WITH A BROOD that could rival the offspring of Jon and Kate Gosselin in sheer number and personality, the Novogratz family starring in Bravo’s new “9 by Design” show (Tuesdays at 10 p.m.) might initially strike you as the latest reality-TV train-wreck-to-be. But there’s much more to them than just snappy TV editing and seven cute kids (all under age 13!). The heads of the household, Robert and Cortney Novogratz, have spent more than 15 years making a name for their trendy Sixx Design business in New York’s competitive real estate world. Through this bona fide mom-and-pop venture, the gutsy duo have turned eyesores into show-stopping properties throughout the Big Apple — often living in them during the process. They chronicled some of these funky-to-fantastic rehabs in their style tome, “Downtown Chic” ($45, Rizzoli).
The family has taken some flak in the media for their frequent moves, but Robert Novogratz (who grew up in Alexandria and was once a Washington Post paperboy) says his kids don’t mind the changes of scenery. “There are a lot of worse-off kids in the world that you have to worry about than my kids,” he says. “They’re going from one mansion to another mansion. They’re very lucky kids.”
“Lucky” seems like an understatement if you’ve seen the Novogratzes’ newest home, which has been featured on “9 by Design.” The five-story, 8,000-square-foot house built on the site of a former sex shop in Manhattan has floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Hudson River.
While the Novogratzes’ business-driven lifestyle and rising fame sets them apart from average city dwellers, urban families still might identify with Robert and Cortney Novogratz’s challenges as time- and space-crunched parents. We asked the duo to spill some tips on kid-friendly decor, thrift-store steals and managing a design firm while also raising a large family.
» EXPRESS: How do you balance your time managing a family of nine while also running Sixx Design?
» ROBERT: First of all, our office is our home. We have our meetings during the day when the kids are at school. We’re our own bosses, so we can take on 10 jobs or we can take on one, and we pick where we want to have it. That’s a real luxury. We’ve had offers to design stuff in Europe or overseas, but we’d rather be with our kids.
There are so many Manhattanites that are getting up at 5 in the morning in Greenwich, Conn., and taking the train in and then working until 6, getting home at 8 — and we don’t have to do that. We walk our kids to school, so it’s easier than you think.
» CORTNEY: Working together allows us to be better parents because we’ve kind of invested the same [in our jobs]. So, if we succeed, we all succeed together. If we fail, then we fail together. Robert and I balance the job responsibility and the kids responsibility because we work together. So, say, for example, he needs to make it to my son’s basketball game in the afternoon. Then, I would go to the job site and do what needs to be done that day.
» EXPRESS: Are your kids now old enough to help you make decisions about decorating?
» CORTNEY: The older kids, definitely. Each [Sixx Design construction] project is interesting because it usually takes about a year of us building and designing, whether it’s for our own home or for someone else’s, so the kids go to the job sites. They’re aware of what projects we’re working on. If it’s their own house, a lot of times they’ll come through and say, “Oh, I want you to put this in,” or, “I want that.”
» EXPRESS: What tips do you have for large families who don’t want to sacrifice style in a kid-friendly home?
» CORTNEY: I personally think there are great, great [furniture] stores out there that aren’t super-expensive. You can also mix a really nice, expensive piece with inexpensive pieces. For example, you may have a beautiful table, so you can do fun Ikea chairs or flea market chairs or West Elm chairs.
I also think that if you tell your kids [that you care about how your home looks], they’ll help. For example, if we have a dinner party, I put candles out, I get flowers, and I make a big fuss about it. My kids see that, and they help me set the table. It’s part of the “make your house look good, make yourself look good” idea, to take pride in things like that.
» EXPRESS: I’d imagine space is at a premium in your house.
» CORTNEY: Yeah. We obviously have nine people under one roof, so I want everyone to have enough space and for nothing to really be off-limits. A lot of people try to save their china for Thanksgiving. I use it every day. We also have great plastic plates, too. I’m wise enough to know, if I have 10 kids over, I’ll pull those [plastic plates] out if we’re having pizza. But I try to use all my great pretty things all the time. And I put art pieces in the kids’ rooms. So they pretty much grow up taking responsibility and caring for things, but also having the freedom to have fun.
» EXPRESS: I read that you’ve gotten some great salvage and vintage finds in France. What’s the secret to finding treasures at a flea market?
» ROBERT: You have to get there early and you just really have to look a lot. We always talk to the locals to find the best flea markets. Usually, all the stuff you’ll like is from one or two booths.
About 10 years ago [at a flea market in Nice, France], we asked one vendor, “Where do you get your stuff?” Then, she actually took us all over the south of France to all of these local markets. We’ve done that three times with her. So, you have to figure out where the buyer is buying his or her stuff.
» EXPRESS: Is that the best way to find interesting items in the U.S., too?
» ROBERT: In the U.S., it’s gotten harder to find great things. You’ve got to get up early and go to a lot of places and just sift through the stuff you don’t like. You get lucky from time to time. But I think it’s just a matter of how often you go.
If you can go to one flea market, you should go to the [Brimfield Antique Show] in Brimfield, Mass. They have a few fairs a year. That’s probably the best flea market on the East Coast.
» EXPRESS: Your projects featured in “9 by Design” and in “Downtown Chic” are really a testament to how you both can see an amazing home in an empty lot or a run-down building. How do you do that?
» CORTNEY: I think Robert and I have vision that maybe other people would miss out on. We go into a house or apartment in its worst condition, and we love it because we can see the potential that it may have. That’s a plus.
We also got to a point where, if it was a parking lot or a gun shop or a nightclub — anything in lower Manhattan that has space and could be a home — because we have a lot of children, we took risks that maybe the average person wouldn’t be able to do. We took risks to have space. We could see things that could be beautiful. We look at even the worst situation and try to make an opportunity out of it.
It’s a lot of fun: taking something that is unexpected and making something great out of it.
» EXPRESS: Have you ever turned your back on a place like that?
» CORTNEY: Yes, just because we have to be able to turn a profit and have a business out of this. We’ve turned our back on situations where, we knew, eventually, it could be great, but it just didn’t calculate [financially]. For everything we do, we look at the risk factor. We’ve looked at huge buildings and climbed on scaffolding, and we’ve just been, like, “You know what? We know our limits.”
Photos courtesy Rizzoli