Cleaning Tips From 9 By Design's Cortney Novogratz

Jeanne Sager
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Photo by Tim Geaney
9 By Design has taken up a chunk of my Tuesday nights, but I know I can't be the only one watching seven kids, two parents, and a bunch of gorgeous houses and thinking: Where are the jam prints? The crayon on the walls?

I tracked down the mom from the new Bravo show and one half of Sixx Design, Cortney Novogratz, to find out how she keeps it clean in the midst of construction ... and those seven kids.

I drool over your houses, but with seven kids, I've got to know how you keep those places clean.

[Laughter.] Obviously I usually always have one on the market to sell, so that's incentive to keep it clean! We definitely have clutter, but I try to either have storage where I can quickly toss all the superheroes in a basket and throw them in a cabinet if people come over.

I do definitely try to get rid of a lot of clutter, but with the kids each week something new comes home. You don't know how it ends up in the house! But I try to always have our beds made and just try to live somewhat of an organized life. But there are definitely moments where the house isn't looking as good.

Not all my kids make their bed, but I at least push to have them do that. If you come over, you'll see there's still a few corners with stacked toys and newspapers like everybody else.

When you're designing a house, do you keep the storage space for clutter in mind?

Yeah. We're fortunate that we most of the time have space in New York, so if I'm building a new house, I do a lot of drawers and shelves for the kids' closets. So I don't need, say, a chest of drawers and furniture out in their rooms -- so they can wrestle and play and hang out.

There's always a place for their toys. Especially my younger kids, Five and Holly, they have everything from little superhero figurines to LEGOs to blocks. I do try to have a place for that stuff, because even if you're trying to quickly clean up, somehow the blocks get mixed in with the superheroes and then you never even know what you have.

I'm kind of -- maybe my husband would say I'm a freak in that sense -- but I've just learned that it's easier for the kids to know too. If one of the kids wants to play with blocks, he goes and pulls out the block drawer or block basket.

I do think kids should have a place for everything. When you come in our house, there are several hooks, so they immediately hang up their jacket and their backpacks, just so their stuff doesn't end up all over the place.

I hate to harp on cleaning, but we're redoing our bathroom right now, which I think has taken two years. But you're always living in a construction zone, how do you keep up with that?

Well it's a nightmare. I have a new client who just moved into a house we built for her, and I've got wonderful cleaning girls who've worked with me in the past. They come in and scrape the new stickers that are on the toilet, mirror, and vanity and clean out the drawers in the kitchen before you put your new things in them.

It's an undertaking, and it can be overwhelming. In one of the episodes, you even see my kids really trying to clean the new windows. Of course, my contractors start screaming.

But I try to put tarps up if they're still doing things. I've been up nights wiping stuff after the kids have gone to bed because it just seems like it can never be clean when you're renovating and living in that space.

It's just part of it. Renovating isn't for everybody; I'll admit I kind of do like it. But nobody likes dust. If you're still renovating your bathroom, it's a nightmare to live in it!

But there are no tricks other than trying to clean and be on top of it. I do see people sometimes get defeated, and I can relate and understand, but then nobody wins. You've got to have a decent home. You've to clean up!

Is your job tougher because you live in these places, or does the fact that your kids were raised this way -- they don't know any different -- make it easier?

We've spent three years at a time in the same house. I know this show makes people think we move every year, but we don't move every year. We've moved quite a bit.

I try to get the places organized as much as I can. For example, this last house, we did move in and the first floor wasn't done. But I made sure every night the guys locked up their game box. I put it in the corner where it wasn't front and center.

I remember we had a party, and I put a tablecloth over it and just put all the presents on that. People didn't even realize it was the construction guys' game box where they had their saws and tools and everything!

I immediately try to create order. Get rid of the boxes, hang pictures, make it your house, and try to disguise the fact that there's still working going on. Ideally in a perfect world, I wish I had the money to move in and everything be perfect, but we just don't. As soon as it's good enough to go in, we're in because we're usually paying rent somewhere else.

With 7 kids, organization has got to be one of your main goals!

Yeah.

What are some tips you can give other parents on having a bunch of kids running around the house -- whether they're your kids or a play date?

I've learned the hard way and have continued to learn the hard way. I actually do like children coming over to my house.

It means I don't have to run around and pick all my kids up from various other homes. I don't mind having children come by. It means we're usually able to have dinner together as a family.

As soon as kids come in, I'm pretty strict especially because in a townhouse we live vertically. I make sure kids leave their backpack on the first floor; otherwise, your mom or nanny comes to pick them up, and you're going to have to walk five flights up to try to find it.

With my kids, if it's a birthday party, I try to always have it on their actual birthday day. Life gets busy, and if you're not able to have it on that day, it's like two weeks later, and you're trying to figure out what to do for that child's birthday party?

It doesn't have to be that complicated; you can just have a bunch of kids over and watch a movie, play a game. As long as you bake a cake and they blow out candles, it's kind of fun. It makes it special enough.

Otherwise, I think we get crazy in our head trying to figure it out as moms. I'm definitely an organized person -- probably a little too organized at times!

I can dig it -- you need that organization or you'll tear your hair out!

Exactly. Just the birthday invitations alone! Now my son's at bar mitzvah age, and that seems to be every week, and I'm like which one is on this day.

I have a calendar in the kitchen, I have a calendar near my desk in my bedroom, and I also have the kids -- the older ones -- write down what they're doing. If it's not on the calendar and they didn't tell me about it, then I'm not being held responsible to make sure they make this or that.

I've said, "Put it on the calendar, Wolfie. I don't see it on the calendar." We're learning. He's only 12; he'll be 13 this June, but I'm trying to teach them to take care of their own social life too a little bit. I can't be on top of everything all the time. Some things get past me!

What's the kids' reaction to being on TV and having the whole focus on what Mom and Dad do for a living?

I think it's been really positive. I do have a couple of kids who at first ... we talked about it for about six months before we decided okay, we're going to go for it. We talked about it with them; of course, the younger baby wasn't born. Major didn't have a say!

But people have been so supportive, kind, and positive about the show. And when we were filming, the crew members couldn't be any better.

They were like family -- they were in our homes every single day, and there were ones who really got close to the kids. They still come and stop by -- they're on different projects of course, but they'll come over for dinner or text us and say, "I'm in the neighborhood, can I stop by?"

I think our kids had a really positive experience. My daughter Tallulah wants to go to this screenwriting class this summer, and that was I think kind of inspired or sparked by watching how we put this show together.

Kids are curious, and they absorb things. I think they got a whole education they couldn't learn in school. It was a really good experience.

You can catch Cortney, her husband Bob, and their seven kids on Tuesday nights on Bravo. Tell us if you see any of those piles of paper in the corners.

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