Nate Berkus on when NOT to hire an interior designer: a True/False quiz

The ever-adorable Nate Berkus was the cover story in Sunday’s Parade Magazine. Former Bossette and all-around awesome chick Elizabeth Spratt Cooper (her new biz is called Art & Design Partners – website coming soon!) gently suggested that I might want to weigh in on his “Three Things a Designer Can Help You With” and “Three Things You Don’t Need a Designer For.”

Boy, was she right!

I’m loathe to disagree with Nate about anything. I mean, have you seen him? (Of course you have. You don’t live under a rock.) He’s a doll.

Nate Berkus

And he’s talented and savvy and thoughtful, and he hasn’t exactly had an easy time of things. (His beau, The Tsunami…you remember.)

But I will politely, professionally, challenge my esteemed colleague on these points.

Three Things Nate Says A Designer Can Help You With:

1. Getting the scale right. TRUE! says bossy color. This might be the biggest challenge for home decorating enthusiasts. Huge sofa + diminutive cocktail table = Alice in Wonderland.

John Tenniel's drawing of Alice in Wonderland growing out of a room

2. Mixing styles. TRUE AGAIN! says bossy color. It’s harder than it looks.

Black study black library

3. Access to resources. TRUE, most of the time. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, we can get our grubby little mitts on many things that until recently were available only “to the trade.” But for the super fancy stuff, like Holly Hunt furniture or massive quantities of Manuel Canovas toile fabric and matching wallcovering, it helps to have one of us on your side.

Manuel Canovas orange toile fabric and wallcovering

Three Things Nate Says You Don’t Need a Designer For:

Here we go.

1. Buying furniture. Nate says “You don’t need anyone’s help to buy a well-made sofa or chest of drawers.” Well, TRUE, but please see Point #1 above. Buy at will, but install at your own risk.

Lief chest of drawers with brass handles from 1st Dibs

2. Hanging artwork. FALSE! Nate specifically mentions gallery walls, and how he loves it when disparate things — framed/unframed, large/small, “important”/”modest” (these are my designations) — are mixed. I agree with that. But guess what. Mixing them is MUCH more difficult than it appears. I do this for clients often.

Gallery wall art wall

3. Choosing colors. FALSEFALSEFALSE! Holy cow. If I believed this, I’d be out of a job. Nate says, “I’ve always felt that color is intrinsically personal.” Darling, of course it is!

But if you want, say, a vibrant blue bedroom — if you ENVISION a vibrant blue bedroom — it can be impossible to create in real life what you picture in your head. It takes trial and error…and even then, you might not get it quite right. And THEN you have to make sure this room color works with the other rooms in your home.

Blue bedroom with red bedspread Elle Decor

Frankly, I think paint colors are one of the first reasons you should call an interior designer (designer, design professional, decorator…tomato tomahto.) So on this point, my friend from Minnesota/NY and I respectfully agree to disagree. (That’s so shades of the VP debate, isn’t it? “My friend the congressman…” But I really WOULD be friends with Nate Berkus if he wanted. I think we’d have fun.)

The moral of the story, Gentle Readers? Think for yourselves. And then call me.

Quoted in publications from The New York Times to The Washington Post to Real Simple magazine, Annie Elliott is considered an expert in color, residential space planning, and telling people what to do in the nicest way possible.


  1. says

    You are so totes, dead on! I had a client, friend, accountant that asked my advice and assumed my silence meant disinterest . She always bought the largest, whitest thing possible.
    UGH…scale IS sO HArd to EXPlain. yes?

  2. Lisa says

    I’m here to give an “Amen!” to your final point, Annie. As a certified (certifiable??) color freak who can pull together colors for my wardrobe or a quilt in a flash, there is no way I could have successfully gotten beyond painting my kitchen and dining room without you. Yes, we all love Nate but he IS wrong on that point (sorry, Nate!).

    Our house looks great because of you!

  3. Anne Willis Hill says

    LOVE YOUR COMMENTS! And totally agree. I mean, I might have chosen another day-glo yellow for my living or bedroom if it had’t been for your expertise. I got WHAT I wanted because (hello!) I called an expert who save me time and $$$ by choosing the colors for me. I didn’t give up my ability to choose or be “me”–I just trusted a true, fine, fun professional! Hats off to ANIE!!!!! I love my house colors thanks to you and bossycolor!

  4. says

    I missed that edition of the magazine, so thanks for the rundown! 100% agree with you on color – I feel like that’s the number one question I hear people asking (among friends, online, in the community, etc. – I’m not a designer). Most folks seem to be letting the stores choose for them, which explains the “safe” PotteryBarn/Room Store combo of merlot, brown, mustard or gray, and… brown. Brown, brown, brown. It’s EVERYWHERE.

  5. says

    I totally agree with you. And you shouldn’t feel at all bad about disagreeing with Nate. He is a cutie and clearly very talented. But sometimes he’s a little off. Like that one time when he used bloggers to promote his show and invited them to be in the audience. And then didn’t really acknowledge their presence or even seem to know what a blog was. Off. Way, way off.

  6. Lois says

    TOTALLY agree with you on the point of color selection. Speaking of which…Have you/would you use BMoore Marscapone as a trim paint in a room with your fav Shaker Beige? Am having a really hard time selecting a white to go with Shaker Beige and would LOVE your input. The Marscapone seems a little too “bright white” when I sample it. I would like a soft off white with yellow/cream undertones, rather than grey…and I don’t want a white with strong grey undertones.

  7. Liz says

    I appreciate your thoughts on the subject of whether to use a paint color consultant. I contacted one in my area who has published a book (Amy Wax) and she never responded to my request for information as to her rates. I think with some of the designers/design stores in my area the attitude is if you need to ask, you can’t afford us.

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