Walking through the living room of their historic rental house near the Chateau Marmont, husband-and-wife designers Robert and Cortney Novogratz are excited to point out some of their latest creations.
They start with a vintage-inspired black dining chair for CB2 ($299). “Go ahead and sit in it,” Robert says as he plunks it down on the floor. I do, while admiring its weight and kid-friendly faux-leather. There are also colorful personalized pillows for Shutterfly ($39.99) and a fleece “Family” blanket for Old Navy ($15).
The couple are best known for their fun interiors, which mix vintage and modern decor with funky finds, and whimsical additions such as indoor basketball courts. They made their mark initially more than 20 years ago by gutting and renovating rundown buildings in New York and then selling them for a huge profit. Their success led to hotel and retail design (they designed the Babakul store inside Fred Segal Santa Monica), books, reality television and, now, product development.
After moving to Los Angeles in August, the quintessential New York couple seem to have adapted easily to the Southern California lifestyle, setting up an office in their dining room and shuttling Wolfgang, 17; Bellamy, 16; Tallulah, 16; Breaker, 13; Five, 9; Holleder, 9; and Major, 6, to four schools across the city.
The most surprising thing about the celebrity house flippers, however, is not their self-taught design savvy or extensive brood but their seeming down-to-earth sensibility.
When we sit down to discuss their latest products, the conversation veers from work to children, team sports, Los Angeles neighborhoods, teen angst and, of course, schools. Cortney laughs easily when poking fun of her “inadequate” camping skills on a recent school trip to El Capitan State Beach. “I’m from New York,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t know how to build a fire!” Just before a photo shoot, the Novogratzes were pulled in many directions, just like any other family: There was homework duty, Five practicing the drums and Wolfgang, who plays guard at Harvard-Westlake, shooting baskets in the backyard.
But they’re not just any family. Their lives have been well documented in print, social media, books and in two design-focused reality shows. And there is much to discuss when it comes to their latest branding efforts. In September, the couple launched a bedding and bath collection for Walmart.com. In October, they introduced a collection of pillows, quilts, prints and ornaments for Shutterfly.com. In addition, they added products to their tabletop collection for Macy’s.
Robert and Cortney say that their boldly graphic, colorful designs are, for the most part, fueled by their children. “We stay on top of trends through our kids,” explains Cortney. “We love color, words and pictures of our family.”
Their children also influence their branding. Google the design duo and you will find very few photos of them without their children. Their son Breaker, in fact, recently created a video for their newest design for Old Navy.
Some of their design inspirations stem from the people they met while working on their HGTV show “Home by Novogratz.” “We got to travel the world for our show and see both high and low,” Cortney says. “There was one universal: Everyone wanted something bright and cheerful.”
But is selling their furniture at a discount store like Walmart, which has been criticized for its business practices, a smart move?
Brand expert Liz Dennery Sanders thinks so. “Many designers have taken advantage of creating lower priced lines to reach the masses – look at the success of lower end collections from the likes of Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren,” she says. “They do seem like a good fit for a well-designed home line for the masses. With seven kids of their own, I’m sure they’re often looking for a bargain, too!”
Robert admits it is a risk. “People have come up to us at dinner parties and complained,” he says, adding: “Our goal has always been to bring fun and modern design at an affordable price-point for the masses. In general, because we’re able to work with a variety of retailers, we can reach a diverse customer base and tap into a growing demographic of Americans who are exploring and experimenting with color, patterns and fabrics in their designs.”
What’s up next for the Novogratzes? The parents are working on four design projects in New York and a book on their Brazil home for Rizzoli. They are also exploring a back-to-school initiative for Walmart next year.
And after spearheading so many fabulous flips, the question is raised: Where will they settle in Los Angeles?
“Maybe we’ll just redo a strip mall,” Cortney says with a laugh.