September 10th, 2012
Cortney Novogratz, Virgo Mom
Virgo supermom Cortney Novogratz and her Aquarius husband Robert are the inspired interior design duo behind HGTV’s Home By Novogratz (airing Saturdays at 7p.m. EST) and the former Bravo show 9 By Design. Cortney’s seven kids have lived in the family’s houses as they have been renovated, restored, and eventually sold, and accompany her and husband Robert on many of their design jobs. You can read the family’s personal journey in their book Downtown Chic. Momstrology chatted with Cortney about how to decorate for a family, traveling the world with kids in tow, and the astrology behind it all! by Tali Edut & Carrie Ronge
Tali: Hi Cortney! You’re in paradise right now, your home in Trancoso, Brazil, yes?
Cortney: Hi Tali! I sure am. It’s wonderful. I’m actually sitting on my deck and looking at the ocean. It’s just amazing here.
Tali: Getting there with 7 kids must have been such a journey…
Cortney: Yes, but I learned a long time ago though if I want to make it through life, with kids or without, I just have to keep going. We make a lot of friends boarding the plane, but we also make a few enemies. That’s okay.
Tali: I’ll bet. Well, the kid haters can step to the left. So, your show “Home by Novogratz” has gone on for a Season 2. I’m not surprised. What was your favorite project from this season?
Cortney: Well, first of all we’ve had a blast with HGTV. This next season we really were able to push the envelope with some of the designs that we did. We have really interesting clients from true New Yorkers to doing Tony Hawk’s ski house in Mammoth Lake, California. We took a few of our boys, and they got to snow ski and skateboard with Tony Hawk. That was a fun job. We really got into our style a little more, and there’s a lot of great design tips. So, it’s been a fun great season.
Tali: Well, speaking of design, I’d love to ask you a few decorating tips for the moms out there. How can moms keep their home décor style or at least integrate it when baby is on the way?
Cortney: On our show, we do a lot of homes with kids. It’s kind of impossible not to have a few plastic things once you have children, but I also try to keep that at a limit. Fortunately, there are a lot of great design home products now, and we’ve come a long way. Cribs have gotten a lot nicer. Definitely have great bookshelves where you can have their books and containers filled with superheroes. The biggest thing thing though is to just keep things fairly stylish. Otherwise it breaks your spirit a little bit if you’re taken over with kids’ stuff. You think, “Oh, I don’t feel sexy anymore, I can’t keep my marriage alive.” The things around us really do either break us or inspire us.
Also with kids you constantly have stuff coming in, just junk. You don’t even know how it ended up in your house, but before you know it, you’ve gotten so many things. At least three times a year you have to declutter. Donate it, have a tag sale or yard sale, or just give it away; you have to organize—and that means every room in your house including your kid’s room. And again, less is best. We went into this couple’s home, and their daughter loves dress up. She must have had at least fifty pair of plastic high heels! It was almost like Toy Hoarders, in a sense.
I also always recommend in your kid’s room some kind of stylish, comfortable chair. So that way you can sit and read to them. You can hang out more in their room. It can be a great chair that you love and as they get older, you can always move it into your family room or your bedroom. I have a three-year-old and my oldest is fourteen, so I also recommend having some kind of work area, some type of desk. Even if they’re young and are doing Legos on that desk, they soon will be doing homework. They really need a little area to call their own.
Tali: Now I’m starting to hear the Virgo come out! When I first found out that you’re a Virgo, I thought, “Wow. I wouldn’t have guessed that, because she’s so laid back and chill.” Virgos ARE known for being super organized and practical—and I know you create stylish organizational systems on the show. How do you feel like you fit as a Virgo?
Cortney: Well, I’ll tell you this. My daughters are Virgos, too. I brought them home from the hospital on my birthday. They’re born two days before me, so it’s kind of funny that the three women in our house are all Virgos. I have that kind of thing where I am organized. I obviously wouldn’t be able to raise seven kids without having a great sense of organization, but I also don’t take anything too seriously. So, that might be the opposite of Virgo. I believe at the end of the day it’s about enjoying yourself. Also, my kids have helped me with that. If I were to take anything too seriously, they definitely knock me down a few pegs. They would just say, “That vase you liked, it got broken. Sorry, Mom.”
