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Nate Berkus reveals his reluctance to buy a home by water after death of late partner

Berkus lost his partner, photographer Fernando Bengoechea, in a 2004 Sri Lankan tsunami.
/ Source: TODAY

Nate Berkus and his family have been spending the last six months self-isolating at their home on the water in Mountauk, New York, but the designer admitted it wasn't always an easy decision for him to live by the beach.

On Dec. 26, 2004, Berkus lost his partner, photographer Fernando Bengoechea, in a devastating tsunami while they were vacationing in Sri Lanka.

Nate, Poppy, Jeremiah and Oskar.Richard Foulser / Richard Foulser

Spending time by the water has always been a part of Berkus' life, so when his husband, Jeremiah Brent, suggested they look at buying a second home in Montauk last year, Berkus was finally ready.

“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,” Berkus, 49, told Elle Decor for the magazine's October issue.

Even still, he thought of the tsunami and decided he wanted his children with Brent, daughter Poppy, 5, and son Oskar, 2, to have the same happy experiences he had on the water growing up. (Their youngest is named after Bengoechea, whose middle name was Oskar.)

“I didn’t want my experience in the tsunami to deprive our family of summers like that," Berkus said.

The family of four have been living in the gorgeous home since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March. Berkus and his husband took an easygoing approach to decorating, which ended up creating a sense of calm during what has been a trying time.

“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."

Berkus and his family appear in the current October issue of ELLE Decor, available on newsstands now.