spaceWise Reads: The Things That Matter

This is the first installment of spaceWise Reads, an ongoing series I’ll publish the third Friday of every month. I’ll review books on organizing, interior design, feng shui, and any other subjects that will help you create space for how you want to live.

What a great week to start! The Things That Matter by Nate Berkus was released this past Tuesday. Berkus was a featured design expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and then hosted his own daytime talk show for two seasons. His work has been featured in Elle Decor, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, House Beautiful. His first book, Home Rules: Transform the Place You Live Into a Place You’ll Love was a New York Times Bestseller. As if the release of his second book isn’t enough, this weekend launches his fall collection for Target.

The Things That Matter is not a typical coffee table or interior design book. Part memoir, part design philosophy and home tours, The Things That Matter is about what matters on a soul level. Berkus begins with autobiography, a history of his childhood, the joy of getting to transform the basement into his bedroom so he no longer had to share with his messy brother. “My obsession was that 14 x 14 room in our basement—the one part of my life that could actually look the way I decided it should look, the one place that could change and grow…. It was where I could most be myself as I attempted to figure exactly who that was.” We travel with Nate to boarding school, college, Paris, a Chicago auction house and through his design career, including his time on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He also shares what it meant to have and to lose his relationship with photographer Fernando Bengoechea, which ended when the 2004 tsunami hit Sri Lanka.

Coming into the book this way grounds us in why Berkus is thinking about what matters. “The truth is, things matter. They have to. 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.” He reminds readers that our homes should reflect us— not our decorator, not who our family or friends think we are or should be.

This is not a book of design tips. It won’t tell you how to arrange things on your bookshelf or make a major find at a flea market. What it does is tour through twelve homes plus Nate’s New York apartment. The strength of this book lies in the profiles of homeowners and what’s special to them, what they have and how it represents them. Paging through the photos, I would not have wanted many of those rooms or even vignettes in the rooms to be my own. I don’t share the same design aesthetic and don’t necessarily even like many of the things being displayed, but that is Berkus’s whole point. We’re not supposed to have a house full of what’s trendy or what we think we should like or what is in someone else’s house. Our homes should house what we love, what represents us.

While I would have liked less duplicate photos from different angles and more photos of all the rooms Berkus describes, the love and care with which Berkus profiles people and their homes make it clear that he’s listening to what matters and he’s helping his clients do the same. The Things That Matter may not offer you a blueprint for decorating your mantel, but reading how other people chose what would live in their homes and how they display it just may prompt you to rearrange your living room, pull some items out of boxes in your garage, or even let some things go that you decide don’t really matter after all. If you’re looking for a why-to, instead of a how-to book on interior design, The Things That Matter is a great read.

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