Tali: That’s right. You can’t keep everything all perfect and clean. Do you like a lot of white in your home? I find that a lot of Virgos really like a clean white color scheme. I know in your design you use a lot of bright colors, but if you had it your way, would you use a lot of white?
Cortney: Yes. I definitely would have to say yes. My last two homes have both been white. Sometimes white as a design color is a very safe place when it comes to a tight budget, because white looks good no matter what. It could be the finest material like a high-end white linen or it could be a really inexpensive white cotton. Chances are, it’s still going to look great. So, you can kind of hide that budget and the cost by playing with white. But with art and with textiles I do like splashes of color.
Tali: You and your husband Robert are so great with color. And you have your eco-friendly paint line with Stark Paint. Are you guys still doing that?
Cortney: Yes, we are still doing that. We found that across the country, people were having a hard time choosing color. They found it very overwhelming to go to a paint store and there’s like a 100 shades of blue and 100 shades of red. I thought, “It doesn’t really need to be that complicated.” So we broke down a paint line where if you want to go with bold colors, these are bold colors. If you want to go with more conservative, these are more conservative. For example, there are two whites: one for your ceiling and one for your walls or for your crown molding. So there aren’t ten shades of white. It’s what we recommend that works. We just tried to keep it simple, because I think it can be overwhelming when there are so many options on the market.
Tali: Right! There are so many options already with kids and then you have to figure out… a paint color?! I also noticed you named some of the colors after the kids, which is adorable. Are any of your kids showing an interest in perhaps getting into the family business one day? Do any of them like to help out?
Cortney: They definitely do. We have a few of them that if we move a chair, say from the kitchen into the living room, they immediately take notice. All of them have a design sense. Some aesthetically are more like (mine and Robert’s). Some are like really pushing it and out of the box, which is great.
Tali: Are Five and Holly [Cortney’s twin boys] the out-of-the-box ones by chance?
Cortney: Yes, Five and Tallulah we homeschool, so one of the bedrooms is pretty much a classroom. Five really had a say in what he wanted it to look like, and I love that…considering that he is six years old. He said he wanted this and that. He chose the paint colors. It was really nice that he got into the design part of it all.
Tali: Well, he’s so lucky that he has a mom that supports that. I noticed that Five and Holly are Aries boys, and they can be really strong willed. They need to have that energy channeled into a creative outlet. I noticed your Twitter feed Holly was taking his first guitar lesson. Does he like to go by Holly or Holleder now?
Cortney: [Laughs] He likes to be Holleder now, which is hard. When I’m angry with him I do call him Holleder, but when I’m being loving normally he’s just Holly. Now we have to make that an effort to call him by his proper name, because that is so important to him.
Tali: Yes, Aries boys are guys’ guys. I’m married to an Aries guy, and they’re great at tinkering with little things. They need to use their hands and their heads.
Cortney: Yeah, and that’s why Legos are so great. They can stay for hours and tinker away. [Editor’s note: Tali’s Aries husband was obsessed with Legos as a boy and even went by the nickname "Lego"...moms of Aries boys, here’s a toy that can occupy them for hours!]
Tali: Yeah, it’s so fascinating to see. We are more than just our sun sign. I know you’re a Virgo, married to an Aquarius. Do you have different parenting styles or do you agree on most things?
Cortney: Well, I think becoming a parent is a great gift. It’s also a challenge if you want to really do it the best you can and do it right. We’re constantly as learning as designers, and as parents. We constantly—even with designs—keep growing. When it comes to our work and design, we are very similar. With raising the kids, which is also our work, what ultimately is the most important to us is finding the best outcome. Even if we disagree about something, we ultimately have to work as a team. Our daughters just turned 13 this fall, and we’re entering the teenage years. This year has been full of “Whoa…let’s hold on to our seats, and try to co-parent together even though we feel one way or the other.” And I think it will only get more intense, in a good way, because they are becoming these amazing people in our lives. We disagree at times, but I think we agree to always agree at the end. We ultimately want the same success with raising our kids and in our careers. I think it’s nice that we can kind of lean on each other even if we don’t see eye to eye.
