Designers Robert & Cortney Novogratz

Apartment Therapy Design Evenings - 06.13.12

Pin it button big

What: Apartment Therapy Design Evenings
Who: Robert and Cortney Novogratz
Attendees: 300 - Event Full!
When: Wednesday, June 13, 6:30-8:00pm
Where: ABC Carpet & Home | 888 Broadway NYC

We had a full house for our Design Evening with Robert and Cortney Novogratz! Read more about our evening below, or watch the evening's discussion via Vimeo.

Join us next month when we welcome Designer and Event Planner extraordinaire David Stark. Check out our Meetup page for details on future events, and to RSVP to upcoming ones.

We started out our 58th Design Evening with Jeremy Pickett's presentation of his custom stereo console. See the post about Jeremy's stereo console here, and learn more about Jeremy's company here. If you're in L.A. you can see Jeremy's furniture in person at the Dwell on Design conference going on June 22-24th!

Pin it button big
Pin it button big
Pin it button big
Pin it button big
Pin it button big

Main Presentation
Watch the full evening's presentation on Vimeo!

Maxwell:
Good evening, everyone. Before we get started this evening with the Novogratz', I wanted to share a few fun happenings at Apartment Therapy.

Pin it button big

First, we launched our new Classifieds system last month - we originally created this years ago, but we've now partnered with a company that offers much better selections, better images, etc. It's very localized, and as of today we have 2,382 sellers and 1,626 new items for sale. I spoke to someone last week who had posted on both our Classifieds system and Craigslist - apparently the person who wanted the item from Craigslist never showed up, while the Apartment Therapy person showed up, paid, and left. Very efficient, I was pleased to hear that! So, check it out when you're in the market for some great items.

We also recently launched our new video series. We featured two per week and call them Maker videos, or stories that we tell that we feel can't be told through posts. Both the Classifieds and the Video Series can be found on the left nav of our site.

Our guest next month will be David Stark, whom we recently partnered with for our first ever Internship Challenge. David came to us saying he was having a difficult time finding new, qualified interns, so we partnered with him to create the "Design Is Not Taught!" Intern Search. His team interviewed the Top 6 finalists last week, and will have a decision made this week. The intern they choose will get to work with David Stark's team for three months, and they also won the chance to plan the Apartment Therapy holiday party. We look forward to hearing more about how it's going when David joins us next month.

And finally, the Small, Cool Kitchens 2012 contest launches next month, so check out our site and vote for your favorite!

Maxwell:
And now, I'm very excited to introduce this month's Design Evening guests.

For over almost twenty years, Cortney and Robert Novogratz have developed and designed many unique properties in Manhattan and beyond, rebuilt (from the ground up) entire blocks in the city, and turned funky into fabulous, with every detail considered and executed with the utmost taste, confidence, and luxury.

The Novogratz' first book published by Rizzoli, Downtown Chic, has become a best-seller worldwide. They have a second book coming from Artisan this October. Their TV show, 9 by Design, was a hit on the Bravo network. And now they have another huge tv hit, Home by Novogratz on HGTV. The second season is shooting now and will premiere in June. Home by Novogratz has been broadcast in Canada, and is currently airing internationally.

The duo currently live with their seven children in a 10,000 square foot glass house on Manhattan's West Side Highway. The home was also featured in the New York Times Home section, in a cover piece, "Branding the Family".
Please welcome Bob and Cortney.

Bob:
Thank you so much, it's amazing to be here tonight. ABC Carpet is one of the first places we visited in New York when we arrived here 20 years ago, so it's always great to have a reason to come back here. Part of our journey has been about inspiration, so bravo to ABC for giving us so much of that over the years.

I'd like to send out a second bravo to Jeremy. We're not that young but we are constantly inspired by new, young designers. They keep this industry fresh and interesting. It's inspiring to be around folks like Jeremy, so thank you to him as well.

