Nate Berkus Reflects on How Death of Late Partner in Tsunami Almost Held Him Back from Buying Home Near the Water

Nate Berkus and his husband Jeremiah Brent are showing off their beach house in Montauk, New York, but choosing a seaside locale for their home wasn't a simple decision for Berkus.

“I was raised in Southern California and lived on a lake outside of Minneapolis. The water has always been how I think of a carefree afternoon,” the designer, 49, explained to Elle Decor. But he also couldn't help but associate it with the tragic loss of his partner, photographer Fernando Bengoechea, in the 2004 Asia tsunami.

He eventually came to a decision: “I didn’t want my experience in the tsunami to deprive our family of summers like that,” he explains, and they purchased a beach house at the tip of Long Island.

Berkus and Brent — who tied the knot in 2014 and share two children, daughter Poppy, 5, and son Oskar, 2 — opened the doors to their fully renovated home in the magazine's October issue.

The family of four has been self-isolating at the house since March during the pandemic. Brent and Berkus collaborated on the design and took a carefree approach to the decorating process.

“The pressure was off. We were building and selecting things thinking, 'It doesn’t have to be perfect,'” Berkus said. “I think that opened up something in both of us. The spirit in which we decorated and renovated this house is the spirit in which we live here.”

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In August 2019, Berkus and Brent, 35, moved from Los Angeles to New York City, where they have a West Village townhouse as their primary residence.

Speaking about their N.Y.C. residence in April, Brent told Architectural Digest that their house in L.A. no longer felt like their true home. “I felt untethered in Los Angeles,” he said of their previous place, which they sold for $11.4 million. “It didn’t feel like us.”

The design experts, who began dating and started their life together in New York, said they decided to move West to be closer to Berkus's family in Southern California after his father died. They missed the energy and diversity of New York, however, and thought it would be a better place to raise their kids.

“I realized that Poppy talked to the same 11 people every day,” Brent added of their routine L.A. life (pre-pandemic). Berkus added of their Manhattan location: “We just turn the doorknob and the whole city is right outside.”

For PEOPLE’s 2019 Sexiest Man Alive issue in November, Brent gushed about Berkus, revealing when he finds his husband sexiest.

“The thing that is the sexiest to me about Nate is he is just this crazy database of information,” said Brent. “He is insatiable when it comes to reading; he reads three books a month. It calms me down to lay in bed next to him and see him reading.”

Berkus said bed is his favorite place to read: “I can’t read outside of bed. I can do it on vacation on a deck chair, but I always start to fall asleep after — well, depending on how good the book is. But it’s a nightly thing. It calms me down, it takes me out of the chaos of the day and transports me to Vienna in 1930 or Greenwich Village in the 18th century. I’m really interested in knowing what’s come before.”

Read the full story and see more photos in the October issue of Elle Decor, on newsstands now, or on elledecor.com.

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