Tali: Your relationship has its own chart too, which is a midpoint of your two charts. So, every relationship kind of has its own personality. You and Robert together are a Sagittarius with a Cancer moon. When couples are a Sagittarius, they’re very lucky. It’s all about expanding, traveling, and exploring the world. Sagittarius is also the sign that rules publishing, and your second book is coming out this fall (October), also titled Home by Novogratz. What kind of tips can we expect to see in the book?
Cortney: What we’re most excited about is that these are all projects that we’ve done for other people. It’s not our personal projects, which is how it was in our first book. The neat thing is that we broke it down. We give you the budget for every space. There are about 30 different projects. We give you a “before” photo—not just one, but several. And toward the end of each chapter is the “after” photo. We broke it down with lots of humor, telling funny things that happened along the way. Also, why we chose certain things based on the budget, and how we tackled the wish list of the client. It really spans a wide range of clients, which is great. Throughout the entire book we have a part [called] “Ask the Expert.” Mario Batali gives advice about the kitchen. Betsey Johnson gives advice about color, and Tipper Gore gives advice about photography and how to really capture that one great photo in nature. So, it’s not only my husband and I together and all the things we have learned that we share, but it’s also people we rely on to give advice. It’s not only a great, beautiful design book, but it’s full of “how-to’s.”
Cortney Novgratz’s Tips for Stylish, Functional Kids’ Rooms
“The things around us either break us or inspire us,” says design-guru Cortney. Here are her decorating tips for stylish mamas:- Get the kids in on the decorating! This allows them a voice and helps them to be aware of their surroundings. Ask them to tell you their favorite colors and talk it through from there.
* Get yourself a great, comfortable chair for the kid’s room to sit and read in. Later, you can bring it out into the living roomManage the influx of junk by decluttering three times each year: donate it, have a tag sale, give it away…just get it out!
* Keep plastic to a minimum
* Invest in great, stylish bookshelves for the kids’ rooms and chic containers for their toys
* Always build desks for the kids. They might start out playing Legos, but soon enough they will be doing their homework on those same stations
* Let them play dress up with your old clothes instead of turning them into “toy hoarders” with kid-sized costumes.
Tali: And a Virgo would know how important that is. When you see something you like, you probably want to go make it yourself right then and there. I read that both you and Robert’s parents were design enthusiasts, so you have a family history of design. Were you like this as a little girl? What was your own room like as a little girl?
Cortney: Well, I definitely loved design. I constantly kept changing my room. I asked my mom (I grew up in Columbus, Georgia) to take me to Atlanta, which was the bigger city, to get me cooler design things. I was the youngest of five, so when everyone went off to college I took things out of their rooms slowly but surely, and if I liked them, I put them in my space. I also kind of knew I wanted to have a large family early on. It felt kind of lonely when everyone went off to college. I don’t think it ever really registered that I would be this great designer or have this great family with a lot of kids. There were those kind of turning points where I was like, “Oh I’m enjoying this!” and “I like this!” I guess it did all play out. When you become a young adult, you just start gravitating towards the things that feel good and feel right.
Tali: You just decided to go with the flow it sounds like. That sounds like your overall mantra in life. You have this amazing ability to just go with the flow. I guess you have to with seven kids.
Cortney: Yeah, you definitely have to. I’m also very aware that it’s my life, and it’s my husband’s life too. I’m also blessed to have seven healthy, amazing kids. There’s a lot we still want to do, but you can’t do everything at once. You kind of have to live in the moment of where you are at the time. Again, we never put a finger on how many kids we would have; we just knew, “Yeah, we want a lot.” Fortunately, we can have them very easily. Now raising them, (laughs) now that can be intense sometimes. Just about the time I think, “Oh, we’ve got this down,” I get a call from a teacher or one of them comes to me with a problem. I think, “Oh that’s right.” Leave it to one person every now and then to rock the boat a little bit.
Tali: That’s what keeps it interesting, right?
Cortney: (Laughs) Exactly. Yup. So, I definitely go with the flow, but we try to create opportunities for things we’re interested in doing.
