By: Addison Aloian By: Addison Aloian | July 15, 2021 | Home & Real Estate People
Bobby Berk shines on our screens, teaching us to add some sparkle to our homes in Netflix’ Queer Eye and entertaining us as a judge on the platform’s glass-blowing competition Blown Away, but his ability to transforms people’s lives as a designer off-screen is what makes him truly brilliant.
Growing up on a farm in Missouri, Berk dropped out of high school when he was just 15. Never in his wildest dreams did Berk picture himself as successful as he is today. Having taken the design world by storm, Berk is ready to put his taste to market, making his namesake furniture pieces available to everyone at BobbyBerk.com and partnering with Affirm to make high-end design more accessible.
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“I’ve always known at a young age that design can make you happy and that making your space feel good makes you feel good,” Berk says. His love for design began long before his career when he walked into a Target and saw the store’s collaboration with Michael Graves. In that moment, he realized that typical, utilitarian objects could be so much more.
“Spoons could also look cool, spoons could make you smile,” he says. “I was like, ‘Wow, there’s people out there that are actually thinking about the way things make you feel.’ I’d never thought about that before. Things were just, you know, useful before—they weren’t useful and would spark joy, as Marie (Kondo) would say.”
A few years later, Berk ended up in New York City at the age of 21. He eventually became the design manager at Restoration Hardware in the Flatiron District. Coincidentally, he was in the store the day original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy designer Thom Filicia came in to film.
Berk was later hired at Portico as a store manager. He worked his way up to buyer, and finally creative director, but he was still hesitant to pursue design due to his lack of education. Instead, he built Portico’s e-commerce division, but when the company went bankrupt, his backup plan ultimately launched his solo career.
“I cloned their e-commerce database and I registered BobbyBerkHome.com, and I’m like, ‘Maybe I’ll sell a sofa or two while I look for another job,’” he remembers. “I sold more than a few. It actually started to do very well. I was one of the first online retailers to sell furniture—period.”
Banking on his online success, he moved into brick-and-mortar locations in New York, Miami, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
“The more and more I had my own stores, the more and more I helped customers, the more and more I realized…I’m good at picking things out, I’m good at putting things together,” he says. “I might not know how to use CAD and how to do construction documents, but I’m good at this, so I started focusing on that part of my business more—offering designer services in my stores.”
By 2015, Berk had made a reputation for himself as “the most millennial-focused interior designer,” according to Builder Magazine who asked him to design two show homes for the International Builder Show that year. While Berk wasn’t the most confident writing up floor plans, electrical plans, or construction documents, he accepted the opportunity.
“I had actually worked really hard to position my brand as a brand that understood millennials,” he says. “I’m a millennial [and] at the time in the early 2000s, no companies had really gotten their head wrapped around these millennials.”
The homes were so successful that the builder continued to hire him to design communities, clubhouses and other projects. The timing was perfect. His store leases started to expire and he had made plans to move to LA to focus on design and licensing. From then on, he knew his passion for design was enough, even with a formal education, and his interior design firm was born.
Today, BobbyBerk.com offers his entire furniture line, including collaborations with Tempaper, Left Bank and ART. As a designer, Berk creates each piece to fit in his own home. In terms of style, he likes furniture to fly under the radar and not necessarily be the center of attention. For Berk, longevity is key.
“I like those pieces that are the more investment pieces in your home to be easier to work with for different types of styles,” he says. “It doesn’t scream, ‘I got this in 2021 and I can definitely tell that;’ pieces that are going to stand the test of time. Your design taste is going to be able to evolve, and this furniture is going to be able to stay with you for years and years.”
Berk prides himself on creating affordable furniture that is also high-quality, so consumers can use it as long as they want.
“A lot of the time with furniture, there’s a very fine line between affordable but not great quality, and good quality but not as affordable,” he says. “I really wanted to create a line that is good enough quality that it’s not disposable.”
His newest partnership with Affirm, the buy-now-pay-later solution, highlights his passion to make quality design accessible for everyone.
“[The partnership] has been such a godsend, because it allows people to get quality furniture [and not] break the bank and destroy their monthly budget to get it,” he says. “They can break the payments up over time and be able to get that quality, heirloom-style furniture that they’re going to be able to pass down to their kids or sell when they’re tired of it.”
One of Berk’s biggest philosophies has been consistency, but over the course of his career, he also learned the importance of being vulnerable with customers.
“One of the things that I learned that has helped me build my brand the most is having a story,” he says, “being able to connect not just my products but my brand to me. I think the key to success is sharing some of yourself; sharing some of your life.”
Berk has truly conquered retail, design and TV, but is he living the dream?
“I wouldn’t say I’m living my dream career,” he says, “because I could’ve never dreamed of this.”
One thing’s for sure: we can’t wait to see what Berk does next. Bring a piece of Berk’s story into your home via BobbyBerk.com.
Photography by: Courtesy Bobby Berk