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Robert and Cortney Novogratz Do Up a Rockaway Surf Shack

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Today, Curbed sits down with Robert Novogratz, who, together with his wife and design partner Cortney, transformed a dilapidated "drug den" in Far Rockaway, Queens, into a comfortable beachside home for a pair of surfing sisters. The project was featured on the first episode of the HGTV show Home by Novogratz.

Photos courtesy of The Novogratz

Design duo Robert and Cortney Novogratz have been renovating and flipping residences in downtown NYC since 1996, but more recently have found fame for their decorating prowess on several television series, including Bravo's 9 by Design and HGTV's Home by Novogratz. Today, the Novogratz couple—and their seven children—command a burgeoning brand, with plans to partner with major retailers, launch a line of household paints, and more TV on the way, they don't look like slowing down soon. Here Curbed talks with Robert about the Far Rockaway project, balancing work and family, and some developments for the family brand.

Who are these "Surfing Sisters" and why did they move to Far Rockaway and not, say, California?
They had read a New York Times article earlier in the year, saying it was a nice place. They went to check out the house, but couldn't get in. They ended up buying it sight unseen. Turns out it had been seized by the state, from a drug dealer.

Yikes! We're they living in NYC previously?
Both were living downtown, one working in finance and one in art.

Can you give us a sense of what the house looked like before the transformation?
It looked like, well, a drug den. Stairs had boards pulled up, had to jump over a step to get upstairs. Broken windows everywhere. No kitchen.

This project, like many Novogratz designs, seems deeply personalized. How much input did the sisters have the design? Is there anything you wanted to do that they said no to?
They said no to nothing. Mentioned that they loved Betsey Johnson and pink. We didn't want too much of a surf vibe, not a hang-ten vibe. Just our own thing, with a few surf touches.

The off-beat works of [painter] Tony Carmanico and [screen print artist] Matt Siren fit perfectly in the beach house. Had you worked with them previously?
I've worked with Tony before and everybody loves Tony, but Matt was more of a risk. We pushed the envelope with that one but [the clients] went crazy over that. The right place and the right client.

The place is dramatic and complete, but also completely devoid of clutter. Is that decision on your part or just an inadvertent outcome of the way you work?
That's how we work. We usually have white walls and a lot of color through art and design. With the wallpapering in the bedrooms, we take more risks in there. We love "stuff"—I don't know if that's the best way to put it, but we definitely don't like clutter.

Do you and Cortney split duties or tend to collaborate on everything?
Depends on the job. This one we definitely split. I did the art, the staircase; she focused on the kitchen and the living area in this particular case. I usually do the art, she handles the furniture plan. We both run around and find cool stuff.

Moving on to your wider career, there's lots happening. What can we expect from the new season of Home by Novogratz? Any highlights you can share?
The new season, I tell ya, it's the third season of television we've done and will the be best by far. Tons of celebs: Tony Hawk, Wendy Williams, Tyson Chandler, Tipper Gore. Lots of travel, Mammoth, Calif., for Tony Hawk's place, Oklahoma, and a lot more art. We stopped down at Art Basel in Miami. It's a hybrid of the first two shows, a little more family. In the first season of Home by Novogratz, we did 13 projects in 18 weeks. There were some rookie mistakes, like construction scheduling, so this one is a lot more of the design.

We hear you're partnering with CB2! Congrats. What does the new line look like?
We're going to be the new face of CB2, so it's a big deal. New brand, FAMILY, going to feature the "family" rug in two colors. The rest of the collection has light boxes, dining room tables and chairs, lighting, and wall art. The rugs are out in July or August.

Can we expect to see those products featured on TV?
The family rug will be on Home by Novogratz, along with some of the light boxes.

And wait, do we have this right, you also have a new book coming out in October?
[Laughs] It's 312 Pages, Also called Home by Novogratz. Features 20 different projects some from last season. It's pretty cool, it's high end, it's low end. Twenty different designs that are pretty extreme and the budgets range from very high end to very inexpensive. It's a lot of how to and sourcing, it's pretty informative.

This is probably a frequently asked question, but, as the father of seven, do you find life as a designer conducive to family life?
Novogratz: It definitely is for us, though our employees might not agree. Kids keep you young and hip. They keep you relative, from music to art. You see a lot through kids. Oldest is about to turn 16. It just makes us more excited.

Since 9 by Design the kids haven't really appeared on television much. You said they'd be featured more on the upcoming season of Home by Novogratz?
A little more. We made the decision to keep them off. A reality-based show wouldn't work with us. They're getting harder as they're getting older.

Are you still living in that knockout of a townhouse on West Street?
Yes, we sold our house in Soho a couple years ago, which was great, so we haven't been pressured to sell. We're keeping the price, have had some lower offers that were rejected. I have to say though, things have really picked up. We've had four viewings in the last two days, and we had four in the last three years. Maybe it's partly the weather, but it's a sign that the economy is coming back.

Is there another big family project on the horizon?
We're looking at three buildings to buy, but we want to sell this house first. I got lucky getting out of debt and I don't want to get back in with seven kids. We're also looking to do retail stores and we have some new partners we're looking to align with around Christmas.

The Times of London called you "the coolest family in the world," that's pretty high praise. Who's your coolest person in the world?
Coolest person in the world? [Artist] Julian Schnabel, I don't know about cool but he's a pretty creative guy. I could tell you about guys like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, but we just don't have that anymore.

· All Featured Projects [Curbed National]
· Novogratz [official site]
· A Manhattan "Home by Novogratz" Created for Novogratzes [Curbed National]
· The Novogratzes Team With Stark on Eco-Friendly Paint Line [Curbed National]
· Watch a Sneak Peek of HGTV's New Home by Novogratz [Curbed National]