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Bobby Berk was 5 years old when he first learned that the way his home looked could change how he felt. After picking out a blue-toned dinosaur poster from a local crafts store, the interior designer and Queer Eye star decided he wanted matching bedsheets and curtains for his room—ditching the old red bedspread and window treatments. The soothing, tonal palette instantly boosted his mood. “To this day, my mom still talks about how I had carefully explained to her that the red made me anxious but the blue made me feel good. I didn’t know why, I didn’t know how—I just knew it did,” Berk writes in Right at Home: How Good Design Is Good for the Mind, out today.
Berk’s debut book is centered around how design affects our mental health and how we can create spaces that allow us to better our lives, outlook, and habits. Even when he was living out of his car as a teenager in Missouri, Berk sought to create a space that was as safe and calming as it could be. “In every other aspect of my life at that time, there was zero control, so I made sure I kept that space tidy,” he shares. In this Q&A with Berk, he recalls parts of his own journey bettering his mental health by utilizing the power of design.
In the book, you mention designing a home for where you want to go. What is your earliest memory of doing that for yourself?
I had my own apartment probably by 16 1/2, maybe 17. I was technically still a kid, but I had to get in the mindset that I was an adult. Setting up my space to feel like the apartment of a grown-up was very important, and going into debt at Fingerhut is how an adult sets up their house [I told myself]. I understood that setting up your space to be the person you want to be has a huge effect on your mental direction and where you can go.
You talk about feeling a sense of calm that first night in your first apartment as you crawled under your sheets. What acts or routines give you that same feeling today?
When you’re homeless, that small act of just getting in bed is something that you learn not to take for granted. Every once in a while, I lay awake and think about how I’m very lucky to have that ritual of being able to feel safe; I can close my eyes, put my head on my pillow, and wake up the next morning when I want to wake up and nothing’s going to be wrong. Then getting up and playing with my dog is a big ritual for me.
Are there any areas in your home that you’re currently struggling with?
[My husband and I] are getting ready to start a whole gut renovation. I say this nervously laughing because I’m not looking forward to it. I’m always in the middle of a renovation or project for a client, and my home is the one that gets put on the back burner. We bought this house three years ago with plans to do a reno right away, and here we are, still nine months out from starting it because I keep procrastinating. I can make decisions all day long for clients, but to pick a tile for my own bathroom is debilitating.
“Clear your space, clear your mind” is a mantra of yours. What is your favorite area of the home to organize?
I always make the joke that an organized medicine cabinet can prevent road rage. Think about it: There’s all these lotions you haven’t used and expired prescriptions—you want to put one more thing in there but it just doesn’t fit. You keep telling yourself, ‘Oh, I’m going to throw all this out,’ but you don’t. And then one day you get a beautiful new La Mer face cream and you open up your cabinet and it falls out in the sink and it breaks, all because you didn’t organize it. By the time you’re on your way to work and that person cuts you off, you’re already at your wit’s end.
The bathroom is the space you start your day in but also end your day in. When you’re needing to condition your mind for sleep, it can cultivate that, which is really important. If there’s only one space a day that you can devote your time to, it’s here (and it literally takes 60 seconds sometimes).
What is an easy way to break a bad habit at home?
There have been times when I haven’t always hung my clothes up when I get home (because I’m like: “Oh, this isn’t quite dirty yet”), so I lay them on a chair. But when I went out and bought all new matching hangers, it motivated me to put things away. My closet looks so nice and orderly with them, and it makes me want to keep it that way.
Are there any design decisions that you made in previous homes that made you unhappy?
There’s never anything wrong in design because (a) it’s a personal choice that makes you happy or (b) it’s something that can always be changed. But there have definitely been times where I painted a wall a color, and a week—or month—later, I’m like, “This needs to go.” Everything is a moment to learn and grow. Even if you do make a design mistake (hopefully it’s not one that costs you a lot of money), don’t just live with it. Say, “Let me try something different.”
“Right at Home.” Copyright © 2023 by Bobby Berk. Illustrations copyright © 2023 Andrew Joyce. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.
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