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Robert and Cortney Novogratz are self-taught designers (Robert was originally a stockbroker and Cortney trained as an actress) who have been enviably successful at finding bargain properties, reading the taste-zeitgeist very well while renovating them and then selling them on for fat profits. But there is another dimension to their lives that grabs almost all the attention: the fact that they have seven kids under the age of 13 – all their own, including two sets of twins—no blended family here. They’re like the Waltons of the West Village, if the Waltons were hip that is. Not surprisingly, they have a book out and their own reality show on Bravo, 9 X Design, coming to a small screen near you very soon You too will get a glimpse at the four washing machines, entryway that resembles a kindergarten cloakroom, and the magically uncluttered surfaces in their spacious, art-filled house on the West Side Highway—move over John and Kate.

Downtown Chic: Designing Your Dream Home: From Wreck to Ravishing (Hardcover). Click to order.
I have to say to start off with that when I was researching you, you’ve done so much press that I thought: “There’s nothing to left to ask them.”

Robert: Well, I haven’t really talked too much about the show.

What I did end up looking at was the tenor of what was written—it seemed to fall into two camps. There’s the sort of breathless “Oh they’ve got seven kids and they live a glamorous life in such a fabulous house!!! ” and then there is another way, and that is slightly sour. How do you cope with the jealous camp?

Yeah. We kind of live in our little bubble, I think. So we don’t caught up in the school PTA or whatever. We’re not part of some elite group of people, so we’re not really in any group. We kind of go from our crazy artist friends to the parents of our kids’ friends that we happen to like.

And we don’t answer to the design community because we’re not trained designers. It’s funny that people always are sort of astonished by that but we’ve been doing this for 15 years – we’ve done 40 projects, probably. We’ve done nine buildings in New York.
British artist Richard Woods created the eye catching ‘faux bois’ garage and front door. Brown-and-white tiles cover the floors of the first floor hallway. The painting is by Richard Wood.
A view into the basketball court. ‘Save The Farm’ by artist Graham Gilmour hangs on the left hand wall.
An exercise room overlooks the basketball court.
A painting by Enoch Perez hangs in the first floor stairwell. A chair by Frank Gehry (left) and Tom Dixon flank an oversized vintage mirror.
A Venetian glass chandelier suspends over the kitchen island.
A sculpture of a fan by Maarten Bass is Robert and Cortney’s newest art acquisition.
‘Family’ by Brooklyn artist, Heidi Cody lines the wall of the open kitchen and dining area.
A painting by Lisa Ruyter hangs on the wall near the family dining table. area. Holleder and Five keep themselves occupied at the dining table.
You seem unapologetic about the family branding aspect of all this.

Our “goal” is that Cortney – she’s the more impressive [one]—is [to show] this beautiful woman who has seven kids and to me that is more interesting than the dad. Our whole thing was … her kind of at the forefront of that … not like running our kids around to shoots and … all that was taken out of context. Like Martha Stewart—I like her personally—but how many people can relate to her? Cortney has seven kids and is doing it, so women really respond to Cortney.

Do they really? Aren’t they intimidated by her?

She has a Southern twang to her, so … I think [the publicist, who is sitting in, says that Cortney is very friendly and down-to-earth. Unfortunately, Cortney is not able to make the interview.]
A painting of a reindeer by Francisco Larrios is a whimsical addition to the living room.
Another view of the living room. Action toys at rest.
Playing in the living room. The photograph on the rear wall is by Erwin Olaf.
The rear façade of the of the Novogratz’s West Street home with roof top views.
It does seem too good to be true, in a way – how does the show capture your lives?

To that answer, I think … we don’t ask permission to do what we want to do. I have seven siblings, very close and I don’t ask permission from them, or my parents. Of course, I went into it thinking, I don’t want to embarrass my parents, but at the end of the day ... actually I read one of the articles where Cortney said, “The few couples that we really respect probably wouldn’t have done this show!” – that was pretty funny! That’s us in a nutshell. We don’t really ask our friends, “Hey should we do this or not?” But my two sisters, who were initially, like “Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re doing a reality show,” saw the two first episodes and said “It’s SO good!” And they’re pretty good judges.

What were they responding to?

I think Cortney and I are pretty funny and real—we’re kind of Sonny and Cher, the banter between us. We took on six projects while we were filming so it’s not about the kids but about design.
A sculptural, limited-edition chair by Zaha Hadid, affectionately nicknamed ‘Jaws’, dominates the master bedroom.
Clockwise from above: An Anglo Indian bed dominates the master bedroom. The rug is by Diane Von Furstenberg for The Rug Company; In the master bedroom a lamp by Philippe Starck from Kartell stands atop a table from West Elm; Bedside reading.
Family photos line the south wall of the master bedroom. The wire chair is by Fernando and Humberto Campana.
Clockwise from above: A view of the Hudson from the master bedroom; A vibrant pink orchid adds a hint of color to the master bedroom; Looking across the master bed.
Oversized late 19th century Parisian street lights were found at a Paris antique market.
Views of the master bedroom, looking west.
Bobble heads fill a back shelf of the closet. Cortney’s closet.
Views of the Master bath. The hanging ceiling fixtures are by Swarovski Crystal; the print of ‘The Queen’ is by artist Ann Carrington. Arranged atop the master bath Boffi cabinets is a grouping of religious objects and other collectibles.
Are people going to compare you to John and Kate Gosselin?

