Workaholic home design duo and reality TV stars Cortney and Robert Novogratz can’t even escape their job in a remote South American surfer village. On a recent five-week break to their home in Bahia, Brazil, with their brood of seven children, the Manhattan-based founders of the firm Sixx Design arrived to an e-mail from Kym Gold, former co-owner of True Religion Brand Jeans, offering them a new gig. Gold was familiar with last spring’s Bravo TV show “9 by Design,” which followed the Novogratzes juggling work and family life, and was about to start plans for her first retail space at Fred Segal Santa Monica for her contemporary women’s brand, Babakul.
“She was a fan of our show. We said ‘yes’ right away,” says Robert, 47, seated next to his wife at a vintage French lab table in the couple’s six-story West Street home. “We always wanted to do something in Los Angeles and we want to branch away from houses.”
Babakul at Fred Segal Santa Monica marks the first retail venture for the Novogratzes, who have spent 18 years developing and designing private homes in Manhattan and, in summer 2009, finished a boutique hotel, Bungalow, in Long Branch, N.J. And with a planned mid-November opening, the couple has been toiling away since the second they returned from Brazil. In two days alone during a visit to Los Angeles, they decided on floors, dressing room placement, lighting layout and where electrical outlets should be placed.
Babakul, which means “hippie” in French, will be a reflection of the couple’s design aesthetic of mixing vintage with modern, but will also incorporate Gold’s love of natural elements. The 2,500-square-foot space will be “white, airy and natural,” says Cortney, 39, with some pops of color and custom fixtures made of natural woods. There will be a library nook with art and fashion books, antique seating upholstered with Carolyn Quartermaine fabric, and an installation of black-and-white photos of Debbie Harry. “When people are buying a bracelet, we want it to be in something cool, whether it’s a gorgeous Champagne bucket or beautiful bowl, or maybe what’s housing the belts is a birch tree, something that’s really design-oriented and clever,” she explains.
With their children in New York, most of the work will be done here, save for a couple of trips to Los Angeles, but that is not to say the Novogratzes are not fully immersed in the project.
“When we’re lying in bed talking about my son’s new teacher, we go right into a conversation about the changing rooms and chandeliers. We work constantly, that’s the beauty of working with your partner,” Cortney says.
It will come as no surprise, then, that Babakul is just one of many endeavors the couple is juggling. Also in the works is a how-to-focused follow-up to their 2009 book, “Downtown Chic,” and a series of jobs, including renovating a Manhattan penthouse apartment for a high-end client, developing another boutique hotel called Cabana on the Jersey Shore and tackling a Palm Beach, Fla., home for a fashion brand owner, whose name they can’t reveal just yet.
“Some of our clients weren’t seen on the show [at their request],” says Cortney.
“Then they saw it [and] now everybody wants to be on the second season,” chimes in Robert.
And while they wait to see if “9 by Design” will be picked up for a second season, they’re keeping their options open.
“We’ve had a lot of networks [approach us],” says Cortney.
Their TV exposure has certainly added a jolt to their business (“It’s important for the branding side, selling books, hopefully a furniture line,” says Robert). Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a fan of the show, recently invited them to dinner at his house and asked if he could appear on an episode.
“Apparently he filmed something for ‘Sex and the City’ [the movie] and he goes, ‘But I got cut because they wanted more sex, not more city’ or something like that,” Cortney recalls, laughing. “Maybe he’ll hire us to redo a bathroom.” (More likely it will be “something for the city,” Robert suggests.)
Yet, despite the Novogratzes’ workhorse tendencies, Robert seems open to the idea of a break, at least from designing homes.
“We just sold our house in SoHo two weeks ago. We would sell this one and then do one more house and that would be it forever,” he says.
His wife begs to differ: “You always say that. The reality is we’re not going to stop, we have more ways to express ourselves.”