Maxwell:
Here, here. So I usually start out these evenings by asking a bit about your background. I know you both are from the South. Where did you grow up?

Pin it button big

Bob:
I grew up in Northern Virginia, in a family of seven children. My father was a Colonel in the Army, and my mom, who was from Woodside, Queens, was a model.

Cortney:
I grew up in Columbus, Georgia, the youngest of five children. Growing up, I didn't always feel inspired, and I recognized that from an early age. My mother renovated a lot, though, and I knew that I liked that, and found that to be one of my early inspirations - knocking down walls, renovating spaces, it really worked for me.

Maxwell:
So you both come from large families. Did both of your siblings leave the South as well?

Cortney:
Few people leave the South. For me, I have a lot of family there, so when we go back it's easy to see everyone at once. Only one of my siblings left as well and moved out to L.A.

Bob:
We were suburban kids, yet I felt very inspired growing up. Most likely because our parents instilled a lot of self-confidence in us. All of my siblings have gone on to do something great - for example, my sister Jacklyn started a hedge fund, and her husband is one of the Founders of TED talks. I constantly heap praise on my parents for what they did for us growing up, they really deserve the credit.

Maxwell:
So where did you meet?

Cortney:
We met at a party in North Carolina and got married a few years later. It was...

Bob:
...wait, wait. Here's the full story!

We met at a party, and I asked Cortney if she was a model or an actress. Then I said wait, you're too short to be a model so you must be an actress. Her rebuttal was, "If I was taller I'd be a super model and wouldn't be talking to you." She got me.

Cortney:
From there we disappeared from the party and basically weren't seen by anyone for three days. We decided during that time that we wanted to get married.

Pin it button big

Bob:
Yes, although we didn't talk about having seven children at that time. We just knew that we both wanted a lot. And we couldn't do this without each other.

Maxwell:
So you came to New York, but I'm curious about your first encounters. Many come here and find it daunting - too expensive, too tough, etc. Did you ever feel that? How did you dive in and take on renovations like you did in a city like this?

Bob:
You know, we rejoice in living in NYC every day, and feel humbled that we can live here and do what we love. When we first got here I was in finance, and did that for a little while. I also did event planning, and found that I love throwing parties. In the early 90's, we flew in some dudes from Austin, TX and Georgia, booming music scenes at the time. The parties were fun, and successful - nine of our friends met and got married after meeting at our parties.

Cortney:
The parties really helped us stay afloat here, as we charged for them.

Maxwell:
We have a good family friend who often says that some have money, but few have style. We know you have the latter, but how did you pay the rent at first?

Cortney:
The first building we bought we put everything into it. And, we were planning our wedding at the same time. We bought it 2-3 years after we moved here.

Bob:
We really wanted to do something cool. We found our passion, and vice versa.
Really, the decision to buy the building stemmed from our parties. Money gives you security, but if you can make a living by doing what you love, that's the key. The parties started it and gave us the confidence to take a chance.

Maxwell:
So that first building was really a first deep dive into the unknown.

Bob:
Exactly.

Maxwell:
Now, you have a tv show, products, and design clients, but you say that your true business is real estate. Finding undervalued properties and turning them into something.

Cortney:
Yes. And our advantage has always been that we are outsiders. Most New Yorkers don't see the potential in these properties, at least they didn't when we started doing this.

Bob:
We opened a Girls' Club in the East Village recently and we were over there yesterday. The most exciting part of it, besides what it will mean to the girls, is the construction piece. We really love the whole renovation process, or we wouldn't have done it so many times! So if we could, we'd love to show you a bit about the various buildings we've renovated.

SLIDES

Pin it button big

This slide is (Bob's) father's handwriting. He went to West Point and has great penmanship.

Cortney:
We'll be using it on the product lines that we have coming out soon.

Pin it button big
Images of us with our kids.
Pin it button big

Bob:
We've talked a lot tonight about taking chances. Things are constantly changing, and to stay relative you must change along with them.

