An exclusive interview with Nate Berkus & the Oliphant family, winners of the “My Kitchen Needs Nate” contest
In addition to being an accomplished interior designer, writing two books, hosting multiple television shows and having a line of home goods at Target, Nate Berkus somehow finds time to be the artistic advisor for LG Studio. Combining efforts, Berkus and LG Studio ran a “My Kitchen Needs Nate” contest asking people to submit video testimonials detailing why a new kitchen fully outfitted with LG Studio appliances was needed in their home. Of all the nationwide submissions, a family in Olathe, KS was chosen.
On television, Nate Berkus comes across as sweet, talented and pretty easy on the eye. In person, those attributes are not only confirmed, they’re amplified. If you can stop swimming in his baby blues long enough to listen, you’ll hear him giving credit to a deserving team, supporting local businesses, exuding a genuine love for his craft, and quite often, cracking everyone up around him.
Spaces: So tell us a little about why we’re here today.
Berkus: Well, I am the artistic advisor for LG Studio. I’ve been working with the company for about a year, working not only on the design of the actual appliances and consulting on what I think is really interesting right now in the American kitchen, but also, we decided to do a contest called “My Kitchen Needs Nate.” We had a really good time. We put it up online. And when you put something online you never know what you’re going to get, so it was really interesting. We got a lot of different submissions and the Oliphant’s video they sent in was so energetic and altruistic and adorable. They’re really charming as a couple and they may be the best looking couple in America—I’m just gonna put that out there—because I think Brad and Angelina live in France.
Spaces: What was your criteria when looking at the video submissions?
Berkus: We didn’t really have a criteria for what we were looking for other than we wanted a space that felt *disastrous* and really outdated but also relatable because a lot of people live with kitchens that they can’t afford to change. And so, what we wanted to find—what we were hoping to find—was a couple that really wanted to live better than they were living and didn’t have means to do that. But it also became clear that [the Oliphants] are a huge part of their community here: their church, their neighbors, their family. The video wasn’t about what was wrong with their kitchen—although they did point out what didn’t function for them—it was about how much more they wanted to do with their lives and with their home. So even though they were in this very cramped, dark kitchen with tile countertops and original cabinetry from the late ‘60s or ‘70s, they still entertained and everyone was always welcome in this home. So the opportunity to be able to swoop in—and we swooped—with my whole design team and the LG team, local contractors, builders was really great. I’m a very avid traveler and my one rule of thumb when I travel is to leave a place better than when you found it. That could be making a donation to an animal shelter on a Caribbean island or it could be leaving Kansas City knowing that this kitchen will be not only the heart of their home but the heart of their world.
Spaces: The contest was for a new kitchen, but you actually ended up re-doing the dining room and mud room as well. What prompted that?
Berkus: This is true for most people that have ever gone through any sort of renovation, once you start something, it starts to bleed into other areas of the home. A kitchen is meant to be functional. To balance function and beauty is the sweet spot. Without adding the dining room—which was the former playroom—I didn’t feel like this kitchen would help them live the life that they wanted. So it just started to bleed into that space. We still managed to give them a kitchen nook for the children to have breakfast and two stools for [Lauren and Tim Oliphant] but I really wanted them to be able to entertain on the scale that they wanted to entertain. The idea of reconfiguring the whole space and taking down the wall to open it up to the family room and also giving them a place where they could have a proper dinner party was something that I thought would be really fun.
Spaces: Do you and LG Studio plan to do this contest again?
Berkus: I’m not sure yet actually. Up until three hours ago, we were trying to get this one done!
Spaces: How long ago did you start this project?
Berkus: We started construction a week ago. I have a really great team. I’ve done over 200 home makeovers in my lifetime and probably 100 of those were kitchens alone, so I pretty much have it down to a science. It’s all about picking the right crew. I’ve found that in these situations, when you start hearing the plumber and the electrician talk about how excited they think the family’s going to be, you know you picked the right crew.
Spaces: Do you use local crews?
Berkus: Yeah, always. Local. Totally.
Spaces: What do you think about Kansas City?
Berkus: Many of the things here [gesturing around the kitchen] were sourced locally. Your antiquing and vintage! I can’t live somewhere where you can’t find that stuff … I could live here! It’s been a great experience. It’s been great to be able to explore a bit. I was really thrilled to see how much this city has to offer.
Spaces: The antique touches really help give this space personality.
Berkus: For me, I’ve always felt like a well decorated room is assembled and decorated over time. Even when I’m on a very accelerated schedule like we were for this, it’s important to me to layer in pieces that have character or pieces that have their original patina. Going through the homeowners things and pulling things like this tray [pointing out a silver tray that the Oliphants were given as a wedding gift] that they had never used but could immediately identify as theirs is fun.
Spaces: You’ve been to Kansas City once before correct?
Berkus: I’ve been to Kansas City a few times actually. The first time I was here, I realized that Halls sells candy which was the most exciting thing in the world to me. I couldn’t believe you could eat a chocolate covered marshmallow while trying on shoes. I was like, ‘this is amazing!’
Lauren and Tim Oliphant, along with their two adorable children, are the lucky winners of the “My Kitchen Needs Nate” contest. Just three short hours ago, their brand new kitchen had been revealed to them.
Spaces: Were you nervous at all walking away from your home for ten days and leaving your kitchen renovation up to a group of strangers?
Lauren: This experience was a really good opportunity to trust people who are talented. I didn’t have a reason to question him. I mean, clearly it turned out wonderfully.
Tim: I’m the eternal optimist. We were getting a kitchen makeover and I wasn’t going to have to do it! I knew it was going to be something amazing with Nate Berkus and LG Studio appliances.
Spaces: Beyond the initial video submission, what was the process like for you?
Tim: I didn’t know how they were going to do it but they sent us a questionnaire and we filled out questions about not only what we wanted in our kitchen but who we were. That was a clue that they weren’t just going to do whatever they wanted. They were going to incorporate what we wanted into our kitchen.
Lauren: Yes. They listened to us. That was a huge deal. I feel like the best designers listen to you and they did.
Spaces: And you ended up getting so much more than a kitchen!
Lauren: I still can’t believe they did our dining room as well! It’s wonderful to have enough seating for our family. We have big families and a lot of road trippers that come through and hang out with us—for sometimes a week—and we love it. Now we can fit them all.
Tim: Even tearing this wall down … [gesturing to the space between the living room and kitchen] it almost makes [the living room] a different room too. More than half of our house has been redone!
Lauren: Nate’s team did lie to us. Quite a bit. They told us that they couldn’t move the door in our kitchen, that the renovation would stay in the kitchen, that they wouldn’t mess with our dining room, that they probably couldn’t do an island—which probably made the surprise better in the end but they are really good, nice liars.
Berkus: [calling out from the next room] We’re professional liars! You have to be!
Spaces: We’re so happy for your family. This is definitely an amazing transformation.
Lauren: Thank you! We’re not deserving of this, we’re just really thankful for what’s been given to us.
Tim: We’re really excited. We spend a lot of time in our kitchen. Once I get home from work, I sit in the kitchen, make dinner. The kitchen really is the center of our family and our lives.