Bobby Berk is, without doubt, the unsung hero of the Queer Eye’s new Fab Five. While his colleagues visit bars and salons to teach America’s lame men how to have swagger or cook a properly crisped grilled cheese, he’s overseeing a home makeover full of dust, paint, and heavy lifting. It’s a meme.
But before he was on TV, Berk had built a small empire as a furniture retailer and interior designer. His online store, Bobby Berk Home, opened in 2006 and has since expanded to retail locations in NYC, Miami, and Atlanta. Later, he launched Bobby Berk Interiors + Design, his consulting company which operates out of his home town of L.A.
“I would definitely enjoy there being more on-screen about my process,” Berk says to me at a recent event for Lowe’s and GE lighting. “The problem with my vertical is–and I knew this going in–grooming, fashion, culture, cooking, they’re all really physically with our guy. They’re teaching him how to cook one-on-one, or walking him through self-help. Once I ask him what he’s into, he’s not in there helping me! He actually cannot see the space until I’m done.”
We might not get to see much about Berk’s process on-screen, but he was willing to share some interior design tips with our readers. “To me, design is very personal. I’m not one of those people who is like, this is right, this is wrong,” Berk says. “You should do things that you love, not things that magazines tell you to do.”
So no, he won’t give you advice as to what color to paint your living room, but with a little prodding, Berk does have something to say about the proportions of your rug.
Light Bulbs Are Stupid Hard, And Simple, To Get Right
“One thing is lighting. A lot of people spend all this time painting their house, picking out rugs, and then they put fluorescent lighting in there. It totally ruins the mood.”
Color temperature, in particular, can affect the way a room looks at night–which is a problem with a new era of competing light bulb standards, from LEDs to incandescents to CFLs, which all feature different brightness and warmth levels.
“People don’t realize that lighting can change the whole look of a place and the feel. I designed a house recently in Vegas, and the builder came in and put in all of this really cool lighting, and not cool as in ‘groovy,’ cool as in ‘cold-looking,’ high on the Kelvin scale. So it felt like an operating room at a hospital.”
Berk recommends you match your color temperature throughout the main living area of your home, and avoid cool-hued CFLs at all costs. He also prefers warm-hued lights for cozy environments like bedrooms.
Get The Right-Sized Rug
“A lot of people do the wrong-sized rug. Too big, too small. There can be like Goldilocks [syndrome] where you and find a rug that’s just right,” says Berk. “Some people put a rug way too far under the sofa. Some people not far enough.”
Berk makes the wrong-sized rug sound like a poorly tailored suit–and that’s especially important, given that rugs go up dramatically in price by their size. Beyond matters of taste, it’s costly to go too big if there’s no benefit.
“My rule of thumb is I like the rug to be right at the front edge of the sofa. Not going under it,” he says. “Maybe under one foot to keep it from moving around–but not under it, then it gets dusty. And you don’t want it too far out if it’s going through a walkway, because that part of the rug gets worn out before the rest. So a good size in the middle.”
Hang Your Curtain Rods Higher Than You Think
“Curtain rods,” Berk says with a sigh. Curtain rods are almost always hung too low.
“People put their curtains right at the top of a window,” he continues. “The best place to put them is about a foot above because it makes the window look taller, and the ceiling look higher. Blinds you want to put inside the window, but when you do curtains and a rod, put them 6 inches to a foot above the window.”
Resist The Temptation Of TV
It’s advice we’ve heard time and time again, but generally, it calls on deaf ears.
“A lot of people will center their living room around a TV. I personally think that’s the wrong decision,” says Berk. “I mean, have it there, absolutely. But to walk in and clearly see that the sole focus of any time you have in your house is that TV? I like to set up your room as a bit more conversational. That’s a way to be a little bit happier in your space. Engage in conversation more.”
Chill With The Mid-Century Mod…And Boho
When I ask Berk if he’s pro or anti mid-century modern–the lovable, but now ubiquitous retro design trend, he admits, “For years, I was very pro. In my retail stores I had a lot of mid-century modern. I feel it’s back on its way out now. But I like mixtures of Danish mid-century. That’s becoming very hot.” Sorry Herman Miller. “But in a good mid-century home, it always works,” he adds.
Aside from cooling it with the Mad Men, anything else? “I’m kind of getting sick of Boho. Kind of really getting sick of Boho,” he says of the resurgent 1970s “bohemian” look from the last few years. “Mosaic table tops. Fringe everywhere. I’m getting a little over that. I like more minimalistic stuff.”
As for Berk’s own designs, I ask him if he has any buyer’s remorse after seeing his own Season One rooms at a distance on Netflix. “Without trying to sound like an ass, no!” he says with a laugh. “We have such little time, I look back, and if it wasn’t a show, and I had weeks or months, oh yeah, there are tons of things to do differently. But to get done what we needed for the show, you know, yeah I think it came out way better than I thought it was going to. I was terrified.”