The Things that Matter by Nate Berkus is the perfect book to review on the second day of the New Year. Why? Because it is so much more than your average, “everyone has penned one”, design book. This is not a bound version of Mr. Berkus’ design porfolio. In fact, he only designed a handful of the featured interiors.
In this, his second book, Nate gives us his philosophy for living. While there are plenty of inspirational photos, you will miss the whole point if you don’t read the words that accompany the photography in The Things that Matter.
We have all heard the old saw, “home is where the heart is,” but as Nate compellingly tells us, you need to put your heart in whatever home you find yourself. Where you live should tell the story of you. According to Nate,”the most successful interiors in the world are put together by people who surround themselves with objects that bring them joy.” I couldn’t agree more.
Nate makes his point with a collection of memoirs beginning with his own, rather dramatic story. He tells us of his youth, the drama of his coming out to his parents, a life-altering year in Paris, falling in love, and his Titanic-like experience of losing his beloved when they were both caught in a tsunami. Of course, along the way, he picked up a few objects that he can’t live without.
Twelve other, similarly dramatic, and fascinating, tales are told. My favorites include the story of Chris Gardner, the once homeless but now wealthy man whose life inspired the movie, The Pursuit of Happiness and the account of sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s life. She lost both parents in the Holocaust, and afterwards almost had both her feet blown off in Jerusalem, yet she devoted her life to joy.
So what does all this have to do with design? Each story is meant to inspire readers to showcase in their home the important objects in their lives, no matter how trivial, from granny’s picture, to shells collected on their last beach vacation. But how to do that, without creating a house that is a hot, cluttered mess? That’s where the pictures come in. They illustrate how one can live with the things that matter in a chic, sophisticated way.
Throughout the book, almost as an afterthought, Nate serves as a “house whisperer” of sorts, dropping hints as to how to display your stuff, and even edit it, so you show what matters most to you in both an eye-cathing and meaningful manner. Dr. Ruth got wall-to-wall built-in bookshelves, plus a a very attractive display cabinet. The self-made, multi-millionaire Chris Gardner got a sophisticated library to house the 100 books Maya Angelou recommended that he read. Nate, himself, kept moving residences until he got the “at home” vibe he was seeking.
Should you buy this book? Only if you plan to actually read it. I love the photos but they are greatly enriched by their written descriptions. In fact, my only criticism of the book is that often Nate describes a very tantalizing room, but there isn’t a picture illustrating it.
If you prize your individuality and you want your home to express that, you will welcome this book in your library. It will show you the best way to live with your things, and reiterate why it is important to do so. For as Nate says, “…things matter….They’re what we live with and touch each and every day. They represent what we’ve seen, who we’ve loved, and where we hope to go next. They remind us of the good times and the rough patches and everything in between that’s made us who we are.”
It is a fine message for the New Year.
Images are scans from the beautiful photography by Roger Davies in the book and don’t begin to it justice.