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7 Designers Share the Style Lessons They Learned From Their Moms
Tips from Bobby Berk, Justina Blakeney, Nate Berkus, and more.
Published May 9, 2020 1:00 AM
For many of our favorite designers, great style started at home. In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked everyone from Bobby Berk of Queer Eye to designer and author Justina Blakeney about the design lessons they learned from their moms (or grandmothers and other mother figures).
What are the tips they picked up from the most important women in their lives? They learned how to stay organized, mix high-end and vintage pieces, incorporate art into a space, and more. Some of them, like Nate Berkus, were lucky enough to have moms who were interior designers themselves. Read on for the best lessons that continue to guide these designers today.
Bobby Berk, interior designer and television personality
One of the big ways my mother, Connie, influenced me is my organization and cleanliness. From a young age, I learned about the mental health benefits of having a very clean home. I still remember going to one of my aunts’ homes—she’s tidy now, but back then, in her 20s, she was not—and I was this five-year-old cleaning the house. I couldn’t hang out there, because it was that dirty. So my mom definitely trained me well when it comes to making sure your space is tidy.
She was always very crafty, especially with sewing, and used to make our clothes when we were little, as well as stuff for the house—quilts, curtains, table runners, and place mats. I learned a lot of my creativity and hands-on “go in there and get it done” from her.
Nate Berkus, interior designer, author, and television personality
My mother was an interior designer, so I grew up going to antiques malls and vintage stores and coming home and finding my bedroom had been turned into a study and I’d been relocated down the hall. The importance of creativity and an appreciation for design were instilled in me—and encouraged me—from a very young age. For my 13th birthday, my mother let me decorate the basement and turn it into my bedroom. I had carte blanche to choose a color scheme, furniture, wall paper… all of it. I went with black and red—I mean, it was the ’80s—but the creative freedom that my mother gave me in that moment was priceless.
Sarah Sherman Samuel, interior designer
Growing up, my mother, Eleanor, was always flexing her creative muscles with different hobbies. When she wasn’t working, she would take ceramic classes or oil painting. I learned to never stop learning from her and that experimenting with different mediums only enriches what you do. I think it is that cross-pollination that makes me who I am as a designer.
I worked as a surface and product designer for five years before starting in interior design, and that has influenced how I design spaces. Instead of searching for the perfect piece, I often just create what is in my head. If I didn’t have the product design background or the fine art or the wood working, I probably wouldn’t attempt a lot of what I do. If I can’t find it, I will make it—and that comes from her.
Young Huh, interior designer
I learned the art of the “mix” from my mother. She would put together old family pieces, heirlooms, and Korean antiques and pottery with European antiques, Persian rugs, and her latest find from Target. I can’t say that it was always to my taste, but it imprinted into my mind that we shouldn’t throw out items that are perfectly functional and that you can mix old, new, high, and low to create a beautiful and comfortable room. When I go home now, I love seeing the old pieces from my childhood next to newer finds. It’s a combination of wonderful familiarity and excitement.
Kelly Hoppen, interior designer and author
My mother was always ahead of her time. We lived in an incredible home in Belgravia, London. She loved design, and when I look back at what she had created, it was amazing. The study was designed with her by Cincimino with bronze and chrome shelving with smoked glass shelves, and the walls were dogtooth fabrics. Her bedroom had a woven zebra-like fabric and modern chrome and glass bedside tables. Her collections of art and antiques were amazing, and I learned so much about objects, accessories and textures. She taught me about and always surrounded me with artists, poets and designers. (Yolanda Sonnabend, who painted and designed the costumes for the Royal Ballet, painted my portrait.) Even though our styles are so different, our approach is the same. I was fortunate to have my mother as my mentor—and still am. Her love for bedding and antique lace is something I use for inspiration when designing my collections.
Justina Blakeney, interior designer and author
Both my mother, Ronnie, and my grandmother, Bette, have had major influences on my style and career in different ways. My mother, very much a free spirit and intellectual, instilled in me a love of nature and of noticing the beauty in the everyday. She is wonderful at entertaining and making people feel instantaneously at home. She has a seemingly innate ability to make spaces feel cozy and inviting. I learned a lot about different cultures and how people live from living with and traveling with my mother. Being a free spirit though, there was not a premium put on neatness or organization, and that’s where my grandmother came in! My grandmother taught me how to fold fitted sheets (tuck the corners into each other first!), which spoons and forks go where on the dinner table, and the fun that only the fancy toothpick can bring. She also taught me how to be frugal but also the importance of splurging on the things that matter—which has been a very important lesson in my role as an entrepreneur. With the influences of my mother and grandmother, I got the best of both worlds, because who doesn’t want a relaxed, homey household with perfectly folded fitted sheets in the linen closet?
Frances Merrill, interior designer
I grew up in a house where my parents liked good food, having pretty flowers, and creating an environment that was pleasing. They taught me two things: There is value in creating a nice environment, and there is work and preparation that goes into it. So, to have a great party, you’re going to think about it in advance and prepare for it. Ironing napkins is less of a chore and more a thing you do to create something nice.
My mom, Mary, has a very good balance between wanting things to be beautiful but also not fetishizing things. There was never any “don’t step on that” or “don’t use that” in our house. She loves good linens, and she also just sent me face masks that she made out of old sheets. She taught me the importance of using things, not wasting them, and also to take joy in beautiful things and how they make you feel.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.