Nate Berkus signs on as Target's next design star

  • Article by: JANET MOORE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 2, 2012 - 10:39 PM

Best known as Oprah's design expert, he has strong ties to the Twin Cities - and to Target.

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Design star Nate Berkus

Nate Berkus, Target's new home collections designer, has some rather pointed memories of the hometown retailer and his new business partner.

Muppet-shaped sugar cookies with iced lips and brows, to be specific.

"They had the best sugar cookies at the Knollwood Target on Highway 7," said the former Minnetonka resident who is perhaps best known as Oprah's design expert.

Come October, the Knollwood SuperTarget and 1,764 other locations (plus Target.com) will feature the Nate Berkus Collection -- more than 150 home products painstakingly designed by Berkus himself, including bedding, bath, accessories, lighting, rugs and window treatments. But no sugar cookies to speak of.

The tousled-haired Hopkins High School alum said the partnership with the $68 billion Minneapolis-based cheap chic retailer is a kind of dream come true. "Quality and design are my first requirements, but everything has to be affordable," he said in an interview with the Star Tribune. Products bearing his name will be priced from $5.99 to $149.99.

Berkus became the design expert on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2002, after redecorating a teensy studio apartment for the program. He's honed a design style noted for its simplicity and layering of textures, often with a natural theme.

The power of memory

As a child who reportedly redecorated his bedroom on a frequent basis, part of his inspiration was a tortoise shell that hung over the fireplace in his family home in Minnetonka -- an unusual trinket his parents picked up while vacationing in Mexico. His mom, Nancy Golden, who still lives in the Twin Cities, is a decorator and jewelry designer.

"I love objects that strike up a memory, or really resonate with you when you buy it," he said. (Lacquered tortoise objets d'art will be featured in the Target collection.)

Since his Oprah breakthrough, Berkus has designed goods for the Home Shopping Network and the now-defunct big-box store Linens N' Things, has authored a book on design, hosted a television show, and was an executive producer of the 2011 film "The Help."

Neither Target nor Berkus released financial details of their multiyear partnership. But it comes just after Target ended its groundbreaking 13-year relationship with the architect Michael Graves, who designed housewares for the retailer ranging from kitchen mops to can openers.

The Graves pact proved highly successful for Target, which parlayed its designer relationships into other areas of its product mix, notably women's fashion. Recently, Target has generated buzz as customers snapped up goods by the Italian designer Missoni, and by Jason Wu, a favorite of First Lady Michelle Obama. It's a differentiation strategy that has been deployed by Target competitors Kohl's and Wal-Mart -- with mixed results.

"Even if others are doing it, Target still has the most cachet and the ability to move the most products," said Flora Delaney, a Minneapolis-based retail consultant. "Target has had home designers in the past, Todd Oldham and Michael Graves, so it makes sense because the name appeal is attractive to their demographic of young families who are trying to furnish and decorate their homes in a stylish way that is also affordable."

Mindful that Target shoppers may not be able to indulge in wholesale redecorating projects in a tough economy, Berkus said his collection can be added to, over time, and layered into existing rooms and decor.

The patterns and materials are signature Berkus: A chevron-patterned duvet cover, towels bearing an ikat pattern, herringbone window panels, and decorative objects featuring metal studs and snakeskin finishes.

"I want people to create their own stories within their own homes," he said.

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752

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