There’s the old saying, taken from the 1940 Thomas Wolfe novel of the same title that “you can’t go home again.” But diving into the latest chapter of Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent’s search for where to put down roots, one is inspired to learn that while returning home may be incredibly difficult to pull off, it’s not impossible. And for the Brent-Berkus family their reunion with their Fifth Avenue apartment has been made all the sweeter by the realization that this particular address, more than any of the others, is an essential and ongoing part of their love story.
Step Inside Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent’s Freshly Renovated Fifth Avenue Family Home
For those who have been following this couple and design duo extraordinaire through the years, their new Greenwich Village home may look oddly familiar. This is because the “new home” is in fact their old home; they actually lived here from 2013 to 2016, and its first iteration graced the cover of AD in October 2015. Since then we’ve seen them travel across the country to Los Angeles, where a sprawling Spanish Colonial villa in Hancock Park received a typically breathtaking Brent-Berkus makeover (AD, January 2018). Then, after three years of West Coast living, the pair realized New York City was where their family (which includes son Oskar, now four, and big sister Poppy, now seven) belonged, and they decamped to the West Village, lovingly renovating an 1899 town house (AD May 2020). Although the two declared in that interview that they would never again call a place their “forever home” in a publication, one couldn’t be blamed for thinking that… perhaps this was it?
Yet here we are, back where it all started, where the designers lived together when they first began their lives as a couple, before their marriage, before their kids.
How, then, did they end up back here? When plotting their return to New York City the AD100 talents tried contacting the original Fifth Avenue buyers to see if they might possibly be interested in selling. Unfortunately, no dice. Berkus, who describes himself as someone who philosophically “doesn’t hold on to real estate,” was at peace. “I could live in a studio apartment, and as long as I was surrounded by things that matter to me, I would feel like I was at home.” But for Brent, this apartment “was always the one that got away.” And even though Berkus was content with where they landed, ultimately, there was something undeniable about the pull of their first home together.
So it was a bit of kismet when two years after they had relocated back to the East Coast, they were the ones on the receiving end of a call that now seems like destiny: Their buyers were ready to sell; would they perhaps still be interested? Says Brent, “I was like, ‘Pack your bags.’”
What was it about this place that spoke to them so deeply? Obviously, its aesthetic beauty is hard to miss. “It’s like a wedding cake,” says Berkus. “I mean, it looks like an old Parisian apartment, with all the plaster and the French doors.” And with the sun-drenched kitchen’s arced, greenhouse-like windows, the marble fireplaces, and the incredible location, it’s an apartment anyone would covet.
But there is a house and then there is a home, and the qualities that make a residence feel so profoundly like the latter run much deeper than a list of comely details. Brent describes the house as being filled with “echoes” of all the conversations that birthed the intertwining of their lives: “Conversations about having children, conversations about planning a wedding. It’s where all the dreaming began for us.”
Berkus agrees. “It represented a building block for us, a very important one in all the ways of being seen and being heard and being known.” As the first project they ever designed together, this home “really was like a crash course in understanding the vision of the person that you love.”
Still, there was an issue. Now that they were a family of four, they would have to find a way to expand the space. How in the world would this be possible? But Brent was undeterred: “Great love. You have to fight for it. And I was willing.”
And fight he did. When they couldn’t find an adjacent apartment to connect, Berkus was admittedly ready to give up, but Brent figured if they couldn’t grow laterally, they could expand downward. He slipped a note under the door of their downstairs neighbor, who was willing to sell only on the condition that the couple find them another apartment in the building to buy—which Brent promptly did, searching floor by floor until all the puzzle pieces fell into place.
The one last hurdle—for Berkus, at least—was that the majority of the family’s furniture, some of which had traveled with him for decades, ended up being part of the sale of the town house. He can’t help but confess that for him, the process of saying goodbye to pieces he’d owned for years was painful.
Nevertheless, when it was all over, returning to a home they’d already loved was a different emotional experience from any of their prior moves. “It was like a wave of relief,” says Brent. Together they’ve embraced the opportunity to create a new space that represents how they’ve evolved as a family. Berkus says he and Brent have “found our own style together. It’s a blend of his modernity and rule breaking, with my sort of traditionalism and crazy auction-house encyclopedic furniture history that lives in my brain.”
One new treasure is a Carlo Bugatti chair Berkus gifted Brent for his birthday last year. In the kitchen, subway tile was removed from the walls, the formerly black cabinetry has been lightened to white, and the butcher block on the countertops and the brass wrapping the island have been replaced with Calacatta Paonazzo marble. And while the public rooms are bathed in creamy neutrals that allow the architectural details and furniture to star, the bedrooms each feature bold wallpapers that cocoon their inhabitants.
Beyond combining their voices as designers, they’ve also seized the opportunity to make other little changes they hadn’t been able to a decade ago, one of which was the entry’s flooring, a tan limestone that leaned just a bit “fancy granny,” for Berkus’s taste. This time around, Brent found a beautifully aged reclaimed black-and-white Spanish tile. For Berkus, the home felt truly theirs when those new tiles went in. For Brent, it was when Poppy’s and Oskar’s rooms were ready.