Interviews: The Novogratz, A Family Affair...

Watching the first episode of 9 by Design filled me with wonder and awe. Not because it was so different from everything else on air (and believe me it was)... it was because I was living it. My first daughter was just a baby and my design business was also in its infancy. I was sure I was the only one in the world taking a Bugaboo to fabric showrooms and a baby (and husband) to High Point Market.

And then there was Bob & Cortney...

Here was this dynamic couple, embracing both family and a full-throttle creative business. Where was the usual distinction between the two lives that we usually see on television? Where was the sense of complete separation between being a mom and being a professional? I watched this couple seamlessly mix the two worlds in much the same way I was living my own life.  

To say I've adored them ever since is an understatement. Fast forward to today, my daughters are as well known in Dallas's design district and showrooms as I am myself and it's become understood that when I'm attending an out of town design event I will more than likely have my small tutu-wearing crew in tow. It's how I roll. 

The Novogratz clan, however, takes this to another level. They operate as one amazing, creative, collaborative, individuality-embracing team. It is a thing of beauty to behold. Cortney and Bob may be the dream team of top to bottom renovations, but their growing family members are quickly earning spots at the creative round table of product design. This work-life experience is truly a family affair when it comes to the couple and their seven gifted children. 

I had the rare privilege to interview the couple this week and am excited to share what they had to say about collaboration, creativity and family...

What I have always loved about both of you is your ability to embrace the family-meets-work dynamic rather than struggle to keep them separate. How much influence has your gifted young posse begun to have on your projects? Which of them demonstrate a passion for the field of interiors?

Well, as we get older and therefore less cool, our kids definitely keep the family’s take on things fresh. Everything they’re interested in, from fashion, to music, to social media, really inspires us and helps us to keep our designs young and hip. Between our kids and the big cities we love and have lived in, we’re constantly inspired.

Your business has evolved tremendously with several product lines and a history of impressive renovations. Are you still able to work side by side on the designs? How has that process changed as the business (and the family) has grown?

The process hasn’t changed much, even though the types of projects we’ve done have evolved through the years. Our mantra is always to divide and conquer, while still communicating about each major decision. We love what we do, so our jobs are really just an extension of who were are. This process has remained the same even with 7 kids, although nothing could have prepared us for teenagers!

As an creative entrepreneur who often collaborates with her husband, I find that it only works for us because we have very different areas of expertise. There’s no overlap in our skills. You are both so incredibly creative and innovative. What are the differences in your areas of expertise? What do you do when - inevitably - you disagree? 

While we’re both really similar, I think that we work well together, as neither one of us has a huge ego, and we both care most about the projects themselves. And of course, Robert always gives in to my opinion at the end of the day! Ha. (From Cortney)

9 by Novogratz is a very young & modern approach to home decor. What impact did your kids have on the designs? 

A couple of our kids helped with the designs, as they’re just as design oriented as we are. They’ve really all been involved with the design process at one point or another. Our daughter, Bellamy, had the idea for the #9 pillow in our new line. Again, we’re inspired by everything they’re interested in, so we don’t think any of our designs would be the same if not for them.

Novogratz Collection for CB2 is gorgeous and truly diverse. It seems to beautifully reflect your eclectic style and ability to mix modern with classic pieces. Tell me about that amazing acrylic locker. What inspired that piece? What do you love about the collection overall?

We love CB2! It’s really a tremendous company, and the people who work there are amazing. Our goal for that collection was to bring a classic look to modern design. CB2 let us have complete freedom in the design process, which is really rare, but which almost always results in our best work. That locker was inspired by one we saw at a Paris flea market a long time ago. We’d always wanted to design a similar one, and CB2 was able to engineer a high quality locker that embodied the feel of the Paris locker. Whether modern or traditional, the key to great design is to achieve a timeless feel.

Let’s talk art! It is a integral part of life and your designs. What advice can offer to my readers on growing their personal gallery? 

