Robert and Cortney Novogratz of ‘Home by Novogratz’ and ‘9 by Design’ talk style

July 6, 2011

In 1996, newlyweds Robert and Cortney Novogratz bought a 150-year-old condemned brownstone in Manhattan’s burgeoning Chelsea neighborhood and transformed it into a gem of bohemian luxury. It was the first in a career of interior resurrections that would lead to a multimillion-dollar business and two TV shows.

It “looked like a bomb had hit it,” Cortney wrote about seeing the house for the first time in their 2009 book, “Downtown Chic” ($45, Rizzoli), “but it had great bones.”

At the time, Robert (who hails from Alexandria) was a stockbroker on Wall Street, and Cortney was an aspiring actress. But one overhaul led to another, and eventually they became designers full time, gutting, renovating and selling buildings across Lower Manhattan.

In 2005, they founded Sixx Design, a nod to their six children.

The Novogratzes cemented their reputation for hip house-flipping when they demolished an old BMW motorcycle warehouse on the Hudson River and built their own posh six-story home and office. The industrial space includes a basement basketball court that converts into a state-of-the-art home theater, romantic views of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, and noise-canceling windows imported from Switzerland. The dramatic renovation led to a TV series, “9 by Design,” which aired on Bravo and followed the design duo through eight renovations and the birth of their seventh child.


Novogratz family (Tim Geaney/TIM GEANEY)

Now they have a new show. “Home by Novogratz” debuts July 16 on HGTV. The couple say this series will focus less on the children and more on their design aesthetic: an edgy blend of Southern charm (Cortney loves back-porch barbecues) and downtown coolness (Robert has a penchant for graffiti art).

We spoke with the Novogratzes separately by phone about their new show, go-to design strategies and the art of teamwork. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q. What excites you about “Home by Novogratz”?

Robert Novogratz: We introduce an artist in every episode. We try to expose things, like techniques in art and design, that people can achieve themselves.

Cortney Novogratz: We have an 88-year-old painter, a furniture craftsman, a street artist from New York. . . . Art can be an amazing way to exhibit not only your taste but your community. It helps people push their home’s potential. When I go into someone’s home, I want to see who they are. I always say, “If you’re going to put something on your wall, tell a story.”

Q. Where do you draw inspiration from when decorating your own spaces?

Robert: I’m really into fashion, art and music. Our kids keep us young and our designs relevant. Take music, for example: If you walk into someone’s home and Miles Davis is playing, that’s just as important as a painting on the wall. Design is a feeling that you evoke.

Cortney: The city inspires me more than anything. Even the honking cabs and the random [expletive] that you hear on the street — it’s all part of the package. I never take the city for granted. Plus, we travel a lot, and that has an influence on everything.

Q. What’s the first thing someone should do when furnishing an empty room?

Cortney: There should always be one absolutely fantastic piece that you work off of. Whether it’s an old bed or antique dresser or bright neon chairs, pick a focal point that you love and design around it.

Q. What is the most common mistake people make when decorating?

Robert: It often seems like people walk into one department store and just buy, buy, buy. But if you buy everything from one place, your home will end up looking like a chain store. It looks very catalogue. It’s not unique. It’s not you.

Q. How should someone on a budget add personality to their space?

Cortney: Photographs. Whether they’re family photos or landscapes or a photographer that you love, start a collection. . . . I’m also a huge fan of mirror clusters because they give the room more depth while also serving as a fun, quirky art collection.

Robert: Paint and wallpaper are so effective. Putting a cool, funky wallpaper on one focal wall will add a unique character to your house.

Q. How does your taste differ from your spouse’s?

Cortney: He could spend millions of dollars on art and I’d say, “Hello! Wait a minute. What about the furniture?”

Robert: Mine is more modern and hers is more vintage. Then we mix them, and that’s why it works.

Q. What’s the best part about working with your spouse?

Cortney: We don’t have to have date night! Our most compatible, compassionate times are at morning meetings when we’ll get really excited about a piece or a project.

Robert: When things are good, you have someone there to celebrate with. When the world is coming at you, you have someone at your side. It’s as simple as that.

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