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Nine by Design: Bravo’s Latest Reality Offering

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I’m a fan of reality television. I can admit it. Clearly I’m not alone as the field of reality offerings continues to increase. I tend to prefer straight contests like Survivor, Top Chef and Project Runway to straight voyeurism like The Real World or the various Real Housewives. I have friends who like both and for them Bravo’s new Nine By Design must be a winner. You get to watch design projects and family crises. Of course these crises are some many wish they had — two parties on the same day or nanny selection. Some we can feel sympathy with — cell phone pressure from young kids. The big draw for the show is the business side. We feel envy over the family design business. They seem to have such fun and to live such a lavish lifestyle and to have great friends who are also clients. Wouldn’t it be great to live in the big glass building, throw parties, be socially aware and charitable, have great kids, and to have a business you liked that could support this lifestyle?

I’m sure it was a shiny life in the boom time but the cracks are showing around the edges in the lean times. On a recent show which emphasized the Novogratz’s charitable side with back to back fundraisers for an ill child and a youth basketball program the Novogratzes were shown hustling a friend for money. It wasn’t pretty. Initially the socially aware couple offered an office makeover for cost and a donation to the basketball team. Later, realizing that it was more than a few throw pillows and some wallpaper they tried to hit him up for more than double the sizeable (in viewer land) donation. The guy seemed reasonably intelligent so – predictably – that didn’t fly. But the fashionable couple was in need of a paycheck so, not to be foiled by their own agreement, they hit on a nifty ruse. Pull some art off their own wall, place it in their pal’s office, and then charge him what they wanted him to pay. I really hope I wasn’t the only viewer who cringed and resolved never (assuming some stroke of newfound wealth and relocation to New York) to hire the crooks! Happily it didn’t seem to fly though one wonders if their friend will trust them in the future.

Anyone who’s hired a contractor has felt the budget pressure. It’s stressful and, after the first experience, likely to dampen the excitement of any new project. The Novogratzes don’t care about anyone’s budget. But this is part of dealing with contractors – even if you get it all in writing you still have to enforce it. Designers frequently care more about the finished look than the customer’s budget concerns. But isn’t padding the bill, or attempting to sell the client your own possessions to pad your fee unethical? It’s nice that they used their home (or business investment) to throw a party to raise money to help a woman pay her child’s medical bills. It’s nice that they helped to organize a party to raise money for their son’s basketball team. It’s nice that they traded design services for a donation to that same team. But it’s not so nice, or ethical, to make it look as though they traded those services for a donation when in fact they were trying to extract an even higher fee (from their personal friend) by sticking him with art off their own wall at the price of their choice.

On the surface the family is bright and cool and modern. They are socially involved and religious. They are, in short, unlike many other Bravo-lebrities who bicker and backstab for our viewing pleasure. But you don’t have to scratch very hard to find the shady underneath.