Our best advice is to buy what you like. Go to galleries and museums, and start small. Photographs and prints are a great way to start a collection. If you’re ready to purchase something that’s more expensive relative to your budget, do your homework first.

You’ve traveled far and wide as a family. I can attest to this feat not being easy. What tips can you share on going abroad with your brood? Where do you love to go on vacation?

We have a home in Trancoso, Brazil, which is a really special place for us. We also love traveling to France, as we’re truly Francophiles. To keep the kids occupied while traveling we pack Mad Libs, and to keep them clean, we stock up on disposable, prepackaged toothbrushes. We also let each kid be responsible for his own carry-on suitcase. This makes traveling more fun for them and gives them a sense of responsibility, which is great. You can start them earlier than you’d think! It’s not easy traveling with such a large family, but we’ve just learned to not sweat the small stuff, both at home and while traveling.

You recently made the move to California. The west coast sounds perfect for your family. The kids will surely flourish there with so much to do outdoors. What inspires you most about California living?

Everything about it inspires us…the weather, the fresh food, and the laid-back vibe of the people here. Living a creative life is really about embracing change and being open to new ideas, and after so many years in New York, it’s wonderful to see how people on the West Coast are able to balance work and family life so gracefully. The environment has definitely rubbed off on us- we’d like to think we’re becoming a little more zen and settling down from the intensity of New York.

Let’s talk dream projects: is there one building or home or client you secretly dream of taking on? 

(Cortney)- Honestly, we think it would be a blast to help bring some color and style into the Duggars' home, from 19 kids and counting! We definitely know the chaos of having a lot of children and staying busy with all of their schedules, but we’re such believers that chaotic schedules shouldn’t keep you from living a life of style. We love how family-oriented they are, but every mom needs to treat herself once in a while, and Mrs. Duggar is no exception.

Your fans read your books for design insights and “ah ha” moments. What do you read for ideas and inspiration? Magazines? Books? Blogs? 

We love too many blogs to mention! We’re so grateful for how graciously the bloggers have helped us spread awareness of our new lines, including your blog. We feel it’s really a great way to be in touch with the rest of the world’s design aesthetic at such an individual level. As per magazines, Living, Casa Vogue, and Australian Vogue are some of our favorites. We’re also really inspired by fashion and design books, and keep a board in the office for pinning all sorts of inspiration images.

Finally… what truly excites you about your next project?

The ability to bring cool and affordable design to lots of folks.

If I admired them before, I believe they are genuinely amazing now. Bob & Cortney really "get it" that this life experience isn't a dress rehearsal. You've been given one precious lifetime to enjoy. Seize the day, embrace the moment and enjoy the ride - the ride you should take part in designing yourself.

As a creative professional and mommy of two growing forces of nature, it makes so much sense to me that the Novogratz have embraced the concept of work-is-life-is-family. Trying to keep these two worlds separate is fruitless and less fulfilling for all involved. Once I let go of that inner resistance and allowed myself to embrace the beautiful opportunities of exposing my children to my work and my work to my children, life (and business) flourished. It is not always easy and I've certainly had to make adjustments to succeed, but the blended life experience is rich with authenticity, creative inspiration and a feeling of "we're in this together" on a daily basis. 

This is something Bob & Cortney do with great aplomb and I can only hope we begin to see more examples of families like theirs in the future. 

Another aspect of the daring duo I respect is their creative integrity. To the outsider looking in, they've not compromised their distinct approach to life or design to become successful. Bob & Cortney celebrate their unique creative point (points?) of view which sets them apart within the interior design community. They have built a family of successful brands on their vividly colorful outlook on stylish living. They've published two remarkable books. They've conquered unbelievable renovations in cities all over the globe. They've become household names due to their successful television shows. They are truly a dynamic duo that shows no sign of slowing down or turning down the volume on their signature style. 

It's a beautiful thing and I can't wait to see what cool things the entire talented nine will do next. You can bet it will be authentic and truly creative, just like each of them. 

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