When Nate Berkus wants to take his dog, Tucker, to a neighborhood dog park in New York City, all he has to say is "park" and Berkus' mixed-breed canine companion knows exactly what's in store. "He literally runs around and starts to cry until his leash is on," Berkus told CBSNews.com.
The interior designer has been a dog lover his entire life. His first dog memory involved him trying to "ride" his Cocker Spaniel named Spanky as a child. Apparently, there's a "photographic history" of Berkus doing this -- his mother took plenty of pictures. Now 41, Berkus has Tucker -- a "fantastic dog" who loves to chase tennis balls and eye squirrels. "He sleeps in the bed every night," revealed Berkus, who said dogs and interior design are two of his great loves.
Which is why the TV personality is excited to take part in the Beneful Dream Dog Park Contest, which will help create the next new fantasy park for dogs. Beneful is asking dog lovers across the country from now through Sept. 17 to dream up a space that would help inspire a $500,000 dog park renovation for their area. Dog owners can send their submissions online, and one lucky winner will be chosen by Berkus and a team of judges. Berkus will help design it for the winner's neighborhood -- and the winner would also walk away with $10,000.
People are encouraged to think big. Berkus was on hand Tuesday in Lancaster, Pa., to help unveil the $500,000 park dreamed up by last year's winner: a canine amusement and splash park. Yes, an "amusement and water park" for dogs with a tennis tree and a splash pad.
"We're not only looking at it from the dog owner's perspective, but from the dog's themselves," Berkus said. "What's going to be fun? What's going to get them so excited?"
Berkus said he's looking forward to sinking his teeth into the dog park project because it's different than his usual routine. "For me, I've spent the majority of my career -- almost all of it -- designing spaces inside. So this is a great opportunity for me to get outside. I'm terrible with plants and flowers. It's not something I've ever really been great at. The architecture of the dog park is really interesting and since I have a dog and use the parks in New York City as much as much as I do, there are some ideas that I have...How can we incorporate tennis balls? Is there a way that we can have 10,000 squirrels just appear and disappear out of a hat?"
When he's not helping conjure up fun and crazy dog park ideas, Berkus is plotting his return to television in the new "American Dream Builders" series for NBC, which Berkus says will be vastly different from what we've seen before from him. "We're actually going into this all these different architectural styles sand working with people who believe themselves to be the best designers, architects or home builders in America...We're using and giving our competitors access to vintage finds, antiques and local resources," he said.
When asked for one piece of advice for new homeowners, Berkus said it would be: take your time. "I think the best homes are thoughtful and assembled over time," he said. "I get it. You look around and you want it done. That's when you start spending your weekends going to the flea market or going online -- and really start picking things that you love and reusing things that you've lived with. Design is constantly evolving."
Berkus, meanwhile, will soon put his design expertise to use in his own life in the form of a wedding. Berkus and Jeremiah Brentand have started planning a wedding for spring 2014. "It's been really interesting," he said. "Being engaged is such a strange stage because you're not married and you're not dating. It's interesting the questions people ask when you're engaged. They want to know every detail about the wedding. And it's like, 'We just got engaged. We're celebrating the fact that we got engaged.' Jeremiah and I are really excited about it though."