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A Home Full of Hope: Bobby Berk

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday November 27, 2014

Don't ask Bobby Berk about Christmas. The home design wunderkind, who at 33 is poised to become the next Martha Stewart - if Martha Stewart were wonderfully warm, funny and open - isn't the biggest fan of the holiday. Which, of course, can make appearing on shows with a Yuletide decorating theme a bit challenging.

"It's funny...last year, you know Tiffani Amber Thiessen? She was Kelly Kapowski on 'Saved by the Bell'?" Berk asks with what, it quickly becomes apparent, is customary charm. "HGTV brought me in to redo her house for a celebrity home special last Christmas. So I redid her house out in Encino, California, for the holidays, and I was saying to my PR girl, 'Of all the shows they want me to do, it's freaking Christmas!' I can't stand Christmas!"

When pressed, however, Berk will offer up one holiday hint. "I personally like using holiday decor that is not typical holiday decor," he says with a chuckle. "I like using unexpected colors other than the traditional red and green that you see everywhere. Pink is my color this year for the holidays. It is very on trend in both fashion and home decor this season!"

Determination Reigns Supreme

Berk, the founder of click and brick retailer Bobby Berk Home, comes by his aversion to the holiday honestly. He was raised in Missouri, in the middle of Amish farm country, where Christmas, he notes, "is just so associated with religion." And religion - at least for a kid growing up gay in the Bible Belt - meant misunderstanding if not oppression. Berk was just 15 when he left home.

He landed in Springfield, Missouri, sometimes living on the street. When times were good - after he got a job at Applebee's, in Branson - Berk would sleep in his car after working double shifts four days in a row, then drive back to Springfield to try to find somewhere to crash. Just before he turned 18, he moved to Denver, Colorado, where he got a gig at the Bombay Company. Berk loved decorating his apartment with the treasures he purchased there, but the idea of a design career wasn't yet on his radar.

By 20, suitcase in hand and $100 in his pocket, Berk had relocated to New York City. He still had no idea what he wanted to do, just a belief that he'd be a success at whatever it was. Berk found employment at Restoration Hardware and Bed, Bath and Beyond before moving on to Portico, a high-end home furnishing company. With no high school diploma or formal training he worked his way up to creative director. After Portico folded in 2006, Berk founded his online venture, opening his first store in New York City a year later. Miami followed in 2010.

Holiday Tips with Funky Flair

Today, Berk - who hints at a massive brand expansion soon to come - designs his own line of couches, wallpaper and rugs, all of which bear his modernized mid-20th century aesthetic, with clean lines and a relaxed, funky flair. Sold not only within Berk's stores but also to wholesalers, they are available in emporiums around the world.

Bobby Berk Home continues to carry a wide range of well-designed furniture, electronics, lighting and accessories from a variety of makers, and for those looking for great holiday gift ideas, Berk isn't afraid to raid his stash.

Among Berk's favorite products is the Stelle Audio Pillar, which pairs to Bluetooth-enabled devices, allowing the user to talk via speakerphone or play music wirelessly ($299.00 to $349.00). For the design lover, Berk recommends the "super cool" line of notebooks from Afterain Design. Made of black metal and PVC, they are built in iconic shapes like turntables and remote controllers ($25.00). And for those who like to stick with a traditional holiday color scheme, he suggests the comfy, casual red plaid Gus Modern Hex Ottoman ($395.00) or Chalet Pillows (set of four, $395.00).

But perhaps the best gift Berk can offer up this holiday season is hope. After all, this is a man who once lived in an alley behind a store that now carries his furniture. "I didn't used to share my story," he muses. "I was ashamed that I'd dropped out of school. But I like showing people that anybody can do it - especially young gay people who have been kicked out of their homes, don't have any direction, and don't know what they're going to do. If I can do it, they can, too. If you stay positive and believe good things are going to happen, they do."

Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.