Helen Carefoot, The Washington Post
You know Bobby Berk as the design expert on Netflix's outrageously popular show "Queer Eye." Along with cast members Karamo Brown, Tan France, Antoni Porowski and Jonathan Van Ness, Berk has traveled across the United States - and, this season, to Japan - helping "heroes" discover their best selves.
Born in Houston and raised in Missouri, Berk moved to New York in his early 20s and, after years working in retail and building his reputation as a designer, opened his own showroom in 2006 and later launched his own full-service design firm in 2015. The 38-year-old, who now lives in Los Angeles with his husband, has plenty of irons in the fire beyond the series: He's started a furniture line, launched a comprehensive lifestyle website, and is developing and executive-producing new television projects.
Here's how he stays well amid all his ventures. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You said in an interview that self-care isn't selfish or indulgent but necessary. What does self-care mean to you, and what did it take to get to that place?
A: I think self care is absolutely essential to keep you being able to care for others. You cannot help people to the best of your ability if you are not at 100 percent.
This has been more of a realization, honestly, since the show came out. I was making sure everything was great with work, and I never really said no. Sometimes saying no actually is the best answer you can give somebody. Taking on too much not only doesn't allow you to do everything to the best of your ability, but it also eventually just drives you down. And then you're no good to anybody.
Q: What inspired you to launch a website that encompasses lifestyle elements beyond design, such as nutrition and fitness?
A: I'm very passionate about design, but at the end of the day I'm not just a designer. There are so many other things in life that I'm passionate about. I wanted there be a place where I could share those things and I could bring together not just information from me on design, but also from other people who are an authority in their field. We wanted to combine everything that could assist you to live a better life. That's not just design; that's food, it's fitness, it's travel, it's fashion.
Q: What's your fitness routine like?
A: I was in the worst shape I've been in my life after the show started. I was always on the run and I wasn't eating right. I went from working out four or five days a week and being in great shape - 185 pounds, all muscle - before the show to 210 pounds with no muscle. I thought to myself: I had such a good regimen when I worked with Zach [Feldman, a trainer and chef whom Bobby met in Kansas City when filming the third and fourth seasons of Queer Eye]. I was like, I want you to move here and be my full-time trainer and chef and to also be a contributor to my website. I want you to be able to share what you're helping me with and the things that you know with all of our fans and readers.
Anytime I'm gone in the same place for longer than a week, I bring Zach with me because I need somebody holding me accountable. He moved with me to Philly for two and a half months, and he was in Japan with me. We work out every morning and 90 percent of the time every evening as well. I'm doing two-a-days now. There are weeks when sometimes I can't work out, so I try to get in as much as possible.
It's good to have somebody that can hold you accountable, even if it's not a trainer. That's why I'm a big fan of group fitness classes. You start to make relationships with these people, and when you have those days when you don't show up, maybe they're texting you and they'll say, hey I've missed you.
Q: What role does nutrition play in your life?
A: Zach always cooks me a great healthy, high-protein breakfast and then for lunch, high-protein and carbs. Evenings, it's usually low carbs or no carbs and lots of vegetables; usually fish or Beyond Meat or something like that. We're pretty much pescatarian and try to eat vegan as much as possible, but we're not super strict about it.
I cut out a lot of snacking; we just don't keep snacks around the house. A lot of times with snacking, you're not even hungry, you just want that action of munching on something. I find a nice high-protein nut or seed gives me something to munch on without it being potato chips. I keep a lot of frozen fruit around. I put frozen fruit in a Vitamix with some Greek yogurt and a little bit of almond milk, and it creates a frozen yogurt. It makes a nice little sweet treat that has no added sugar in it.
In the beginning it was harder, but those foods like mac and cheese didn't make me happy. They caused stomach issues, and they caused anxiety with putting on a lot of weight because I wasn't eating healthy.
Q: How do you handle the physical demands of designing the spaces on the show?
A: It was definitely harder in seasons one and two, because I didn't have the crew I have now. I had the same crew, just not as big of a crew. I was definitely having to be more hands-on. When the show came out, I realized I had about a quarter of the screen time as everybody else because I was always working. I learned to delegate to my team more and to let them go and trust that they were going to make me proud. I tried to focus on having more quality time with our hero.
Q: You've shared some really personal stuff with the people featured on the show. Do you do anything to prepare for or decompress from a particularly emotional episode?
A: In seasons one and two, there was definitely a lot of crying both on and off camera. It was surprising; we were not expecting to have emotional connections with these people in just a few days. Because we knew what we were there to do in seasons three and four, it was a little bit easier on us emotionally. We weren't shocked and surprised every single day.
Between seasons one and two and seasons three and four, we were able to do a lot of self-reflecting and self-healing. It's not just our heroes learning things from us. We learn things from them, too.
Q: What elements of design help you feel your best, and what could someone change in their own living space to improve their wellness?
A: For me, a more minimalistic home with fewer things makes me happy. I have so much going on in my mind all the time, I need my surroundings to be minimal. How your home is set up can really have a big effect on your mental health. If your house is messy and disorganized, it can cause you to be messy and disorganized in your mind.
I love Marie Kondo's philosophy that if it does not spark joy, why do you have it? It's just cluttering. It's taking away from the effectiveness of the things that really do spark joy in your life. I always say find those few things that really make you happy.
Q: You left home at 15, had difficulty being accepted because of your sexuality and have struggled with depression. What do you wish someone had told you as a young person?
A: I would tell myself and any kid is that being different isn't bad. I'm living proof that being different will set you apart and will add to your success. Realize that middle school and high school is a blink of an eye in the amount of time of your entire life. At the end of the day, look at me. Look at Jonathan. We were both the outcasts in school. We were the ones people were really not that nice to and the ones who never really fit in with the normal people. Being different and being unique might not be a popular thing now, but as an adult it is what will make you shine.
Q: Have you picked up any wellness tips from your castmates?
A: I definitely take way better care of my skin now because of Jonathan. There are things that I need to be doing so that my skin does continue to be its best self. Notice I didn't say so that my skin continues to look young, because that's not what is important - it's that your skin continues to be its best self.
Feature Image: Christopher Smith/Netflix