PIEDMONT -- TV personality and decorator Nate Berkus charmed a mostly female full house Saturday night at the Piedmont Center for the Arts.

Berkus' talk and appearance to promote his new book, "Things That Matter" (Spiegel & Grau, $35) was arranged by Kathleen Caldwell, of A Great Good Place for Books in Montclair Village. The $45 admission price included the book.

Fans lined up to have their books signed at the elegant arts center that hosts art exhibits, chamber ensembles and other cultural events during the year. An estimated 180 people attended the event, with some standing in the back of the center.

Colleen Sturdivant, of Piedmont, came with three girlfriends from Sacramento to meet Berkus.

"I just love him," Sturdivant said. "He clearly is so normal, with no airs."

Perched on a stool onstage, Berkus quipped, "Thanks for coming. I know it's Halloween weekend and the World Series."

Berkus said his new book took seven years to conceive. He didn't want "just another decorating book" but instead one that peeked into the lives of a disparate group of people and their decorating experiences.

One client in the book decorated her 300-square-foot cabin with castoffs she bought on eBay, alongside her collection of china and crystal.

Chris Gardner, who inspired the 2006 Will Smith film "The Pursuit of Happyness" about struggling with homelessness and trying to raise his son in the Bay Area, is another story in the book.


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"I helped him design a space, his first home at age 50. He wept when he saw his home," Berkus said.

One's space should reflect her interests, travels and personal stories, he advised. Throw out advice from others, and don't be a slave to trends, Berkus said.

"The living space has to reflect the personality of who lives in the space," he said. "Buy only what you love to make your heart sing."

Also, move things around. The odd lamp that doesn't fit in the living room might be perfect in the den. Nightstands in the bedroom might find a home in the living room. Be unapologetic about the wall colors you choose, and if you tire of them later, paint over.

Berkus turns over a lot of his pieces, because he admits he has too much. Some are given to his five siblings. Others are donated. And he has a storage locker bulging with other items.

In the book, Berkus speaks openly about events that have shaped his life and perspective, including the loss of his life partner, Fernando Bengoechea, in Sri Lanka in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Local decorator and collector Ron Morgan spent time onstage with Berkus in an informal conversation. Morgan asked what colors were trending this year.

"You know I don't believe in 'hot colors,' " Berkus kidded.

"What's the first thing people buy for a house?" Morgan asked.

"A sofa," said Berkus. "You have to sit someplace. My sofa is 16 years old, but I'm having it re-covered while I'm on this book tour."

Feel free to mix and match furniture periods. Berkus admitted he has an eclectic mix in his New York City apartment.

He started his career in Chicago at 23 after college, establishing a design/decorating firm. From there, he became a regular on the Oprah Winfrey show. That spun off to the nationally syndicated "Nate Berkus Show" for a few years. The show included decorating makeovers, cooking and special guests.

"I love TV but not a daily syndicated talk show. There was no time and space for decisions. And I never want to make another chicken recipe as long as I live," Berkus kidded. "I don't cook."

He said he hopes to do more TV spots but on a weekly, not daily, basis. In October, he launched his new line with Target stores.

Said Morgan to Berkus, "This is what I love about you the most. You are so down-to-earth. It's an honor to have you in our small town."

Audience members were able to ask questions of the popular show host. The first woman jumped up in the front row and asked for a hug.

"Are there any nonphysical questions?" Berkus quipped, and several others piped up.

After the book signing, Sharon McKee, of Pleasanton, said she was impressed that Berkus didn't put much importance on the latest trends and colors, emphasizing a personal style.

His easygoing manner "made you feel you could just sit down with him and have an interesting conversation," McKee said.

Merih Woldu, of Oakland, who fled persecution in Eritrea, said she rushed to the event when she heard about it at the last minute.

"I always used to watch him on 'Oprah,' but then they cut out most American channels in my homeland. I am an amateur decorator, and this was a wonderful program tonight."

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