Well, of course they will. On the good side that’s why Bravo is excited about it, but people watching it will know within a second, because we’re doing something … we did so much, including having a baby – and the kids are about ten, fifteen percent in it. And they’re nice, sweet kids, they don’t act like privileged kids. People are like, “you’re exploiting your kids” but we had a party and there were maybe 50 kids here and they all filmed [the party] with their phones … it’s a different generation.

But don’t reality shows thrive on creating conflict?

Well, the first question is “Where is the stress coming from?” We sped everything up so fast and people are going to be like “How do they do it?” And we show New York off very well, the Highline, our favorite restaurants … It’s beautifully shot. And I wanted a theme song, like the Partridge family, but they [Bravo] said it was very expensive. I got a very hip cool band in the south that did like a 14-second song. And we start with Cortney having a baby in the very first episode, and we end it at book-signing in London.
Antique day beds from Bali and layers of pink and purple make for a cozy and cheerful ‘girls’ bedroom.
A Balinese daybed has intricately carved detail. ‘Home Sweet Home.’
Comfortable clutter.
Clockwise from above: Bellamy’s side of the room. The portrait is by Linda Mason; A vintage typewriter shares space with sports trophies atop Tallulah’s desk; Tallulah’s bed.
A study corner in the girls’ bedroom. Tallulah and Bellamy’s closet.
So you must have very cool kids.

They’re different. We have the best athlete in the city and the worst athlete, a really strong student and a really weak student, a popular kid and a kid that doesn’t have a lot of friends.

People are going to be asking you about money – how do you afford all these kid in New York city?

Ah … just to tell you the numbers—and we never talked about money on the show by the way, we were very humble and very modest—we bought the Chelsea house 12 years ago for $500,000 and we sold it for six million; we paid a million for two houses in SoHo and sold them for $13 million …

Tell us what’s happening now in your business.

Listen, it’s tough—it’s tough.
A chair by Marc Newson sits front and center in Wolfgang and Breaker’s room. The carpet is from IKEA.
Clockwise from top left: Breaker and Wolfgang’s room. The hanging globe fixtures are from the 1950s and were found at a flea market; Collages by Ann Carrington hangs on opposite walls of Breaker and Wolfgang’s bedroom; Playthings.
Spacious open bathrooms keep things simple.
Twin brothers, Holleder and Five’s bedroom. The photograph of a bowling alley is by the Wilson Sisters.
An oversized photograph of a bowling alley by the Wilson Sisters hangs on a wall above neatly piled toys in Holleder and Five’s bedroom. The cowhide skin rugs were bought in Brazil.
A wall carpet by Ann Carrington is created out of stuffed animals.
Looking towards the boy’s flat screens. Double the fun. A sock monkey snuggles up to Batman.
The twins’ closet.
You seem quite energized by the business side of it.

Well, I have seven kids to pay for! [laughs]

It seems like you’re really very much a risk taker, very gutsy.

That’s what we are.

Is there one who takes more risks than the other between you and Cortney?

You know there’s that saying about General Patten, they called him ‘blood and guts’, and it’s like his guts, but the other man’s blood. Cortney’s got the guts but I’m the one that has to really do it! [laughs] … no, we change back and forth.
The mini bar is handy for entertaining on the rooftop. Outdoor chairs are stored inside the rooftop landing during chilly weather.
Views from the rooftop. The Anglo Indian style lounge chairs are from Pier One.
Clockwise from above: A painting by Enoch Perez hangs in the first floor stairwell; A donkey painting by Christina Vergano hangs in the stairwell; A photograph by Ann Collier hangs in the stairwell.
Major’s crib. Looking across Major’s room to a wall hanging of ‘Flags of the World’ by Ann Carrington.
In Major’s room, a Peter Beard animal photograph hangs on a wall above a stuffed lion adorned with a head-dress from Brazil. A stuffed teddy sits atop a Ghost Chair by Philippe Starck.
Can you give us a glimpse of say, a weekday morning in your household? What time do you all get up?

The mornings during the week are actually quite fun. We just have cereal – we don’t have a great breakfast, just typical whatever. But I love taking the kids to school, walking through SoHo and the Village, dropping the kids off. We don’t deny the fact that we have help, and we need help. We spend a lot of time with the kids but we [also] go out to dinners and the movies.

Big families in our culture are unusual.

We didn’t plan it! The first one was the easiest. We always joke that if we had had the twins first, we wouldn’t have done it.

(Robert and Cortney have a new book written with Elizabeth Novogratz titled ‘Downtown Chic’ published by Rizzoli $45.00)

• Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge • photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch




© 2013 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com