Nate Berkus
Source: Getty Images

The Tragic Death of HGTV Star Nate Berkus's Ex Partner Explained

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Oct. 13 2021, Published 4:01 p.m. ET

Designer and dad-of-two Nate Berkus currently stars in the new HGTV and Discovery Plus series The Nate and Jeremiah Home Project. In this six-episode docuseries, Nate and his husband Jeremiah Brent meet with families in need of a fresh start. They start off by helping clients sort through their belongings, and then the design duo works their magic to transform each family's space into their dream home.

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This is Nate's third time working with his husband on a TV series. They made their TV debut as a couple in the TLC series Nate & Jeremiah by Design in 2017, which ran for three seasons (the series also ran on HGTV, but under the name Nate and Jeremiah: Save My House). Then, Nate and Jeremiah teamed up again to put their design skills to the test during Season 2 of HGTV's reality competition series Rock the Block.

Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent
Source: Getty Images

Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent

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While going into business with a romantic partner may not be ideal for some married couples, Nate and Jeremiah continue to have a strong relationship. They are indeed the ultimate power couple.

However, before there was Nate and Jeremiah, Nate was in another serious relationship that ended unexpectedly after tragedy struck. Here's what happened to Nate's former partner Fernando Bengoechea, and how Fernando has affected Nate's marriage with Jeremiah.

What was Nate Berkus's former partner Fernando Bengoechea's cause of death?

The late Fernando Bengoechea was an internationally acclaimed photographer. He and Nate met in 2003 and began dating. As explained on Fernando's website, the couple took a vacation to Sri Lanka together in December 2004. Unfortunately, a massive tsunami struck during their travels. While Nate miraculously survived the disaster, Fernando's body was never found. He was 39 years old at the time.

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Young Fernando Bengoechea
Source: Instagram

Fernando Bengoechea

In response to losing Fernando and his own near-death experience, Nate penned the book The Things That Matter. In it, he spoke lovingly of his former partner. He explained that they met at a photoshoot for O at Home magazine and there was an immediate connection. Nate recalls thinking to himself that day: "Things don't get any better than this."

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Nate continued to beautifully portray Fernando. While Nate's background was in interior design and Fernando's was in photography, Nate was pleasantly surprised by how eclectic and elaborate Fernando's style was: "Fernando had taste, much more layered than my own. When I walked into his loft for the first time, I knew in my gut we would end up together."

The couple's shared love of the home and curating visually captivating spaces continued to bind them. In Fernando's apartment, they would move around furniture, rearrange books, play with textures, and make other edits to the space until it fit their vision. "We became partners in the pursuit of creating a feeling of home. It was a feeling I had never had so strongly before," Nate wrote.

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Nate also shared details from the day he lost Fernando.

It was morning and the couple was still in bed when the tsunami hit. "Our hut was torn off, and Fernando and I were swept out of the hut by strong currents," Nate recalled. As they struggled to stay afloat, thrashing through the water, they stayed nearby each other. But the water violently ripped them apart.

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"This time I knew there was no way I could survive whatever this thing was ... but again I saw the sky, and again my lungs clutched for air," Nate wrote, detailing how fortunate he was to have been given a second chance at life. But when he got to safety, Fernando was nowhere to be found. Several other people that Nate met during the trip also did not survive.

Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent found a way to honor the late Fernando Bengoechea in their family.

Nate and Jeremiah are currently the fathers to daughter Poppy and son Oskar, who both arrived via surrogate. When awaiting their son's arrival in 2018, Jeremiah suggested they name him Oskar, in order to honor Nate's former partner (Oskar was Fernando's middle name).

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While it may be awkward to name your son after your husband's ex, Jeremiah explained to Oprah that he felt connected to Nate's late partner. "That’s a part of our love story, there’s no two ways about it," he said.

You can learn more about Fernando Bengoechea and browse his work on his website. The Nate and Jeremiah Home Project airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST on HGTV. New episodes are also available to stream on Discovery Plus the following morning.

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