Expert Guide: Cheap Thrills for Small Spaces with Nate Berkus

Nate Berkus is no stranger to reinvention. The design dynamo turned talk show host turned America's sweetheart (yes, I said it, and I dare anyone to interview him and disagree) has worn more hats in recent years than Lady Gaga's last press tour. So it's no surprise that Berkus is chock full of tips on how to reinvent a space. From home to office, here's his how-to guide to breathing new life into small quarters on a budget.

small space design

Small Space: Home

"In over fifteen years of decorating, the most important lesson I’ve learned is to never underestimate the amount or size of furniture you can fit into a space," Berkus says. "I just finished a 500-square foot apartment on 42nd Street for a client who was so depressed with the size of her apartment. We ended up fitting two chairs, a full size sofa, a round coffee table, a media cabinet, a chaise, and a floor lamp."

Nate recommends buying blue tape and outlining the floor where you imagine your future furniture sitting. Start with the sofa — it should be your biggest investment, but you still don’t have to spend a lot. Places like CB2, West Elm, and Ballard Designs have great options at great prices.

"The more destinations you can fit into a small space, the more room you’re going to feel like you have. The point is to live gracefully and beautifully. If you’re making a sacrifice on square footage to live in an area you love, you still deserve to be excited when you turn the key and walk into your apartment every day."

Once you decide where the sofa will go, Nate suggests moving on to choosing a coffee table, followed by additional seating. Next on the list? A rug, lighting, and accessories.

NATE’S TOP TIP: Really take advantage of your wall space and go huge with the scale. Fill a wall with one major thing, like an old photograph, painting, or framed piece of wallpaper. It will open up your space completely.


small space officeSmall Space: Office

“The whole key is to personalize your space – think about every piece and make it your own. Just as you choose what to wear in the morning, it’s important to infuse your personality into the utilitarian things.”

  • For the floor: Pull a flat, woven 3×5 rug into your space to add interest, color, and pattern.
  • For the desk: Search flea markets to find the perfect old lamp with vintage lampshade. Use a pretty glass tumbler to hold your pens. Swap out your metal file folders for a decorative cardboard box.
  • For the wall: Instead of tacking things up to your corkboard, take the time to frame photos.


Small Space: Outdoors

”If you have an outdoor space in your apartment, we can just stop here because I’m coming over!” Berkus quips (I second that). “Even if space is slim, there’s nothing prettier than a window box full of flowers. Just don’t get too creative with color — pick one species and one color to keep things fresh and clean. I’m also a fan of placing an odd number of beautiful clay pots on the window sill.”


4 Things Nate Loves Now

4 things Nate Berkus loves

  1. Buying books on discount at One Kings Lane
  2. Olde Good Things in Chelsea. “I’m currently renovating an apartment for myself, so you can find me most weekends in the back of this store, covered in dust, searching for vintage hardware, hinges, and doorknobs.”
  3. Soul Cycle
  4.  …followed by Westville for brunch