I am beyond thrilled to share my conversation with Bobby Berk, a multi-faceted interior designer, entrepreneur, resident design expert, and member of the Fab Five on Netflix’s Emmy Award-winning series Queer Eye known for its strong representation of the LGBTQ+ community and inclusivity of people of color. Through hard work and perseverance, Bobby left a toxic home environment at the young age of 15 and went on to pursue an incredibly successful career in interior design, followed by a plethora of other business ventures. He has not only made a name for himself in entertainment and the interior design industry, but he has inspired many people to live their most authentic lives and to never give up on their dreams, no matter how difficult the path to achieving them may seem.
Today, Bobby is sharing insight from his personal journey that includes growing up while struggling to cope with his sexuality, how he continues to break barriers across industries, and the role functional design has played in transforming the lives of his clients. I hope this serves as an inspiring story for anyone out there striving to achieve lifelong goals while learning to accept themselves along the way.
Nina Westbrook: Bobby, as a bespoke interior designer, television host, and the design guru of Queer Eye on Netflix, you deliver change to people’s lives through home design by teaching them that a happy home translates to a happy life. Can you share a little bit about your journey, your design philosophy, and how you expertly and effortlessly incorporate wellness into your interior spaces?
Bobby Berk: My journey really began when I arrived in New York City in my early 20s. I started my career in the retail world, working for home brands like Bed Bath & Beyond and Restoration Hardware. From there, I climbed the corporate ladder to become the Creative Director for Portico Home + Spa. With a few years of experience under my belt, I took a big leap of faith and started my own business, opening a furniture and home decor showroom in Manhattan, eventually expanding to Miami and then nationwide.
After relocating to Los Angeles in 2015, the interior design world was beckoning me. Working in interiors was really a natural extension of running a showroom, as I was already helping clients furnish their space. So I launched my interior design practice for residential, commercial, and hospitality clientele. My design philosophy from the beginning has always been about creating a space that looks beautiful, functions well, reflects your unique style and personality and, of course, makes you feel good. I want a client to feel a real connection to their space and to their own personal wellness, whether it’s creating a sense of calm, a feeling of comfort and ease, or happiness. I use all the tools at a designer’s disposal – color, texture, pattern, and materials – to make this happen in every design.
NW: You have bravely shared your struggles growing up as a gay child in a religious and conservative community. Can you touch on how you put your well-being first and made the courageous decision to leave that discriminatory environment at the young age of 15 to pursue your dreams of helping others through the artistic practice of interior design?
BB: Religion was a very big part of my childhood and framed my worldview from a very young age. As I got older and began to really discover my sexuality, all these new feelings left me at odds with what I had been taught at church and at home my entire life. Like so many kids that grew up in religious and conservative homes, I had this internal struggle of feeling like I was a sinner and praying God would change me. It was causing me a lot of pain and I didn’t have anyone I could really talk to about it. Eventually, after a lot of inner turmoil and reflection, I came to the hard decision that I had no choice but to leave home if I wanted to live authentically. It was definitely a struggle; dropping out of high school, working odd jobs, and trying to figure out my path in life. But by putting myself first, I took a huge step towards being my true self – and it made me who I am today.
NW: Is there a specific project or client that touched your heart and made you realize that you not only transform people’s homes but also their lives?
BB: It wasn’t until I started working on Queer Eye that I figured out just how much of an impact interior design could really have on someone’s life. In season 4, the home of Wesley, a single father who was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the spine, was a makeover to remember. Wesley uses a wheelchair and his home just did not work well for him, or allow him to really thrive and focus on the non-profit organization he founded. By incorporating some smart design features, we were able to give him a beautiful space that totally functioned around his needs. It absolutely transformed his life from that day forward, and I was truly touched by how I could use design to make such a significant impact.
NW: With businesses in interior design, entertainment, licensed product collections, e-commerce, and more, you are a serial entrepreneur through and through. What is the most rewarding part of breaking barriers in your respective fields? What is the most challenging?
BB: I find it really exciting to keep trying new things and expanding the scope of my business. Throughout my career, I’ve never really been the type of person who feels content with doing the same thing indefinitely. So when new opportunities arise, I really want to take advantage of them, whether that’s on TV, creating products, or tackling new design projects. Probably the most challenging part of a new venture is just getting started, and all the work that goes into translating an idea into reality. I’m very used to doing that with interiors, but when it comes to other areas, it’s not always easy. But it’s incredibly rewarding to see people respond positively to something you really put your heart into, especially when you take a risk and break new ground.
Photography by Molekule for Bobby Berk
NW: Which space within your own home provides an environment where you can comfortably seek refuge and focus on your mental health and well-being?
BB: That would definitely be my outdoor space! We have a beautiful deck with a dining and lounge area, and I love spending as much time out there as I can. We’ve added lots of potted plants so it’s quite lush and really feels connected to nature. We often have friends over for al fresco meals, or my husband Dewey and I will sit out there with our dog on a summer evening and just watch the sunset. It’s also the space I most look forward to after I’ve been traveling or when things are hectic. It’s the perfect place to decompress, have a quiet moment and really focus on myself. And living in Southern California means I can also enjoy it year round!
NW: Can you share 5 products you’re loving right now that support and enhance wellness at home?
BB: Using this weighted blanket feels like being wrapped in a big hug. It’s totally comforting and can really help you relax and drift off to sleep.
BB: I absolutely love the scent of this candle. It’s a smoky and earthy scent that instantly transports me to a tranquil forest.
BB: Journaling is a great way to express your emotions and reflect on what you are grateful for, and this one will also look stylish on your nightstand.
BB: A little bit of greenery goes a long way. I love the look of this unique fern, plus it helps purify the air in your home which can even make you feel better.
BB: This rug, from my collection with Karastan, is actually made from recycled plastic bottles! It’s a beautiful addition to a room, and also gives you the peace of mind that you’re doing your small part to help save the planet.