When Robert and Cortney Novogratz sat their seven kids down in their New York City townhouse last year and told them they were all moving across the country to renovate their new home—a 1920s-era castle in the Hollywood Hills—it's safe to say none of them were thrilled. But today the renovation is complete, and 18-year-old Wolfgang, 17-year-old Tallulah and Bellamy, 15-year-old Breaker, 10-year-old Five and Holleder, and 7-year-old Major are adjusting well to their new life on the West Coast.
The design family's move and their home's transformation is documented in a 10-episode series, "The Castle Next Door — The Novogratz Family Takes Hollywood," that premiered March 23 on People.com. We spoke to mom Cortney Novogratz (and dad Robert even chimed in!) about the decision to switch coasts, the renovation process, and living in a castle.
Parents.com: What was so special about this castle that made you want to uproot your life in New York and move to the Hollywood Hills?
Cortney Novogratz: We'd been in New York almost 25 years, so it was time to mix it up. The great thing is [the castle] had been neglected for a long time. The same woman had lived here for many, many years and she really had not taken care of it, but it was built in '20s, so it had great bones. It was just kind of ugly and unkempt, so nobody really wanted it. It's what Robert and I love—taking something that hasn't been loved in a while and giving it a fresh start. And because it was so ugly, we could afford it!
P: How did your kids react to the decision?
CN: When we sat them all down and said we were officially moving, we're so blessed that only one broke into tears out of all seven, but we helped her get through it. It was a difficult year for all nine of us, but it brought us closer together through the hardships, and now that we're living in the castle and have our own home, L.A.'s starting to feel really good.
How are your kids adjusting to life on the West Coast? What's been the most challenging part of the move for them?
CN: They were born and raised in Manhattan, so they walked anywhere and everywhere. The pace of New York is very different. There were days that were difficult even for Robert and me, but the nice thing is we got through it and they've gotten stronger and have a deeper perspective now—and it's not so shabby moving to Los Angeles. But the kids have really come around, and they've expanded their friendship base. They have all these friends in New York still, and now they have all these friends in Los Angeles. I think if you were to speak to them, they'd think that the move was a good thing, even though eight months ago they wouldn't have said that.
P: Did your kids help out with the renovation?
CN: Our kids are older now, so they had a say. For example, Bellamy and Tallulah, we gave them a budget and they were able to decide what they wanted to do with their sides of the room. For the back of their bedroom wall, Bellamy chose to do wallpaper and Tallulah chose to take the money and start an art collection. It was a great moment for us because Robert and I have been [renovating homes] together for 25 years, but to have our kids involved and really start learning about building, that was really nice.
P: What's the dynamic like in your house with seven kids? How is it changing as they get older?
CN: There's lots of teenagers constantly, which is fun. We have musicians, we have artists, we have pranksters...For example, we have a music system and my 10-year-old boys like to play a prank on their 17-year-old sisters where they blast the music in their room and the girls run screaming through the house. So there's lots of life and activity. Last night we had friends stop by for dinner, we eat outside a lot, we have tutors, music teachers—just constant in-and-out.
P: Have either of you ever done anything that you'd consider a parenting fail?
Robert Novogratz: Cortney has several times—I never have—but I can tell you what she's done wrong...just joking [laughs]. Sometimes when your life gets too busy, personally or professionally, you assume all these kids are doing great, especially the ones that haven't had problems in the past, and you take your eye off the ball. I think we did that when we first got here. Everyone was going through a hard time, including us, and we assumed one or two of the kids were doing great, and it turned out they weren't.
CN: For example, on any day when I'd think 'Oh, I have all the answers, life is good, we're doing well, everybody's happy,' you soon realize that ball could drop at any second. We love being parents, but it's a full-time job and if you ever think it's not, that's when you drop the ball.
P: What's the best parenting advice you've ever received?
CN: I think to raise your kids as individuals. I look at a new baby as a new personality coming into our home. And your kids are different from you, so they have their own unique way of life and we're just here to guide them to go out in the world and be good people.