five's heartwarming antics as much as the men being made over— or, "heroes"—as home design expert Bobby Berk lovingly referred to them as during our recent chat. In season one, Berk and his castmates delivered viscerally-satisfying transformations that tugged at our heartstrings and basically gave us all a restored hope in humankind. While we were all busy having a giant collective therapeutic cry from the comfort of our sofas, behind-the-scenes Berk was literally designing and implementing each home makeover in just FOUR days. Berk dished about his background in design, his design philosophies, and his time on the show, and, while I can share some tasty tidbits, I'm still not certain how those four day makeovers were so flawless (but I'm leaning towards witchcraft).
His First Ever "Design Project"
The year was 1987, the town was Mount Vernon, Missouri. A young gay man unable to suppress his passion for interior design, Bobby Berk proudly took on his first design project with the approach of a seasoned professional. It was his bedroom. He was 6 years old. "I didn't know any other kid that cared about redoing their bedroom," Berk remembers, recounting his childhood years growing up in the Bible Belt. Though it's been a while since he thought about his childhood bedroom, Berk had no trouble recalling his blue bedspread and green and yellow pillows.
"I always say find that one thing that you love and build around that," Berk said. "You're gonna love everything if you build around that one thing that you really love and I remember I found this dinosaur poster that had this great blue in it, a green, and a yellow, and I built around that poster. I actually never really thought about that until right now."
Cutesy jokes aside about a miniature Berk in a freshly-pressed blazer, pitching to his clients (read: parents) with a Trapper Keeper full of Highlights clippings and crayon renderings, the fact that the cornerstone of his design philosophy hasn't changed much since then is truly remarkable. He went on to work his way up the home retail chain in Manhattan, by way of Denver, working at The Bombay Company, Restoration Hardware, and Portico, to name a few. Berk describes the organic progression of his career as going from, "selling furniture to curating stores, to designing my own stores, to being asked to design the show homes for the International Builders Show a few years ago." In 2006 he launched Bobby Berk Home and later Bobby Berk Interiors + Design, which specializes in interior design services.
His Approach to Design, On and Off Queer Eye
Learning about his clients and designing around what they love has been the cornerstone of Berk's design philosophy for years. "I try to get as much personal information from the client as possible. Obviously they're living in that home and they have to spend a lot of time in that home." Even though his timeline on Queer Eye is much (much, much) shorter than that of his Bobby Berk Interiors + Design projects, his approach remains the much same—"I try to imagine what [the hero] would want and then turn that into something that is actually good design."
While he says his goal on the show is to make a person's home "as personal as possible," he doesn't have a lot to go off of from the start. The hero is spending the bulk of his four-day transformation with the rest of the cast while Berk is hustling to finish an entire home makeover. Being that his approach to design is so personal, it's imperative that he learn as much about the hero as possible. His initial step in getting to the know his subject is to give him a questionnaire, which barely scratches the surface. "Seven out of the eight guys said their favorite home store was WalMart," he admits. From there he relies on the rest of the cast to expand on his knowledge.
His Time on Queer Eye
Here's what he had to say about his nightly dinners with the rest of the cast (Tan France, Antoni Porowski, Karamo Brown, and Jonathan Van Ness):
"Sixty to 70% of season one, we would come home every night, meet up on the roof of our building and talk about our guys and our week and the next week. We'd give each other advice because, especially for myself, I don't get to spend as much time with our hero as they do. He's not able to see the house until it's done, so once I get the info I need from him, I say 'I'll see you Friday when its done.' That is why you don't see as much of me on the show. They would learn things about him the middle of the week that would help me. [For instance], they found out that Remy [episode six] really wanted to go to Cuba, that's his dream vacation. So I used that to change up the design a little bit and make it more personal for him."
When I ask Berk how his approach to design has changed since being cast on the show, he jokes, "I think maybe it's ruined me because now I'm always looking for quick shortcuts." He goes on to say that, even though the show's four-day timeline may have trained him to be more "impatient than he needs to be" outside of the series, his ultimate approach to designing around a homeowner's personality is unwavering.
Now that season one has wrapped up and season two is just around the corner (June 15th!), Berk is elated to hear how his makeovers on the show have inspired the men to be proactive in maintaining a space they love. He gushes about Neal Reddy from episode two, "[he] sent me an email about his powder room that we didn't have time to get to. I motivated him to continue remodeling the place. He said, 'Hey I'm gonna redo my powder room' and the inspiration pictures he sent me were so spot on, the tiles he wanted to use were tiles from a tile shop I use all the time that he didn't even know I use all the time. I was like, 'I've completely rubbed off on you this is great!'
His Go-To Sources (On and Off the Show)
Because seven out of eight of the show's hero's listed WalMart as his favorite home store, Berk knew part of his job was to educate the men about what was out there. He states, "It's impossible for me to incorporate the stores that they know. Design isn't in the forefront of their mind and to me that's a designer's job; to take their space and turn it into something they didn't even realize they wanted using things they didn't even know existed, so that, in the end they're like, 'Oh my god, this is exactly what I wanted."
While Berk said that Consort is one of his current high-end pleasures, he also gave me a short list of his favorite budget sources:
-West Elm: "I like their quality and their price point is good enough that you can use it in a wide variety of projects. We use West Elm a lot on queer eye."
-IKEA: "Honestly IKEA was a huge go-to for me on the show. We would literally pull up with a big truck and fill it up on a weekly basis: pillow inserts, bedding stuff, candles, dishes, [etc.]. They were a great resource."
-Target: "Their home game has gotten insane the last few years."
On His Own Home
Berk and his husband Dewey moved from New York to Los Angeles just three short months before he was cast on the show. Between the move, his company's success, and his newfound fame as a TV personality, his hours at home are precious and few-and-far-between. For that reason, it's paramount that his home is livable and personal.
"My personal style is definitely more on the minimal level. I like it to be relaxed and casual," he said. "I don't like it to be museum-like. I definitely live in my home and I want it to reflect that."
After speaking with Bobby, I think it's clear why his designs on the show are more than just aesthetically pleasing (read: gorgeous). To him, a person's home design should reflect who they are and what makes them tick, giving the home a story in itself. If I learned anything from our chat, it's that home design is as simple as finding what you love and designing around that (and maybe a little witchcraft, if you're on a tight deadline).