Tali: What are you interested in doing next? I looked at your chart and it looks like there’s some international expansion perhaps coming for you in the year ahead. Is that on the horizon? Are the Novogratz being called to other parts of the world besides Brazil?
Cortney: Yeah, we definitely are. We have had a few projects thoughout the years. We’ve been recognized in a lot of shelter magazines—which has been great—internationally. We have to obviously pay our bills, but we also have to choose the right kind of projects just for the fact that we have seven kids. For example, we were offered a job in Mexico. We went down last spring break. We said we would come look into this if we could bring all our children down. [Robert and I] can totally split up and conquer sometimes and divide between kids and work, but it needs to fit and make sense. Some of these projects are in the works, but we’ll definitely do them along with bringing our kids to them as well.
Tali: Would you ever see yourself homeschooling all of the kids?
Cortney: I don’t think it’s the right fit for some of them. Some of our kids really enjoy their schools. They enjoy, say, running for class office and some of the activities that the school offers that homeschooling doesn’t. Again, I don’t know the answer. I just try to take one year as it comes. Trying to raise seven kids in Manhattan is not an inexpensive task. So we just keep trying to find out for that year what’s the best for that particular child. And I really don’t know the answer. I mean there’s been time when it’s been overwhelming like “how could we possibly do this?” But when I take a deep breath and just kind of say, “we’re going to find a way, it just kind of works out that way.” I think it can be daunting because I do think your kid’s education is so important. But I think keeping a happy home and not being so consumed if whether you’re doing right thing is just as important. I don’t think all seven will be homeschooled, but that doesn’t mean we won’t add more to the mix.
Tali: It’s so interesting that with both sets of twins, one twin likes to go to public school and one wants to be home schooled.
Cortney: Exactly. Again it’s interesting because it’s never a perfect a situation, but it’s pretty great in the fact that both my sets of twins and all seven of my kids are really different. We have some that are top students, some that are not great students, some that are super creative, some that are athletes, and some that are not such great athletes. They kind of all have their thing. For me personally I flourished when I was in an environment where I did things I was pretty good at. I didn’t flourish when I was pushed in a situation where I wasn’t great at that. It doesn’t mean you can’t overcome those things, but I try to focus on what their strengths are by giving them real tools that say, “Hey, you could do this as a career, or you can do this for a while and it leads to something else.”
Tali: What do you love most about Robert’s fathering style? What do you admire about him as a dad and learn from him? Aquarius guys are so innovative with kids.
Cortney: Robert is having as much fun as I am, even during the most stressful times. I can clearly remember early on…we had three small children under the age of two, and somehow Bellamy as a little toddler turned on the water [in the sink] upstairs, and it flooded the house. It was just before we were hosting a dinner party, of course. People were coming over with their new small toddlers and babies, and it was total mayhem. We’re cleaning it up, and I took the carpet and threw it in the shower stall as we’re cleaning and trying to keep the young children from drowning in this pool of water. Then, the shower door fell when I draped the rug over it, and I literally was going to have a meltdown. I remember that Robert looked up at me and said, “Are you having fun yet?” (Laughs.) The five of us were stuck in this swamp of water with guests arriving any minute, and that’s how it is. He doesn’t get too worked up about anything; it takes a lot to really push him. He keeps it all like, “let’s have a good time at the end of the day.”
Tali: That chill Aquarius energy is such a good balance for the Virgo who might want everything done just so. So, just one more question for you. Some of the moms out there might be wondering how you get your inspiration for making each child’s bedroom unique? Do you talk to the kids? Do you observe them? Do you recommend that a mom include her child in the design process for their bedrooms?
Cortney: I think it’s our job as parents to expose and teach our kids loads. When it comes to design and decorating their room, it’s important for them to feel like they have a say. They will respect their room more, help take care of it, etc. What colors do they like? Even if they’re not into decorating, I feel it’s nice to have them understand their home, room, placement of furniture and to simply be involved. Kids being brought into family decorating is allowing them a voice and to be aware of their surroundings. I don’t think you give them total control—at the end of the day, we are the parents, and have the better taste (ha!) but sharing the process is one more thing to enjoy with your child.