It was the late aughts, and Robert and Cortney Novogratz were looking to get a book deal. The married design duo had spent the past decade earning their stripes in the trenches of what could be described as “high-end house flipping”—they would take crumbling townhouses in New York, give them a bohemian-chic facelift, live in them with their seven children, then sell the homes at a profit. Now it was time to land a publishing contract, but the traditional approach of sending out inquiries wasn’t working. Finally they decided on a decidedly Novogratz-ian approach, and simply cajoled an editor to come visit their house. It worked, almost immediately, and the pair signed with Rizzoli.
“That’s kind of how we work: We’re touch-and-feel, in-your-face kind of people,” Cortney tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast.
The duo have brought a similar “hands-on, try-anything” approach to everything they’ve done over the past 25 years—and they’ve done a lot. There’s the luxury house flipping; the books; the reality series on Bravo and HGTV; licensing deals with The Shade Store, CB2 and Walmart; and their own branded line of product to boot. That’s not to mention the various side-hustles the two have developed over the years, from renting out their homes as movie sets to planning events. “We will zig and zag to figure out the opportunities,” says Cortney. “We’ve always tried to make our real estate work with us.”
At the moment, the biggest challenge at hand (aside from renovating a 100-year-old townhouse in the West Village) is to concentrate on building their own brand. It’s not easy. “Building a brand is damn hard,” says Robert. “You can walk around New York and see a lot of finance guys and real estate developers—they do pretty good. But you can count on one hand all the people who have built a home brand. … It’s hard staying relevant, the world keeps changing. ... In home, someone buys a sofa every 10 years. You can acquire all these customers and you have to figure out how to keep them buying from you.”
The solution? For The Novogratz, it’ll always be to keep hustling. “Anybody that has a business—it could be a deli, a dry cleaner, a restaurant—we all live the same hustle. We all get our hands dirty,” says Robert. “When we debuted our CB2 collection, they had this elegant dinner [to introduce us to] the 15 best editors in Chicago, and we were like, This is great! The next morning, we’re up at 5 a.m. to do the local ABC affiliate morning show, and we were the fourth talent—we were behind the monkey trainer. We were freezing in the cold for three hours to do this presentation with pumpkins that they made us get ourselves. That’s the hustle we continue to do. You’ve got to love it. If you don’t love it you’re doing something wrong.”