Fast-forward a few years, and he's now solidly established his firm (dividing his time between L.A. and New York) and has teamed up with Air Wick on their new line of Life Scents. It's a partnership that makes sense once you hear how passionate he is about scent.
He kindly chatted with us about his childhood memories, why layering fragrance is something we shouldn't be afraid of, and how assigned seating is actually a good thing.
"This is the funny thing about Air Wick, because there is a scent in the new collection [called] Mom's Baking, and the whole thing for me when I was younger was, I had a little Portuguese grandma (the kind you were afraid of, like Godzilla; she could pack a punch!), and I was one of the only ones who was allowed in the kitchen to watch her bake — that's where she was really vulnerable and told you things (even what you may not have wanted to know). So, I have that memory of her baking apple pie and vanilla scents. She made these amazing chocolate-chip cookies that I made last week, that [my husband, interior designer] Nate [Berkus] is obsessed with. It was a nice moment to smell this in the collection. I really believe that your home should tell the story of who you've been, who you are now, and who you want to become, and it's all about layering. Scent has always been that final layer, to tell the story of who you are, since it's such a trigger memory."
"I think you should blend. There's a lot of ways you can add different dimensions. You should explore, find different scents that you want to connect to, and then have fun with it. For example, Nate loves floral scents, which is not what I gravitate to [more clean scents], but what we end up with is a great mix of woodsy scents. Juxtaposition is key. But, be careful — you don't want it smelling too strong."
"Right? This weather is not the business. Like, nine degrees, what? We've moved our house around 38 thousand times since moving in, and winter is a great time to edit. Unless something is absolutely beautiful and functional, get rid of it. I really think that every season, you should shift your space, change the flowers, move art from one room to another. You'd be surprised how many ways you can make the same room."
"I have a lot of respect for the ceremony of setting a table. Living in New York, you order in constantly, but we always set the table and decant the food and put it in real dishes. There's something beautiful about sitting down and having that moment to connect. I generally hate that word. I don't think there are really rules, but if I had to, I would say pick two objects and build around them. We are having dinner tonight, and I build around this Peruvian artifact we got on the trip we got engaged on. I think just have fun. Nine times out of 10, you'll enjoy it even more if you just pile things on. And, it's a great way to make conversation."
"I have such mixed feelings. I've been to a lot of dinner parties and sometimes think, 'Please, God, do not put me on the opposite of my husband.' But, I always end up leaving those parties, nine times out of 10, having had a great time. You need to know your crowd, which sounds simple but is actually complicated if you're combining friends. I have one particular group of friends whom I've known for 12 years. If it's their [party] assigned seating, it's good, because it forces everyone to talk to different people. It's an homage to an older time — there's nothing worse than when no one's engaging, eating. My husband's a chatting Cathy, so if I always sat next to him, I wouldn't have to say a word, which I would like, but wouldn't be good."
"For me, Laos was so special, because it was going back in time. You don't have to have a lot of money to live beautifully. It's not a rich county, but the way they live is so elegant and so understated. There were these thin bamboo fences, and [they inspired] me to get these woven wicker bamboo chairs. The smells...the thing about Laos is the scent of natural herbs — everything is so clean. When I smell basil now, I think back."