This slide is an image of the first place we built in 1995. We looked at three apartments - none of which we liked, and we didn't like the co-op thing. At the time, places in Chelsea, the Village, and Harlem were going for around $200K. This building that we found was on the market for six years, and was formerly a SRO. It's in Chelsea, and we immediately liked this area. We thought, let's follow the gay community, the trendsetters. So we bought it.

Everyone we met told us not to go through with it. We put everything we had into it, and interviewed architects soon afterwards to figure out what renovating would cost. We got a high, middle, and low quote, the middle (the safest) being $20K. We just couldn't spend that kind of money after the purchase, so we hired a draftsman for $400, bought a measuring tape, and did it ourselves.

Cortney:
So tons of things happened on this job. One of my favorite stories is when we rented a refuse container. We got to the site the next morning and noticed that all of the neighbors had put all their junk in it! Being Southerners we just didn't anticipate this at all. So, we got used to filling it up each day as quickly as we could so that wouldn't happen again. We really learned on the job.

Bob:
Yeah, it was really incredible. Everyone had an opinion about what we were doing. We made a million mistakes, but luckily, none of them were huge or non-fixable. It was a great education. We felt like we were really living, which was very exciting.

Maxwell:
So tell us one mistake that you made.

Bob:
Ok, so Cortney hired this guy out of the yellow pages to do some of the construction work. His name was John Gotti. Now, we were still relatively new to the area and didn't know who he was at all. Meanwhile, he gives us a bill for $4,500 and we're in shock. We can't pay it. Cortney used her ways to talk it down, but it was tough. Once we figured out who he was we counted ourselves very lucky that we got out of that unscathed.

Pin it button big

We decided to paint it yellow. People loved it or hated it.

Pin it button big

Bob:
It's a two-family home. We always say buy a two family, or three, or four. So much rental potential in those. When we were looking for tenants we got a lot of celebrities that stopped by for some reason. We ended up renting to Suzanne Vega - she wanted the top unit, and agreed to pay handsomely for it. So we moved downstairs and gave her that unit. Her rent paid our mortgage five times over. When this happened, we knew we were onto something.

Maxwell:
How long were you there?

Cortney:
We lived there for about 1 ½ years. We stayed until we had a fifteen month old and I was pregnant with twins. During that time, we walked the streets looking for the next thing.

Bob:
Many folks told us it would take about 20 months to do the work we did. We try to do stuff fast, and we believe in doing it that way so we can keep moving forward. It took us 8 months to renovate. We lived in an apartment during this time. Then, we lived in this place while we were looking for our next place to renovate.

Pin it button big

For this one, we re-zoned commercial to residential. It's on Thompson Street, across from Café Noir, and again, at the time this wasn't the booming place it is now. The SoHo Grand Hotel had just gone up, and that really helped legitimize this part of the neighborhood.

Cortney:
At this time we were still on a tight budget. We were inspired by European architecture, so we did these unique flower boxes on the building. We brought our twin girls home there.

Maxwell:
Was this one more challenging?

Bob:
Yeah, we were a bit humbled by this one.

Pin it button big
Pin it button big

Cortney:
We didn't have any kind of art for the walls, so we went to Chelsea Flea Market and other places and picked up inexpensive drawings, etc.

Pin it button big

Bob:
We bought this lot for $500K. We cleaned out the lot, took the barb wire down. And then the next week, someone offered us $2,000,000 for it. We were very lucky and knew we had to flip it. Again, very few wanted these places at the time, and just a little cleanup did the trick.

Cortney:
We dream, but we also pull back. We had to pace ourselves, as we could only do one at once.

Maxwell:
Does adrenaline keep you going?

Cortney:
Yes. And in every house we had a new baby. We ended up having a christening in each new house, which was magical.

Pin it button big
Pin it button big

This is 24 Thompson Street now. We love the French influence. We bought old doors and windows in France. At the time we just wanted to get stuff out there and take a chance. You know, we have writer friends who will work on something for ten years. We just aren't like that - we produce and move on.

