Jan. 02


DESIGN BOOK ADDICT: The Things that Matter by Nate Berkus

by Lynn Byrne


nate berkus-The Things that Matter

Some things that matter to Nate

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 berkus-The Things that Matter

Best shoe storage ever! (My shoes bring me joy, do yours?)

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.

nate berkus-The Things that Matter

It is fascinating to learn why Dr. Ruth collects turtles.

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.

nate berkus-The Things that Matter

A collection of feather dusters where you might expect umbrellas looking mighty chic

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.

nate berkus-The Things that Matter

Images are scans from the beautiful photography by Roger Davies in the book and don’t begin to it  justice. 


Dec. 31


Tales of Winters’ Past Before We Leap Forward

by Lynn Byrne

Currier & Ives

Detail from “Central Park Winter”, lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1862

Sometimes it’s fun to look back right before you jump ahead.

A current exhibition at The Museum of the City of New York gives us the opportunity to do just that.  The exhibition, drawn from the Museum’s extensive collection  of prints by Currier & Ives and a few other paintings by prominent artists of the period,  highlights bucolic, nostalgic wintery scenes.

Attending the exhibiton is a veritable walk in a winter wonderland.  Some artifacts like sleigh bells, skates and a real one-horse-open-sleigh complete the serene picture.

Currier & Ives was instrumental in democratizing the visual arts by creating affordable prints made from paintings by contemporaneous fine artists.  The firm dubbed themselves “Publishers of Cheap and Popular Prints” and produced over 7,500 lithographs during their 72 years of operation.

Each print was drawn by hand on a  lithographic limestone printing plate.  Initially, the prints were black and white  lithographs that were hand colored, often by women who immigrated from Germany.   The women worked assembly-line style, one color per person, and were paid $6 for every 100 colored prints.

Later, as new techniques were discovered,  full-colored lithographs were produced.  Fun fact: the first woman to make a full-time living as an artist in the United States , Fanny Palmer, supplied many of the Currier & Ives landscapes.

While  prints by Currier & Ives  depicted a variety of images of American life, their winter scenes are especially popular and came to embody our vision of Christmas holidays past.  When I visited the Museum, I heard a bit of a curator’s talk where she emphasized the romanticized nature of the images in the exhibition.  Rarely do the prints depict any hardship in life. Everyone is well-dressed and looks well-fed. Homes are large and spacious. Fun, leisure activities are often shown. Even when farm or other work is illustrated, it looks easy and enjoyable.

There is no hint of any difficulty, all of which make it fun to get lost in the reverie,  just before we, ourselves,  embark on new challenges in a New Year.

Best wishes for a dream-filled 2013 everyone.

Museum of the City of New York-Currier and Ives

Detail from Winter Scene in Brooklyn, 1817-1820, oil on panel, Louisa Ann Coleman after Francis Guy, 1853

Detail from Winter Scene in Brooklyn, 1817-1820, oil on panel, Louisa Ann Coleman after Francis Guy, 1853

Detail from Winter Scene in Brooklyn, 1817-1820, oil on panel, Louisa Ann Coleman after Francis Guy, 1853

Detail from the Currier & Ives print, Winter in the Country, A Cold Morning, 1863, George Henry Durrie

Detail from the Currier & Ives print, Winter in the Country, A Cold Morning, 1863, George Henry Durrie

Detail from Currier & Ives' print, Maple Sugaring, c.1865

Detail from Currier & Ives’ print, Maple Sugaring, c.1865. Maple sugaring apparently is a very arduous task-though there is no hint of that here.

Detail from Currier & Ives' print American Winter Scenes, Evening, 1854, Fanny Palmer

Detail from Currier & Ives’ print American Winter Scenes, Evening, 1854, Fanny Palmer.

PS: I just had to show you the one-horse-open sleigh and woman’s winter coat.  Idyllic.

currier & ives- one horse open sleigh

Detail from Currier & Ives print,The Road, 1863; Skating Coat, c.1890, one-horse-open sleigh

Images taken by me at the exhibition. 

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