Photographed by Christopher Dibble
AFTER AN OBSESSIVE HOUSE HUNT (INCLUDING IN-PERSON TOURS OF ALMOST 100 HOMES) IN 2012, A FAMILY OF FIVE DISCOVERED THEIR PERFECT ADDRESS IN THE UPPER-CRUST ENCLAVE OF MEDINA, JUST EAST OF SEATTLE. Ready to embark on a down-to-the-studs renovation and seeking sophisticated interiors that would feel as if they’d developed organically over time, the family turned to LA-based celebrity interior designer Nate Berkus and Sasha Adler, co-design director of Berkus’ Chicago-based firm Nate Berkus Associates. “They wanted to work with someone who didn’t have preconceived notions about the area,” says Berkus. The dashingly coiffed designer did have a little experience in Seattle, however: years earlier, he’d lived there for three weeks during an earlier home makeover when he was a fixture on the Oprah Show. Besides gaining a deep appreciation of the Emerald City’s Thai food, Berkus also grew to love the muted color palette that is often the mode de vie in Pacific Northwest interiors. “It doesn’t feel right to me to fight against the colors outside,” explains Berkus. “Gray, brown, black, cream, and pale blue are actually such a beautiful palette, although people try to get away from them. Why not embrace those colors instead?”
Berkus began his design process by getting to know the client, who has a love of design and fashion and decreed that their new living space should emanate gravitas. Together they conjured up a vision for the interiors: vintage and antique pieces would be layered throughout the rooms, with artistic moments at every turn. Consider the powder room—who else but a design aficionado would place a Serge Mouille sconce so close to a toilet? Or, for that matter, lavish 68 yards of Loro Piana cashmere across their master bedroom walls? Or hang a Richard Serra in their kitchen’s casual dining room?
“Over the course of 20 years, this is one of the projects I’m most proud of. I learned to marry high design to design that also serves the family.”
—Nate Berkus, interior designer
The home’s high aesthetics are matched with minimalist and Abstract Expressionist artworks that lend dynamism to the interiors. During the design process, the family, Berkus, and Adler made numerous buying trips to Los Angeles and New York. There, working alongside art dealer André Viana, the designers took joy in introducing the family to work by new and established artists alike. They also hunted out furnishings that date from the 18th to the 20th centuries to give the space the collected-through-time atmosphere the family desired; Berkus drew inspiration not only from the clients’ design preferences but also from such elemental factors as their clothing. “I take a lot of cues from what people wear—if your favorite sweater is black, we’re not going to do plaid,” he quips. Set against creamy, soft gray, and ink-black walls, the furnishings draw in the viewer in a cavalcade of aesthetic delight: a lacquered brass Birgit Israel cube side table is placed next to an Oushak rug in the living room, Louis XVI–style chairs ring the Brutalist-style custom glass dining table, and a neon sculpture glows in a child’s bedroom.
Now, after two and a half years of work on the home, Berkus says that it is among the projects of which he’s most proud, and it’s also the one that most reflects his own taste. “I started this project before I had a family myself,” says Berkus, who is now married with a young daughter of his own. “I learned to marry high design to design that also serves the family, and some of those ideas later came to light in my own LA home.” He adds, with his trademark easy humor, “But I would beg them to let me live there.”