Nate Berkus is an internationally known interior designer and tastemaker who first gained notoriety in 2002 as a style contributor to The Oprah Winfrey Show. Three years later he launched his own signature brand of home products and his first book, Home Rules: Transform the Place You Live into a Place You’ll Love (Hyperion), which became a New York Times bestseller. In 2010 his eponymous television show debuted to critical acclaim. CL asked the New York-based designer about how to make gift giving more personal.What is the best way to approach gift giving?
I don’t believe in gift giving where you walk around the mall with a list to check off. I think it takes a bit more thought than that. The goal should be in keeping with the affection for the person you’re giving to. With that, I think you should ask yourself two questions: What are their interests and what is the one thing they would never buy themselves? Everyone, no matter how affluent, has a threshold for something — a beautifully framed photo, a wonderful painting, a beautiful English silver box, or a piece of monogrammed porcelain. I think a beautiful piece of estate jewelry or a vintage handbag from Chanel or Hermès is a beautiful gift. Why not surprise someone with something that has a bit of history built into it?
What does one give to the person who seems to have everything?
I think that any gift is always welcome, but a gift I give away all year long — not just at holidays — is a beautiful coffee-table book on a subject that interests them. I suggest including a piece of your own stationery taped inside with a note explaining why the book might be special to you or to them.
Are there rules when buying gifts for friends and family versus business associates?
Family and friends expect you to know them better than colleagues, and that offers the perfect opportunity to get them something they really want or need. So it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open all year to these things. With colleagues, it’s nice to hallmark a fond memory of a business trip or great meeting. If you had a creative breakthrough at a retreat in the Adirondacks, for instance, you might give them a beautifully framed photo from that trip as a reminder of that shared experience.
Is cash ever an acceptable gift?
Well, my brothers have never turned it down.