In early 2018, Netflix launched what I consider the most unexpected revamped movement in the history of television: Queer Eye. Overnight, the world fell in love with the fresh Fab Five that held the power to make us simultaneously laugh and ugly cry while inspiring the way we shape our lifestyles.
A member of the five, Bobby Berk moved to New York City with big dreams and is now building his own design empire one house flip at a time. We chatted with the home-improvement guru about all things Queer Eye, how space creation and design affect our mental health and his recent partnership with Figure, a new kind of financial services company that encourages homeowners to achieve their dreams by reimagining their wealth.
You grew up in Missouri. What was it like to go back to the middle of the country to film season three of Queer Eye?
Originally when they told us we were going to be there — we were actually supposed to film season three in Minneapolis — I was like, I spent 17 years of my life trying to get out of Missouri; I don’t want to go back. But it’s a very different place now. Kansas City used to be sort of a rough town with a limited amount of culture, but it’s really blossomed. It’s almost a tiny New York City in the center of the country with great people, amazing architecture and a thriving art scene, so I was really excited to go back and spend a lengthy amount of time there. It even hit a point when we were filming where I thought to myself, Oh I could definitely see myself living here — but then it got cold and I said nope.
Your role within the Fab Five involves, what I consider, the largest task needing to get done in the shortest amount of time. How do you flip a home that quickly without losing your mind?
I have a big team, and we do a lot of preplanning. I preplan flooring and buy window treatments and a huge selection of furnishings ahead of time. I also arrive a few weeks before the other guys and secure a big warehouse to fill with a ton of stuff to make our own little store to source from. During the week we spend with each person from the episode and after I’ve learned a bit more about them as individuals, I go into the warehouse and fill a truck decked out with shelves that turns into my mobile store, which allows for multiple options. Also, our construction team on the show is amazing and gets everything done so quickly.
And that’s one thing viewers don’t get to see very much of.
It’s true. But at the end of the day, we’re not a cooking show. We’re not a fashion show. We’re not just doing makeovers or flipping houses. We are using our tools and trades to affect change in here [points to his heart], which is why you don’t really need to see all of our processes.
A question that I’ve always had watching the show is, What happens to all the stuff that previously existed in a home after it’s been flipped?
Well… [laughs] Most of the time, we execute a home improvement on only one part of a home, which means viewers never get to see the entire house. What ends up happening is we take all of the stuff that we are replacing and find other places within the house to, essentially, hide it. One episode that comes to mind is Cory’s during season one, where we ran out places to hide stuff, so we ended up having to fill his daughter’s room floor to ceiling with everything we were replacing. It’s very comical actually.
What is the biggest personal reward you’ve received being a part of the Fab Five?
Teaching people to be nice to each other. Teaching people that in the end, we are all just people and that we can talk to people on both sides of the aisle and remain friends and family, and still be our unique selves. I think we lived through that in seasons one and two, where there were a lot of people who had very opposite views than us, especially politically, which we simply set aside. And once we got to know each other as people, we discovered that we actually had a lot in common. That’s the thing that I’ve gotten the most from being a part of Queer Eye: learning to allow myself to look beyond the differences and love people for being people again.
What’s your favorite design trend at the moment?
I would say neutrals. I hope midcentury is on its way out, because I love a Scandinavian-forward design aesthetic. It’s soothing to me, and every piece is not over-designed yet still has its own point of view.
How did your partnership with Figure come about?
It was a match made in heaven. I do home improvement, I’m on Queer Eye and I encounter many people who have the desire to revamp their home. So much of the wealth we have in our lives is within the homes that we own. And one question I always raise to people is, Why not leverage the equity of your home by investing in it?
A lot of the time, people want to do home renovations, and they immediately think the best way to do it financially is by putting it on a credit card. By doing that though, no matter how simple it may feel, you end up paying so much money on interest that you’ve senselessly spent way more on a home renovation than you should have.
That’s where new financial services like Figure are great, because you can borrow with a much lower interest rate than you would on a 16% to 20% credit card. Figure is also amazing because you receive approval in five minutes and the funding in five days. You don’t have to go through traditional bank loans, which take forever. You can do it online, just like we do basically everything else.
Beyond design, what is something you’re currently obsessed with?
Aviation. When you go to my search tab on Instagram, it’s cute guys, aviation and design — the perfect trifecta.
Finally, what part of creating and recreating spaces gives you energy?
What gives me the most energy is showing people how their home functions for them and how the things that they own — I know it’s weird for me to say this — spark joy and have the power to promote a better mental health space. When you wake up in the morning and have a nice and tidy room, you don’t feel instantly defeated, whereas when you wake up in a room that has I-should-have-cleaned-this-three-weeks-ago in every corner, you immediately feel defeat. Your home impacts your entire existence at the very beginning of each day. Being a person who can help show people this is something that keeps me going and definitely fuels my drive to design.