'Don't be a snob' – Nate Berkus says the best antique furniture can be found where you least expect it

When it comes to sourcing and styling antique home goods, celebrity designer Nate Berkus is a pro. He sat down with H&G to share how he finds vintage pieces, plus his tricks for making them work in any home

Interior designer Nate Berkus sitting in a bedroom wearing a brown jacket
(Image credit: Nate Home)

Transitional spaces are all the rage at the moment, balancing modern and historic design elements in a measured and personalized way. And while sourcing authentic antique goods isn't the only way to achieve this look in your own space, knowing where to look for (and how to style) vintage furniture and accessories can take your home a long way. 

Even if you're inspired by the transitional look, getting a start can be quite the challenge. Luckily, Nate Berkus is a pro at unifying the old and new in his design projects, and has quite a bit of expertise when it comes to sourcing gorgeous antique goods. In an exclusive interview with Homes & Gardens, the interior designer shared how he shops for vintage pieces, and why making them work in your home is easier than ever. Here's what he had to say.

Nate's top tips for sourcing and styling antique goods

This is Nate's advice for finding antique goods online and in person, mixing and matching different design styles and periods, and getting creative to make vintage finds work in your space.

Nate says that when 'architectural salvage' goods are an option, his design firm is reaching for them. Whether it's a vintage set of doorknobs, an antique fireplace that's been left behind in new construction, or freestanding columns plucked from a long-gone building, Nate tries to integrate these storied design features into a space – no matter how contemporary it is at the start. And when it comes to furniture and design accessories, you can count on him to go with vintage options as well.

'Those kinds of things always feel layered and collected and assembled over time, which is what I think that earmarks of a really strong interior should feel like, regardless of the style. I really reach a lot for vintage and antique things. If there's a vintage option, I'll know where to get it,' Nate tells H&G

Nate sees the historic influences behind more contemporary items as well, and uses broader themes to inform his design choices. He says he often turns to sites like 1stDibs or Chairish to explore 'Italian lighting from the 1940s, or blown glass, or bronze, or whatever it is that [he's] looking at.' Finding 'the tension between old and new' distinguishes your home from everyone else's, he adds.

'A good room has to have a mix of old and new. I don't think that you can do a great room out of a page of a catalog – I think you have to spend the time finding the pair of lamps for your nightstand, or buying that crusty old mirror even if it's hanging over a new chest of drawers... I'd rather have something, anything that someone else can't get, or it would be hard for them to get,' says Nate.

Despite his propensity towards vintage goods, Nate admits that some things should be purchased new. Though there's a list of items he says he likes to buy antique, 'that doesn't include sheets and towels, obviously.'

Nate Berkus
Nate Berkus

Since Nate’s first appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2002, he has become one of the world’s most recognizable interior designers. He has authored two New York Times bestselling books and stars alongside his husband, Jeremiah Brent, in HGTV's Nate & Jeremiah Home Project.

When on the hunt for vintage furniture, Nate suggests looking for materials that have been around for the long haul, as they've already proved to be durable. He says this also ensures your home will never date – you won't simply be following the ebb and flow of interior design fads.

'If it's been around since the 1920s and 1930s, if it existed then in architecture and design, then chances are it's going to stand the test of time. Penny tile, marble, vintage lighting, a gilded mirror, bronze, parchment, cobblestones, terracotta tile ... If it's built into the home, I tend to reach for things that have been around for 100 years,' he says.

If you've found an item you love but it doesn't quite mesh with the rest of your space, there are so many quick and easy options for refurbishing furniture. Nate says he 'supports' these modifications, saying they offer a simple route to making vintage goods feel like 'your own.'

'For instance, a pair of bedside tables. Did it have to be a pair? Could they be different? Could you alter them in any way? Could you paint two totally different tables the same color, cream, and make that work? Could you strip something and restain them to match? Or could you just find a really great pair of vintage tables and add a stone top?' he asks, listing just a few of the questions to consider when placing an antique item within your space.

Sourcing vintage goods online used to be quite the endeavor, but Nate says it's more accessible than ever – 'you just have to know the right keywords to put in the search engine,' he says. Recently, 1960s stainless steel furniture has been at the top of his list, just one of many goods that are easy to find on vintage furniture sites. He frequents Etsy and Chairish regularly, and says he appreciates both the antique goods and new items offered on both sites.

Not only can he often find gorgeous, unique goods on these platforms, but his team has successfully cross-referenced with other sites to find missing pairs or matching items that truly pull a design scheme together. But vintage furniture and accessories can be found in person just as easily – and you might be surprised by where you find your favorite pieces.

'In every town I've ever been, the first thing I do when I get to the hotel is Google antique malls.  You can find the most amazing things in the places that you'd least expect. Oftentimes, there's a town two over that has a street on both sides devoted to antique shops or antique malls. I definitely hit up those all the time,' says Nate.

Nate lists his top three tips for finding the best antique furniture out there: 'Have a measuring tape, know how to use it, and don't be a snob about where something comes from.' He says that people who disregard the items for sale on Facebook Marketplace or at estate sales out of town are missing out on stunning, versatile finds.

'If you're driving, and you see an estate sale on the side of the road, pull in. It doesn't matter. Because once you get it home, and you put your spin on it, or you just see it among your things that you've already selected, it's going to take on a different energy,' says Nate.

When working with clients in New York City, Nate says he drives North to Connecticut to visit antique malls, lauding their selections of design accessories. The benefits don't just apply to choice, either – Nate adds that there's often a difference in price as well.

'I could go to antique stores in New York City, but I don't want to spend the money,' he adds.

Though antiques are evidently quite easy to find, sourcing multiple items from the same time period is a different story. The good news? Nate says he loves the look of mixing styles and time periods in transitional spaces. He simply suggests keeping images of all the pieces you own in a photo album on your phone for easy access while shopping.

'When you're standing in front of a vintage lamp or a modern lamp, you can pull up the photo of the chest of drawers that you're going to put it on and just make sure that will work,' says Nate.

When you've finally got a prized vintage find home, Nate says being flexible is of the utmost importance – the piece might not fit where you envisioned, but all hope is not lost.

'The great dilemma of every designer that I've ever met, including myself, is that when you bring something new into your home, you start to hate everything else. So just be open to moving your stuff around to accommodate ... If you buy what you love, regardless of style, you're going to figure out how to make it work. It just may not land where you thought it was going to land, and that's okay,' he says.

Filling your home with stunning and distinctive antique home goods really is easier than ever, and all you need is an open mind. With Nate's top tips, your home will fit the transitional bill in no time.

Abby Wilson
News Writer

I am a News Writer at Homes & Gardens, with a focus on interior design. Most recently, I worked with Better Homes & Gardens, where I wrote and edited content about home decor, gardening tips, food news, and more. Before that, I studied Journalism and English Literature at New York University. I’ve moved around quite a bit in the last several years, most recently making the trip to London, and love transforming each new space into a comfortable retreat that feels like home. When it comes to decor, I’m most drawn to unique vintage finds and calming colors.