Pin it button big

Cortney:
For our next project we ended up designing two houses on one street. Fortunately, we found four empty buildings on Centre Market Place. We saw this block as very neglected.

Buildings 1, 2, 4, and 5 were for sale, but not building 3. We didn't want to build up super high since we didn't have the money to do so, but nonetheless, we leveraged everything we had (again) to get all four buildings.

No one saw our vision, and as we were trying to find buyers we felt we may be a bit stuck. And then right around this time, we did a NY Times interview. A Chicago couple saw it and called us to design one of the places for them. We ended up living in one, and selling the other three.

Pin it button big
Pin it button big

A view of 4 Centre Place after.

This is a bachelor's residence - he still lives there after all these years. We did a wine cellar for him as well. We had always designed for friends, but it was at this time, during these projects, that we started taking work on with outside clients.

Cortney:
We really loved living there. It felt like a big family between all the buildings.

Pin it button big

Number 5 was a former gun shop. This tells you a bit more about how we see things. You can really turn any space into something if you have the vision. Robert DeNiro's wife saw it and didn't even realize that her husband had filmed in that location. This place was fun - when we lived here we had folks stopping by quite often looking for the gun shop. It blew our mine. To us it was very unexpected, that so many people in New York would visit a gun shop!

Pin it button big

We slowly started getting better with our designs. We always had vision, but needed people to help us along. We find good people, give them the freedom to do what they do, and it makes for a much better end product.

Cortney:
As you can see, we started going a bit more modern at this point, although we still like to mix in some old elements. The lights we used in this place were from an old bridge.

As Bob said, we need people to help realize our vision. Often times there are very talented people out there who just haven't been discovered yet. We found a guy who helped us design and build a floating staircase, utilizing a skylight from his office in order to make more room for it to fit into the house.

Pin it button big

Inside the house we went very modern, with features like stainless baseboards.

Pin it button big

This is our current home at 400 West Street. The building was a motorcycle shop and one story - we decided to expand upwards and make it what it is today.

Pin it button big

Maxwell:
Is it complicated to navigate codes when doing something like building up?

Cortney:
You need a good expeditor, that's for sure.

Bob:
And we've found that NYC is willing to work with you, it just takes time, and patience, to navigate the system.

Cortney:
Calculated risk is always taken into account. We tell clients the same thing - think about what makes sense. The property often dictates the rules. Here, being on the highway, we knew we could part art on the outside of the building as well.

Pin it button big

Inside we have a half basketball court - we knew we wanted a large family, so features like this make sense, since we knew it would be used all the time. We put a basketball court on the roof of our last house.

Bob:
An interviewer asked us once why we put our family through a move every few years. As you can imagine, we were a bit taken aback - we're moving them from one great house to the next, so it's pretty much a no-brainer for them.

Pin it button big

Bob:
Trancoso, Brazil. Our friend Alex, a Designer, told us about this cool town. So we go and visit. And it's on the beach. Alex wanted to sell his house, but we weren't sure we could actually buy it, given the laws in Brazil (if we'd really have ownership of it or not). Our Accountant wasn't sure, but he went to the Consulate and found out that it would be legitimate. So, we went through with it.

Staying in Trancoso, we found the hotels to be quite expensive, but the house itself wasn't. We finished the house about 7 or 8 years ago.

Cortney:
We rent the house out during the year and make the mortgage and then some. For us, travel is very important, and we love having a house overseas.

Bob:
As we've found, real estate is also very steeped in fear, especially overseas real estate. We found that many people were afraid to visit us at first. Our town is very safe, but people believe the media, and often live in that fear.

Cortney:
We always wanted to own something overseas. It's amazing there - we sketch on a napkin and they just go ahead and design beautiful furniture and other things for us. It's also not very Americanized down there. Few people speak English. These days, it's hard to find places like that.

