For months it seemed Nate Berkus's life was at a standstill. After losing his boyfriend, photographer Fernando Bengoechea, in the 2004 Asian tsunami (the couple were in Sri Lanka on holiday), "I was sad and depressed," he says, settled into the white linen couch in the living room of his Chicago apartment. "I had never battled with that. It was very hard." For help he turned to Oprah
Winfrey, a close friend since he became her design expert in '01. "She told me, 'There will be a new normal,'" he says. "And eventually there was."
Today Berkus's life is defined not only by his expanding career—he has a new line of affordable furniture and home accessories for HSN—but also by a serious relationship with shoe designer Brian Atwood, whose eponymous line counts Reese Witherspoon
among its fans, and who also oversees the Bally collection. Though admitted workaholics, the couple—together since 2007—make sure never to go more than three weeks apart. "We are each other's priority," Atwood insists. "Otherwise, success? What's the point if you don't have someone to share it with?"
They certainly have a lot to share, starting with an enviable collection of real estate: a Manhattan pad, a Milan pied-à-terre and the Chicago high-rise apartment filled with mementos from their travels. Unfaceted rubies from India fill a jar in the den; a ceremonial headdress from South Africa, which Berkus, 37, picked up during a trip with Oprah
, sits in the bedroom. "Our styles blended in an interesting way," says Atwood, 41. "It's not something we clash over." Except, perhaps, when a prime find is at stake. "We found a brass table—one-of-a-kind, vintage '70s—that I would kill for, but it's staying in Milan," Berkus says, glaring at Atwood, who responds with a laugh, saying, "I need it there!"
Apart from a rare tug-of-war, "those two are magical together," says pal Rachel Zoe. When asked about their future, Berkus says, "It would be a beautiful thing to get married eventually. And I would love kids." But there is one aspect of life he and Atwood won't ever be able to share. "I'm smaller than he is," says the 5'8" Berkus of his 6'1" beau. "His clothes only fit me if they shrink in the dryer!"
Watch Nate Berkus give you a personal tour of his home at people.com/nate-video