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.
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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)