And yes, if you're wondering, we're learning Portuguese.

Pin it button big

This is a treehouse that we built and designed ourselves. We let both friends and charities use it. The showers are tree trunks. It's great when you can use the home's surroundings in the design.

Pin it button big

Cortney:
The book is really about our entire journey.

Bob:
Rizzoli published it. We negotiated this and the Bravo deal at the same time.

Pin it button big

Cortney:
We were approached to do a show after renovating our first house. Everyone tried to turn us off to this idea, but at the same time, reality TV was still in its infant stages, and we thought, what the heck.

Bob:
We just went for it. When people liked it, of course they were like, oh, you made the right call.

Pin it button big

During Bravo, we got approached to do our first hotel. It's right on the beach in Long Branch, NJ. We also did a Fred Segal store in Santa Monica, a bowling alley - very fun stuff, and very different than working in residential.

Pin it button big

In the rooms we tried to do fun things. Chalkboard walls, funky wall hangings. We told them we wanted to be involved in every aspect of the design, from naming the hotel, to choosing the bell hop uniforms, to designing all details of the rooms.

Bob:
We paid a lot on this one, but we really wanted to create something great. The best things we've done weren't on big budgets.

Cortney:
Every room has a handmade flag from a coastal country.

Bob:
We met the flag designer, Anna, through a SoHo store. We've been working with her for about 10 years now. We never met her or spoke on the phone at first, but we totally hit it off. A year after the show, her business really exploded.

Pin it button big

Our new show is on HGTV. We're now out of reality TV and into a true design show.
The Fred Segal store, Tony Hawk's ski house, and this bachelor pad have all been featured on the show.

Pin it button big
Pin it button big

Our paint line came from doing the show. We also have a few other partnerships.

Pin it button big

This is our product line with CB2.

Bob:
What's great about CB2 is that we love the people. Our first one-hour meeting turned into a five-hour drinking fest. They're great people, and they believe in us, and that's what matters. So, we'll see how it goes with this new line.

Q&A

Bob:
Before we go to the Q&A, we wanted to give everyone here tonight a little gift.
Novogratz is all about team and family. It really takes a village to keep it going. We always get these friendship bands in Brazil and hand them out to family and friends. You are to wear them until they fall off, for good luck and friendship.

How do you deal with stress during projects, and what happened to the gun in front of your gun shop? It was a bit of a landmark in its day.

Cortney:
The gun is actually still there, in the new location. As for stress - well, wine helps. We also find talking it through is always a good strategy. We also try to keep the big picture in mind.

Bob:
We also always finish and follow-through, which is key.

These days, you can't buy a house for $300K or $400K. What's your advice for finding real estate gems?

Bob:
The facts are that interest rates are at an all-time low. Figure out how many you can fit in a home (2-family, 3-family) and work it from there. It's worth it, but you need to be fully ready when you dive in.

Maxwell:
Any suggestions for up-and-coming hot areas?

Bob:
Not many in Manhattan. The Lower East Side a bit, and near the High Line are still good. And of course, Brooklyn has been hot for a while and it's still climbing upwards.

Maxwell:
Here is a question that was sent before this evening:

What do you consider your biggest attribute/break in getting to where you are today?

Cortney:
Meeting Robert. Two heads are better than one, and none of this would have happened without us, as a team, meeting the challenges together head-on.

Bob:
We don't take any of our successes, or failures, too seriously. And we continue to keep it fun.

• Special thanks to Kayne Elisabeth Rourke for transcribing our Meetup!
• Special thanks to our volunteers, Gabriel Sperber & Kortnee Mcclendon!
• Images: Apartment Therapy




Thanks to our host and sponsor, ABC Carpet & Home!



Thanks to our June wine sponsor, M. Chapoutier's Luberon "La Ciboise" Blanc!

CHP_Logo_300dpi.jpg
CHP_LuberonBl-10_bottle_300dpi.jpg