In the early months of 2020, before the majority of the world was familiar with the term coronavirus, interior designer and Netflix star Bobby Berk were taking a walk with his husband in downtown Austin, where they were filming the forthcoming season of Queer Eye. “All of a sudden, this handsome guy pulls up in a gorgeous classic pickup truck and he’s like, ‘Hey, Bobby!’,” Berk recalls. “Dewey and I thought it was a fan so we waved and kept on walking. But then he’s like, ‘No, it’s me, Cory! Sophia [Bush’s] friend!’”
Berk remembered meeting photographer Cory Tran some years ago, when he lived with Bush, his close friend and one of the stars of the hit 2000s teen drama One Tree Hill. But what he didn’t know was that Tran was newly engaged to actress Freida Pinto—who famously starred as Dev Patel’s love interest, Latika, in Danny Boyle’s eight-time Oscar-winning drama, Slumdog Millionaire. Berk also didn’t know that they were neighbours in Los Angeles and Austin, where Tran and Pinto kept a house just one block away from Berk’s Airbnb.
“Fast forward a week later and. . . . Well, you know the rest,” Berk says. The world—and their filming schedules—hit pause, leaving both couples to quarantine in Austin. They began hanging out often and spent their days hiking and going on daily walks to the river, leaning on one another for support over the course of many months. “I think a lot of us during the pandemic got either really far away from people or got really close to people,” Berk says. “And Cory and Freida were two people I got really, really close to.”
It makes sense, then, that later that year when public life resumed, Freida and Cory came to Berk to let him know that they had just bought a new house in L.A.—a low slung, 1950s style California bungalow, replete with pink-tile bathroom floors, ample garden space, and airy, sun-blanched rooms. They said that they wanted him to renovate and design it. He told them what he usually tells all well-meaning close friends who come to him with similar requests: “Absolutely not.”
“He has this friend rule,” Pinto explains. “He never works with his good friends and said to us, ‘I love you too much to design your home.’ He didn’t want things to get messy. But we were so convinced that he had the right taste for everything we envisioned for this house, which we had been searching for so long—it has the best bones, the best energy, and belonged to the loveliest couple before us—that we decided we just had to convince him to make an exception and break his rule.”
Eventually, they wore him down after what Berk recalls was the fourth or fifth attempt. He accepted on the condition that he would spearhead the design concept and all the major planning, but leverage his team as a kind of buffer to deal with the minor day-to-day gripes and “little details.” Though Tran had renovated their two other homes—“beautifully,” Berk says—and knew a considerable amount about design, Berk kept his focus squarely on Pinto. “It was really about impressing Freida,” Berk admits. “And to do that, I had to get out of my normal comfort box because the fact is, she’s in love with color. Color is what makes her happy, and that’s not really what I’m known for. But she grew up India in these more traditional, beautiful homes, and she wanted to bring in that element from her childhood, but sort of modernize it.”
Pinto, who later moved to London, struggled to clearly articulate her vision beyond a feeling and the general sense that she wanted to be surrounded by warmth, familiarity, and a kind of earthiness that provided a respite during breaks from filming. Berk took note of this and sought to recreate the old world charms of the homes she grew up in. He centred the three-bedroom property’s colour palette on mossy shades of green that conjured the feeling of indoor-outdoor living, cornflower blues, and crisp, airy whites. He outfitted the sitting room with a large indigo flat-weave rug, soft-edged walnut-and-oak coffee and side tables, a teak chair with rush seating, a two-light, swing-arm wall sconce by Stilnovo in black (the sole modern accent in the space), and a potted fiddle-leaf fig tree. The exposed beams on the ceiling were kept true to the house’s original structure, and prominently featured, as one enters the room, are its two cane-woven chairs—design staples of any good Indian home, which transported Pinto to the houses of all her family in Bombay.
“I was speaking in broad strokes all the time, talking about Indian inspiration and then Bobby, I remember so clearly, just said one word: Rattan,” Pinto says. “And I looked at him and was like, ‘Oh yeah, the cane weaving.’ It’s so beautiful and so common in India. . . . Every house I went to as a girl had some sort of cane accent.” To heighten the feeling, Berk added touches of cane to virtually every room, from the four-poster bed in the primary suite bedroom to the chairs in the pattern-filled dining room whose walls feature a colour-blocked blue-and-gold floral wallpaper by Kravet and loose, cream-coloured drapes.
Of course, Berk oversaw more extensive changes to the property as well—including a full renovation of the guest bathroom, which previously featured, in Pinto’s words “a pink-tile, retro vibe.” In the original flooring’s place, Berk installed mosaic-style white-and-blue tiling throughout, a generous tub, and a glass curio. The room is one of Berk and Pinto’s favourite spaces—as is the nearby powder room, a little jewel box that showcases Schumacher’s sublime Birds & Butterflies wallpaper.
The media room features walls painted in azure blue, sumptuous seating, and shelving filled with books and objets d’art to achieve an intimate, library-room aesthetic. “I love doing dark walls to help control the light,” Berk says. “It makes for a much more cosy environment.” And in addition to knocking out the wall of the breakfast nook to make the kitchen area a roomier, more open space, the cabinets were painted a calming sage green. Berk notes that they chose to paint instead of replacing the cabinetry since labour costs had skyrocketed during the pandemic. Berk installed a small bar for at-home entertaining, featuring a vintage bar top and a small chandelier with faceted, old glass pendeloques.
Though the project took three times longer than Berk predicted because of the pandemic, Pinto is over the moon with how it all turned out. Over the phone, she excitedly describes her new home as a kind of “mini spa,” a place full of carefully curated little nooks and crannies where she feels she is able to unwind and be herself. “I’m not even just saying this to you because there’s an article you have to write,” she says. “But I’ve literally texted Cory almost every day to say we couldn’t have done better with buying this house, and with the way it was designed, because I truly feel at home.”
“And that word, home, is such a weighty thing,” she continues, “If you have a house and you don’t feel like you belong, or that it belongs to you, it’s very uncomfortable. And I don’t have that feeling at all.”