“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” – Ben Franklin
Robert and Cortney Novogratz began their path into the design world as passionate amateurs, seeking to convert a dilapidated brownstone in Chelsea into a warm and eclectic home in time to welcome their first child into the world. Now, many projects (and six kids) later they have developed a thriving design business in New York City and environs.
The book follows their journey of discovery, first with the brownstone, then onto warehouse spaces, country homes, and their first design commission. Throughout there are tips and how-tos for both the design community and homeowners. But the writing goes beyond just the basics of how to accomplish a remodel, by spending considerable time explaining not just the how, but the why of their design – and life – decisions. While this may make the book sound like a vanity project, it is anything but. Instead it reads more like a plea to not take life and design quite so seriously. Playful and eclectic, yet ultimately practical, their designs are spaces to live in.
The Novogratz’s seem to have an instinctual understanding of eclecticism. Their interiors are filled with color and light. They favor bold statements, balanced with simple backdrops. Finding a crazy amazing design element at a thrift store or antique market, and making it the focal point of a room is one of their signature moves. Whether it’s a cathedral window from Paris, or an old exterior light emblazoned with the word “Police”, given to them by the precinct across the street from their SoHo home, each element becomes striking against its simple backdrop.
As a designer, I see and review books all the time that are filled with beautiful, inspiring images, but the text is often barely more than filler. “Downtown Chic” had me curled up on the sofa, often chuckling out loud, as I followed the trials and tribulations of each new project. With creative and interesting sidebars such as “How to Flea” and “Vintage Artifacts – The Agony and the Ecstasy”, the Novogratz’s have taken this book as an opportunity to freely share all the lessons they have learned along the way.
Although not strictly a book on sustainable design, the liberal use of reclaimed design elements, along with a “less is more” design approach makes this a terrific book for any designer or homeowner looking for inspiration for their own low-impact project.