Renovation Tips from American Dream Builders' Nate Berkus

written by:
May 22, 2014
In addition to designing spaces and collections (like this one for Target), Nate Berkus hosts the NBC reality design competition series, American Dream Builders, which airs its two-hour season finale this Sunday, May 25, 2014. Every episode features two teams of designers who tackle a complete renovation project that pushes their creative boundaries. Berkus, along with landscape architect Eddie George and interior design expert Monica Pedersen, choose the winner, and the losing group is then forced to eliminate one member. In Sunday’s finale episode, the remaining competitors, Lukas Machnik and Jay Riordan, will battle it out. (Read our Q&A With Machnik here!) Pulling inspiration from the show, Berkus shares advice for homeowners considering renovations, whether it’s small fixes or more involved projects.
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  For homeowners on a budget, the Internet is your best bet when making upgrades. “What we should all really be excited about is how much access we have to furniture and accessories at any price,” Berkus said. “I started my design firm pre-Internet and now we source 85 percent of what we use online because we have so much incredible access online.” Berkus recommends shopping globally by scouring websites like ebay.fr for more unique pieces of furniture that will stick with you for many years. 1stdibs and One Kings Lane are other good options.
Pictured is a mid-century modern living room renovation designed by contestant Lukas Machnik in Palm Springs for American Dream Builders. Photo courtesy NBC.

    For homeowners on a budget, the Internet is your best bet when making upgrades. “What we should all really be excited about is how much access we have to furniture and accessories at any price,” Berkus said. “I started my design firm pre-Internet and now we source 85 percent of what we use online because we have so much incredible access online.” Berkus recommends shopping globally by scouring websites like ebay.fr for more unique pieces of furniture that will stick with you for many years. 1stdibs and One Kings Lane are other good options.

    Pictured is a mid-century modern living room renovation designed by contestant Lukas Machnik in Palm Springs for American Dream Builders. Photo courtesy NBC.

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  If you’re able to dish out a significant sum on a renovation, pinpointing the areas of the home to tackle can be frustrating. Berkus warns that opting for trendy construction materials is not the way to go. “I am always interested in learning what’s happening with advancements in technology, but regardless of how much money you have it is always best to air on the side of timeless and classic in terms of construction materials,” Berkus says. “You can still live in a very modern way using classic materials like subway tile, statutory or Calgary white marble, stainless steel or butcher block countertops.”
Pictured is a dining room and kitchen renovation designed by Machnik in a Los Angeles loft for American Dream Builders. Photo courtesy NBC.

    If you’re able to dish out a significant sum on a renovation, pinpointing the areas of the home to tackle can be frustrating. Berkus warns that opting for trendy construction materials is not the way to go. “I am always interested in learning what’s happening with advancements in technology, but regardless of how much money you have it is always best to air on the side of timeless and classic in terms of construction materials,” Berkus says. “You can still live in a very modern way using classic materials like subway tile, statutory or Calgary white marble, stainless steel or butcher block countertops.”

    Pictured is a dining room and kitchen renovation designed by Machnik in a Los Angeles loft for American Dream Builders. Photo courtesy NBC.

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  Small space renovations need to have a focus on multi-purpose uses. Says Berkus: “The most important thing to keep in mind is to continually ask yourself, ‘how can this piece or object function in more ways than one?’" For example, can the area underneath the bar in your kitchen be built with open shelving to store books? Can your coffee table include storage to hold throws or pillows?
Pictured, a vignette from a renovated, 600-square-foot modular home by Lukas Machnik and Erinn Valencich. Photo courtesy NBC.

    Small space renovations need to have a focus on multi-purpose uses. Says Berkus: “The most important thing to keep in mind is to continually ask yourself, ‘how can this piece or object function in more ways than one?’" For example, can the area underneath the bar in your kitchen be built with open shelving to store books? Can your coffee table include storage to hold throws or pillows?

    Pictured, a vignette from a renovated, 600-square-foot modular home by Lukas Machnik and Erinn Valencich. Photo courtesy NBC.

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  When it comes to decorating a small space, always remember to keep the scale of furniture in mind. “The biggest mistake I see people make when decorating a small space is small scaled furniture,” Berkus says. “You end up with a room that is scaled for a small space and is uncomfortable with nowhere to lounge around.” Berkus also suggests using software to test placement of furniture to help make more informed decisions about what works in every area of the home.
Pictured, a mid-century modern kitchen updated with black cabinetry and stainless steel appliances by contestant Andrew Flesher. Photo courtesy NBC.

    When it comes to decorating a small space, always remember to keep the scale of furniture in mind. “The biggest mistake I see people make when decorating a small space is small scaled furniture,” Berkus says. “You end up with a room that is scaled for a small space and is uncomfortable with nowhere to lounge around.” Berkus also suggests using software to test placement of furniture to help make more informed decisions about what works in every area of the home.

    Pictured, a mid-century modern kitchen updated with black cabinetry and stainless steel appliances by contestant Andrew Flesher. Photo courtesy NBC.

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  Berkus has gone through over 1,000 renovations in his career and has learned some key design lessons along the way. “I have such a passion for discovering and reusing vintage building materials and architectural savage,” Berkus says. “In my last home in New York, I found a set of four doorknobs with locks from Belgium in the 1940s and I had iron glass doors installed to work around them. I knew myself to know that the knobs I touched everyday would be something meaningful to me.”Pictured, an enclosed porch in a rundown rustic cabin in Big Bear, California, updated by Lukas Machnik. Photo courtesy NBC.

    Berkus has gone through over 1,000 renovations in his career and has learned some key design lessons along the way. “I have such a passion for discovering and reusing vintage building materials and architectural savage,” Berkus says. “In my last home in New York, I found a set of four doorknobs with locks from Belgium in the 1940s and I had iron glass doors installed to work around them. I knew myself to know that the knobs I touched everyday would be something meaningful to me.”

    Pictured, an enclosed porch in a rundown rustic cabin in Big Bear, California, updated by Lukas Machnik. Photo courtesy NBC.

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