On the new Bravo show "9 by Design," she and her husband, Robert, juggle the challenges of growing their burgeoning home-design business (Sixx Design), writing a book about their design philosophy ("Downtown Chic") and raising a brood of seven kids in Manhattan. Sound impossible? Not for this inspirational aesthete! She kindly took a few moments out of her hectic day to share how she pulls it all off.
Momlogic: How'd you meet Bob?
Cortney Novogratz: It was definitely love at first sight! We met at a party in North Carolina -- a going away party for my sister. We just kind of picked each other up! We didn't know how many kids we would have, but we knew that having lots of kids was definitely something we were both interested in.
ML: You guys are self-taught designers, which is amazing! What was your first house like?
CN: I worked in finance for a while, and that's what gave us the funds to buy our very first building in Chelsea. We knew we wanted a large family one day, and we could probably make that work if we owned an individual house (instead of an apartment or condo). That's how we started our career! We were always into visiting flea markets and we loved architecture. Before we got married, we'd have old doors and windows under our bed and no place to put them! To be honest, our education really came from being on the job site. People thought we'd lost our minds when we bought that building. We'd spent all our money on it and had none left to renovate. We literally bought a measuring tape and became architects for ourselves, learning everything on the job. Sixteen houses later ... we're still learning!
ML: That's so inspirational! So few people in life put the energy into doing what they really want to do. With a newborn and two young twins -- as well as the older kids -- do you get any sleep?
CN: I'm probably someone who doesn't need as much sleep as most people! But I definitely catch up from time to time when I need to. Fortunately, Major has been such a calm and easy baby. My twin boys (they just turned five on Monday) wear me out -- Robert and I joke that if we'd have them first, we'd probably have stopped! But working with each other from our home, other than being on the job site when we need to, does allow us to be able to juggle it all. Doesn't mean that it's easy and that everything is smooth sailing, but we can be with the kids. I'm with Major all day long unless I'm running to a job site. All of our meetings are at our kitchen table. It's how we can manage. I do try to do everything while the kids are at school. Sometimes Robert will want to do something at four in the afternoon, and I'll be like, "Office hours are now officially closed!"
ML: Do you have help with the kids? Who shuffles them around from activity to activity?
CN: I do have help, because that's the only way I can do things! We have a young intern now who knows AutoCAD, went to Cornell and studies design, but she's also willing to have lunch with Major, pick up a present or take a kid to a birthday party if she has to. It's just part of growing our design firm. You can't have everything at home, but I realized I needed certain things to manage. We're fortunate enough to have space, so I learned a few years ago that I'd rather host all the playdates, because otherwise at five I'm running all around Lower Manhattan trying to pick up kids. I'll also try to bring tutors or coaches to our house, because it's too much otherwise.
ML: You guys are more productive in a day than most people are in a week or month! What's a typical day in your life like?
CN: Getting the kids up for school, on any given day they've left something on their floor -- homework, shoes, whatever. Right now they are going to three different schools. Two of the schools we can walk to, and my oldest son takes the bus. We try to get breakfast on the table, pack lunches and ... literally when everyone's out, I'm usually either making the beds with Major, finishing up the house; my babysitter will come in and we'll get to work at the kitchen table or go to the job site. We usually take our projects just in Lower Manhattan, because you usually have to be at a job site two or three times a day. This way we can pop by the kids' school and pick them up, things like that. A lot of times our contractor will swing by our house to go over issues or come after dinner. He knows he's going to sit at the table with whatever is going on. Just like everyone else, we try and do the best we can!
ML: How do you manage to muster up the energy for your creative work?
CN: I've always been someone who feels "the more the merrier," which is fortunate, because I don't have to carve out alone time for myself as much as others do.
ML: Do the kids like being on the show?
CN: Well, Major doesn't have much of a say! (Laughs) But the older kids have gotten into it. We spoke to them about it for about a year before we decided to do it, so they were a part of the process. The crew members were great -- some of them had kids and would bring them to work. Another had a dog and would bring him, and the kids would get to play with it all day. So there were a lot of fun advantages to doing it. And having more than one child, if someone wasn't in the mood, they didn't necessarily have to be involved. They could go to their room and do their thing. We were constantly communicating with them. They understand what we do for a living, and now they know how a whole TV show gets put together. Anyone that asks why we'd do it with our kids -- it was the biggest education they'll ever get! They can take the tools from this show and take them anywhere. And in 20 years, Major can watch the show and know what we were doing when he was born, which is kind of cool!
ML: How do you stay so calm and levelheaded with the kids? Is there anything you do to deal with stress?
CN: My mother-in-law is an amazing woman who also raised seven kids. After I had my fourth, we were building a house directly next door, and as soon as we brought the baby home, I had a contractor waiting on me to answer questions. I remember feeling overwhelmed, and I called her saying, "I feel like I'm having a nervous breakdown!" She said, "Have it and be done with it." So I locked the door to a room, had a nervous breakdown and that was it -- I got it out -- and I moved on to the next thing. It's not for everybody to move and do what we do, but if you live in the moment, you can do it.
ML: Your kids seem to really get along! How do you teach them to treat each other so well?
CN: Sibling rivalry is a big deal. It can get complicated. I've had my girls pull each other's hair! If the kids do get into an argument, they'll either use a fun game to try and resolve it with each other -- like rock-paper-scissors -- and I'll stay out of it. Unless it's a big, big to-do where we have to get involved, Robert and I tend to stay out of it and let them resolve it themselves. Otherwise, they are going to think we're taking sides with one or the other. We'll hear them screaming at each other, and before we know it, they're laughing. It doesn't mean we aren't active and involved; we just try and show them how they can figure it out themselves.
ML: How do you and Robert create time for each other? Do you still manage to go on dates once in a while?
CN: We work together, so our romantic time -- a lot of times -- is during school hours. A lot of times, couples don't see each other during the day, so date night is really important. But we actually see each other more during the workday. Weekends, we're both running around with what the kids have going on and we're splitting up. And there are moments when a few months go by and we feel a little less connected. So we'll go to lunch! But we love what we do. Doesn't mean that it's always roses, but we both have the same kind of investment in it.