As Queer Eye’s in-house interiors maven prepares for the release of his first book, Right At Home: How Good Design Is Good For The Mind, he unpacks how our interior spaces can boost our mental health.
“If you had told 20-year-old me that I would write a book, I would have laughed!” Bobby Berk tells Man About Town. The interior designer, TV host and now author has been changing lives via home makeovers on Netflix’s Queer Eye since 2018. Also the proud founder of his own design firm, if there’s anyone who understands design dos and donts, plus the potential to nurture our minds by nurturing the indoor spaces we reside in it’s Berk. “I felt like I had learned so much and wanted to share that knowledge with the world,” he explains.
“I’m also really passionate about the connection between design and mental health and wanted to create a book that would teach anyone how to create a home that makes them feel good.” As a teenager Berk found himself homeless after being kicked out of his Missouri home for being gay, meaning not only is his book underpinned by first-hand experience of mental health challenges, but a unique take on making a house a home with little resources – and the power of doing it. “We've all been through a lot in the last few years with the pandemic, and I think now is the perfect time to help people discover how good design is good for the mind.”
Head below to read our chat on turning the page on this new chapter of his career, how to turn an unhappy space into one that inspires, how colours and patterns shape our mood, plus his hopes for a potential new season of Queer Eye…
Hey Bobby! How are you? It feels fitting to start by asking the man who knows everything there is to know about interiors – what room are you undertaking this interview from?
I'm great, thanks! Right now I'm in my home office. I have a window with a view of my front yard, and it's one of my favourite places to be - even if I have to do work!
Massive congrats on Right At Home: How Good Design Is Good For The Mind! There is clearly a link between mental health and interior design. When was the first time you realised this and why was getting the message out there important to you?
Yes and I talk about this in the book. I was really young, just five years old, inspired by a blue poster I had in my room, I decided I wanted to change my red sheets to blue. I wasn't sure why, but I knew deep down that I liked blue and it made me feel good. That emotional response to design stuck with me and I want everyone to have the feeling I did at five years old. I also wanted to break down how and why every design element, from colour to materials to lighting can deeply impact and enhance your mental health.
You became homeless at a young age after being kicked out for being gay, so creating a sanctuary where you feel at ease must be important to you. What’s the first thing someone needs to do to make their house feel like a home?
Making a house feel like a home is less about how it looks and more about how it feels. You should start by surrounding yourself with things that make you feel good. This could be photos of loved ones, sentimental objects, plants, colours, anything really. Other design elements and furnishings will take time, but that sense of security and connection is the most important part of a home.
What’s your failsafe advice to those who aren’t happy in their space, whether that be an apartment, a room in a house or a whole mansion?
Take a look around your space. What do you see that doesn't make you happy or elicits unpleasant feelings? It could be the layout of a room, a colour choice or lighting (or lack thereof). Sometimes people have negative associations with an object or piece of furniture or even emotional baggage about their home. If you can zero in on that, you can then begin to address those feelings and start to make your home happier. It might just require a small change or something much larger, but the most important part is taking the time to examine your feelings toward your home.
How does colour and pattern come into play when you want to feel uplifted in your space?
Besides their ability to bring interest and visual appeal to a room, colour and pattern can also have a major impact on your mood. In fact, it's scientifically proven that certain colours can make you happier. Sunny yellow, sky blue and nature-inspired shades of green can all give you a boost, but any colour that you connect with has the power to be uplifting. I'm more of a neutrals person, and I feel most energised in a room with white walls. As for patterns, there are many, many options to choose from. I always advise clients to gravitate toward whatever they have a strong reaction to or makes them smile. You want a pattern that you will enjoy looking at day in and day out and elicits positive feelings.
The book seems like it’s one people would dip back into time and time again to get new advice from. What’s the main thing you would like people to take from reading the book?
I hope everyone realises how designing your space has an impact that’s immediate, visceral and undeniable. Design is about so much more than just picking out furniture and accessories. It can change your mental health, your mood and your life!
Your own book aside, where do you look for interior design inspiration?
Is there anyone out there whose work you’re really loving?
I find design inspiration literally everywhere I go. I could be walking my dog and get inspired by a sunset or a plant I see, or at a restaurant and notice some unique tile in the bathroom. I'm constantly taking pictures for visual reference and sending them to my team. As far as designers, I've always been a fan of my friend Justina Blakeney and her totally original and eye-catching work. There are a lot of great designers working in Los Angeles today, and I'm always discovering new work that I'm inspired by.
Finally, would you like there to be a new season of Queer Eye?
And if so, who would you like to help out next? I would definitely like to see another season of Queer Eye! We've worked with so many amazing heroes, but I would love to give an entire family a makeover. Or maybe a whole town? I mean, we've already built a barn and brought in a brand-new shipping container home, so a whole town seems like a logical next step!
Right At Home: How Good Design Is Good For The Mind out 12th September