In their new series, 9 by Design (which premiered April 13th on Bravo), NYC husband and wife team Bob & Courtney Novogratz oversee a booming design company – oh, and raise 7 kids all under one roof. Needless to say, they know a few things about staying organized. We hit up the artsy pair for their best tips on de-cluttering, designing with kids in mind, and their love of all things IKEA. – Andrea Zimmerman
What’s your best organizational tip for families?
Keep it simple. When new toys come in, old ones go out.
How do you stay organized with 7 kids?
We struggle like everyone else. Our older kids have their own desks, so they’re able to do their homework a little more easily, but it’s a battle. I’d like to say that every morning my kids make their beds, [but that's simply not true.] However, we do have a system: everyone knows where the laundry goes, although I have one or two kids who like to pick their stuff up and throw it on the floor. As far as dinnertime, whoever sets the table doesn’t necessarily have to clean up, and we alternate.
How do you mesh your personal style with your children’s taste?
We compromise. [For their bedroom], our daughters wanted blue, but I wanted pink throw pillows and a pink chandelier. It was hard for me to say, “Okay, you can have the blue,” but at the same time, we didn’t want to spend money on everything blue, so they picked one or two blue throw blankets for the end of their beds. There are no rules. If you take risks, you’ll usually end up with a great house that’s an expression of [everyone].
What family design pieces never go out of style?
I love IKEA desks right now; they’re very modern, sleek, and have drawers. IKEA also makes great bookshelves! You can put them in a child’s room, or in the living room – horizontally or vertically.
What’s an overrated design piece?
Cribs are always overrated. It’s tricky because they’ve changed the style where it’s not just cherry pinewood, which is great, but they’re also expensive, which doesn’t make sense because you don’t use them for all that long. We like IKEA cribs – the price ranges are great – but I haven’t found the best one yet!
How do you blend low-end pieces with more expensive ones?
My kids have twin trundle IKEA beds, but everything in their room isn’t IKEA. That’s what’s important – to mix super high-end things with super low-end things, and that’s the beauty of it. You’d be surprised – there are some great values out there! But you can’t do a whole house or apartment entirely in high-end or low-end.
Are there any pieces that should absolutely not be compromised?
High-end dishes. I don’t wait to pull out the fine china; I try to use my Thanksgiving dishes every day. I think people should enjoy all the things they own.
What’s off-limits in your house?
With seven kids, nothing is off limits! I grew up in a home where you couldn’t go into the living room, so we try to live very casually. Our kitchen table is indestructible. We used to have a gorgeous old farm table, but we switched to a modern table that’s industrial. The kids know that if they spill or get crayon on it, it’s okay. I prefer to go with white sheets and white slipcovers, because I can throw them in the washing machine with a little bleach. We’re relaxed people, but strict. We discipline our kids when we have to. Our real goal is to keep them humble; we don’t spoil them in the least. That being said, we’re relaxed people. You can’t stress over the little things with seven children; you have to be practical – but we still pull out our nice dishes.
Do your kids have chores?
They do. I’m the first to admit that some take it more seriously than others. The older kids do laundry, fold towels and set the table. They’re not vacuuming yet, but with every new house we move into, they have to get the sheets on the beds, get things laid out and put things away. We try to quickly move in and live as if we’ve been there forever. We work hard so we can play hard.
How should parents who love design get their kids involved?
Take them to flea markets and galleries! No matter what country we’re in, our kids want to go to local markets. They’ve started collecting things, too.
What’s the neatest thing you’ve found at a flea market?
Two old street coach lights from France. They’ve been in three different rooms; we’ll never sell them.
Bob & Courtney’s tips for balancing child-friendly yet still modern and stylish design:
- Keep an open floor plan and avoid clutter. Leave a space for the kids to run around and play, and aesthetically, it’s more pleasing to adults when there is a spacious feel, not to mention that your environment will look a lot bigger when it’s clutter-free.
- Use art in your projects as a major focal point, but make sure it’s protected from small hands. Never have sharpies in the house (we learned the hard way!), and protect art with plexiglass.
- Keep items that you want your kids to have access to low to the ground so they can reach them without help from a grown-up. From toys to a selection of dishes and clothes, so they can help set the table and get themselves dressed.
Bob & Courtney’s tips for a stress-free and successful move:
- Don’t start packing too far ahead because you’ll end up living in chaos for a longer period of time. Do it as close to moving day as you can without over-stressing.
- Choose one suitcase to hold everybody’s most important clothing, must-have things, and favorite outfits because it might take you a while to get settled and unpacked and find what you are looking for. This cuts down on an amazing amount of frustration.
- Before a move, spend time collecting boxes from the local grocery and liquor stores (they always have extra boxes!). And don’t throw newspapers out; save them to use as wrapping for all your breakables.
- This seems so simple, but so many people forget to do this: Mark each box clearly (in nice big letters) with what’s in the boxes so there’s no confusion as to what room everything belongs in once you start to unpack.
- Use moving as an opportunity to get rid of clutter and things you don’t really need or want. This is a great time to donate those items or give them to friends/family who can make good use of them.
- Rent a truck and enlist people to help you move. Your friends are no more likely to break things than the movers and they cost a lot less!
- If you have toddlers, pack while they’re asleep at night. Otherwise, you might find that they’re busy unpacking your boxes as you’re packing them! If this isn’t an option, let them have their own empty box to play with, and hopefully that will distract them long enough to get your boxes packed.
- Moving should be a fun experience, a new adventure for the whole family. Don’t dread it. Be excited, and the kids will feel the same way.