For Bobby Berk, the interior design expert on Netflix’s revival of the reality makeover series Queer Eye, repurposing heirloom furniture and installing storage isn’t just about fixing up a house—it sets the stage for the episode’s “hero” (as the show refers to its subjects) to live more confidently. But long before Berk started reimagining homes for a television audience, he spent his childhood summers hunting for antiques in Galveston and gardening with his grandmother in Alvin.
Season two, which dropped this summer, introduced us to heroes throughout Georgia, and Berk and the rest of the Fab Five are already hard at work filming season three in Missouri. The designer’s mission is the same, no matter the locale: to use a physical home remodel to uncover potential and to help viewers and heroes alike see each other with kindness, regardless of political beliefs.
Texas Monthly: What are your earliest memories of being interested in design?
Bobby Berk: I grew up in Missouri, but all my aunts and uncles and grandparents lived in Texas, so I would spend most of my summers there. One of my favorite things to do when I was little was go shopping with my aunt in Galveston to all the antiques stores on the Strand. My aunt loved finding weird things like doll heads that had no bodies and turning them into lamps—she was a really cool artist and had very quirky taste.
TM: Where did you develop your eye for design?
BB: I remember going into Target when I was a kid and seeing the Michael Graves collaboration they did with him in the early nineties. It was spatulas and toasters and tea kettles, but that was the first time I saw that products were things that were supposed to be functional but could also bring you joy. Before that, I thought you put furniture in a house and sat on it, you bought a spoon and used it. That was one of the first moments in my life where I really started thinking about design as something I wanted to do.
It’s a show about using the tools that we have—in my case, design—to enhance somebody’s life.
TM: What made you want to be on the reboot of Queer Eye?
BB: It was such an iconic show, and I love how it not only opened up awareness for my community but also helped people. The five of us wanted to take that even further and make it more of an emotional transformation than just a physical one. It’s not a fashion show or a cooking show or a culture show or a design show. It’s a show about using the tools that we have—in my case, design—to enhance somebody’s life.
TM: Often, the most emotional moment on Queer Eye is when the hero walks into their remodeled home for the first time. How do you see the potential impact of designing a home for someone?
BB: When you wake up every day in chaos and start your day off that way, it never leaves you. It’s been really rewarding to be able to see how just hitting reset for people can make them happy. I’m not saying it’s all about material things—it’s just about being in a space that’s clean and organized so you can start your day off in a good place. Bobby Camp [a hero from season one], who has six kids, told me, “Every day when I came home and this home was a disaster, I was reminded that I wasn’t enough. Now we don’t have to dwell on the fact that everything is a mess. We can focus on the happy parts of our lives.” That was a real aha moment for him—the chaos that surrounded them created chaos inside.
TM: How did you first realize how a living space can affect the way that someone moves through their day emotionally?
BB: I think it’s something that I noticed on a personal level a long time ago. I left home at fifteen, and my late teens and early twenties were very nomadic, very poor. I would end up living in these really awful, trashy places, and I noticed how it made me feel, having to live in places that were in disarray or were run-down or gross. When I didn’t have much money to spend, I’d go and get a can of paint and I’d paint the place and go to garage sales and thrift stores, and I’d make my place nice, no matter how horrible it was. I noticed a difference in the way it made me feel. When I would wake up in a space that made me happy, it would encourage me to do more and go further and think, “How do I work harder to get something nicer?” I’ve definitely realized in my own life that surrounding yourself with environments that you’re passionate about and make you happy not only keeps you sane but motivates you.