Creative Spotlights:
Nate Berkus & Leonard Steinberg

Nate Hero 1 Min

“If you remember one thing from this talk,” Nate said, “it’s the phrase, ‘Enjoyment Per Square Foot.'” The Nate speaking is Nate Berkus, the renowned interior designer, and the phrase was coined by Leonard Steinberg, president and chief evangelist at Compass.

Icons of their respective fields, the two joined us at NeueHouse Madison Square for a conversation about the intersection of their two industries—real estate and design—covering everything from trends to taste, redecorating versus restoring, and calculating that most critical metric, E.P.S.F.

Afterwards, we caught up with them with two rapid-fire questionnaires on work environment, ethic, and inspiration.

Nate Berkus

Describe your ideal workspace (both the physical and mental essentials):
I really need both natural light, deep organization, and to be surrounded by an aesthetic that represents eras and design that I love.

Current read or listen?
I’m reading about Winston Churchill and WW2 in England “The Splendid and the Vile”

What’s something you’ve discovered in the last year that now you can’t live without?
Time alone with my family, our kids make me laugh out loud.

Name a person or piece of creative work that’s influenced your own:
Jaques Grange. His ability to mix masterpieces with crafts is deeply inspiring

A tagline to describe your creative process:
“If it was around in 1920 it’s probably okay.”

You’ve said that design can change lives. When did you first understand the power of design?
When I was 13 and my mother let me redecorate my room. It was an A-HA moment for me.

During your talk with Leonard Steinberg at NeueHouse, someone asked about advice for new designers and you recommended “honing your references.” For example, being able to cite specific historic interior design references that to you are amazing. What are some references that you would name for this exercise?
The Jean Michel Frank apartment of the de Noailles in Paris, Chateau de Groussay.

Nate 2 Min

Do you believe in design “rules” and if so, how do you know when to break them?
There are definitely rules around scale and that kind of thing but beyond that, no. Some of the best spaces I’ve ever been in are ones where people have not followed any rules. When my eye travels across a space that reflects the people who live there, that’s what feels like home. 

You’ve been in this industry for almost 3 decades.. How do you stay inspired?
 Honestly, design does not feel like work to me. This is what I do in my spare time, and on weekends and when I travel. I’m very lucky to make a living doing what I love.

What is the most valuable piece of work-related wisdom that has ever been passed to you and by whom?
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them” – Maya Angelou.

Where can we find  you on a Saturday morning?
On a run or with my kids in the park.

Nate 3 Min

Leonard Steinberg

Describe your ideal workspace (both the physical and mental essentials):
I love beautiful aesthetics. They influence my mood and creativity and calm me, so my workspace has to be beautifully appointed. To help achieve this, my office has oak chevron-pattern hardwood floors, soft lighting, and original artwork on the walls. It’s not quite as exquisite as Neue Haus, but that is certainly an inspiration. I don’t need ultra-tech, but the tech I use must work. I love being able to walk everywhere, too.

Current read or listen?
I read lots of current news and data. For real-time insights, I enjoy reading the comments section of most articles. Now, I am reading Good Living Street, a book about Viennese life around 1900, gifted to me by Nate Berkus. I also enjoy listening to Scott Galloway’s podcast.

What’s something you’ve discovered in the last year that now you can’t live without?
I was given an iPad and have rediscovered looking at old photos of trips and other memorable moments. It’s so much more satisfying than viewing it on the tiny screen of my phone. Striving for the next is wonderful, but celebrating and enjoying the past is equally satisfying and inspiring. In a FOMO-fueled world, it’s important to remind yourself of wonderful past experiences.

Name a person or piece of creative work that’s influenced your own:
I’m inspired by a wide variety of people and things. I’m a visual and wisdom sponge/blender:  I love absorbing many data points and images and blending them together for my take on things. I love great architecture and design, so helping create new buildings throughout Manhattan encourages me to look at everything to learn. I discovered Nate Berkus’ work many years ago: today, I appreciate it even more as I have seen how well it ages. Design that stands the test of time is the ultimate test.

A metaphor to describe your creative process:
“To be Mature is to be Manure.”  To be creative, you have to study lots and view everything with a fresh set of eyes. So my process is to always be acutely aware of what everyone else is doing – and has done – here and around the globe, not blinding myself to just one ideology or way of thinking. One has to be open to evolving and growing, seeing new things, and experiencing new things. A youthful set of eyes is essential if you wish to evolve: an improved eyeglass prescription has helped.

Where can we find you on a Saturday morning?
I start my Saturday morning in the conservatory of my weekend home, the perfect setting, as it’s seasonless, bright, and filled with plants year-round. I start around 5 a.m., read lots, and write my daily morning memo to the COMPASS family and beyond (I have done this for 10 years every day, reaching around 50,000 recipients). And then I head into the garden: Nature answers most of life’s questions.

During your conversation with Nate at NeueHouse you mentioned the idea of “enjoyment per square ft..” How do you measure that?
EPSF – enjoyment per square foot – is different for different people. Personally, I purposefully acknowledge my home and how much I love so many aspects of it. I truly enjoy my home and what it does for my quality of life. And yes, while the cost to build and maintain it is high, it is my ultimate reward for 40 years of hard work. Measuring enjoyment is often forgotten until it’s acknowledged….that requires some reflection and thought. It’s impossible to live in (and enjoy) your Apple stock. And if you are not enjoying your home, move, or hire a great interior designer. Home is the hug at the end of a tough day, reminding you why you work so hard! Enjoyment may be the one thing left that cannot be measured by dollars.

You moved back from Douglas Elliman to Compass when it was a new tech startup. How confident were you about that move at the time – did you have a sense that tech was about to become a big player in real estate?
I felt technology creeping into almost everything I did 15 years ago, and the tech was not keeping pace with my needs and demands, unlike other industries. In COMPASS I saw people with skill sets outside of real estate that had the potential to build a tech ecosystem to support the work of humans, not replace them. The combination of high tech AND high touch is in the COMPASS DNA. Professional real estate advisory is very demanding both emotionally and technically:  a human agent that is fully tech-equipped and supported is in the best interests of the consumer.

You’ve built an iconic career in a notoriously grueling industry — New  York real estate. What do you think is the secret to your success?
There are others more successful than me, and I loathe bragging, but if I’ve accomplished one thing, it’s that I have achieved success beyond my wildest dreams without compromising my ethics and professional standards in a profession that still rewards and applauds certain players simply because of their sales figures. If anything, I demonstrate that success can be achieved without being a disgusting, self-consumed human.

What is the most valuable piece of work-related wisdom that has ever been passed to you and by whom?
Time is the last luxury.  My parents instilled this into me at a very young age….the value of time. It is the most valuable, limited commodity and should never be abused or wasted. It requires discipline and management. It has to be acknowledged and appreciated fully. Managing how you use your awake hours – and sleep hours – influences everything you do. And it is the one thing all 8 billion of us have in common besides needing a home: we are all running out of time.

SALON by NeueHouse

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