Home Improvement

Celebrity couple Amy Smart and Carter Oosterhouse have become fixtures in the resort town of Traverse City, Michigan, where they're putting down roots and creating an eco-friendly lifestyle brand.

Story by Christine Richmond ❈ Photographs by David Engelhardt

For many couples, it’s a struggle to balance work and family life. But actress Amy Smart and her husband, home improvement star Carter Oosterhouse, seem to know how to keep it on the level—even while coming up with new business ideas together. The duo, who are passionate about green living, run an organic winery and are developing a line of beautiful, useful, eco-friendly products called SmartHouse. They’re also raising their one-year-old daughter, Flora while bouncing between their homes in Malibu, California and Traverse City, Michigan.

You’re probably thinking, sheesh, they sound busy. But you may also be wondering, why Traverse City? Well, Carter grew up in the bucolic town, and Amy has spent every summer there since she was a kid. But the couple didn’t cross paths until adulthood, at an event in Los Angeles for the Envi- ronmental Media Association. “I did a double take when I heard he was from Traverse City,” Amy recalls. “I almost wanted to ask her to marry me right then,” Carter adds with a laugh. “We both have family in the area—I knew the holidays would be so much easier.”

Once they did get hitched, in September 2011, they got right to work on Bonobo Winery, which Carter had founded a year earlier with his brother Todd. “There’s a lot of terrific wine being made in Traverse City, but most people don’t know about it,” Carter explains. “I felt like I could help move the needle.” He noticed that consumers were getting younger and didn’t necessarily want to go from winery to winery doing tastings—they’d rather hang out. He built Bonobo’s tasting room so it’s “completely different from everyone else’s in the area.” The extra-large space boasts killer views and plenty of little nooks where groups of friends can kick back and chat while “still enjoying the atmosphere and energy of everyone walking through the door,” Carter explains. Celebrity chef Mario Batali, who also happens to be Carter’s friend and golfing buddy, created a menu of seasonal share plates that pair perfectly with Bonobo’s wines. On a recent Saturday, 1,800 people visited the tasting room.


The name Bonobo, by the way, is a reference to the cousin of the chim- panzee, a “social species that actually makes love, instead of fighting, for territorial reasons,” Carter says. He admits they went down the rabbit hole trying to name the winery—options included streets in Traverse City they used to live on, and the names of their father’s old motorcycles—but Bonobo just stuck. “It sparks a lot of conversations because there’s a story behind it,” adds Carter.

While Carter handles the business side of things, Amy is focused on how the grapes are grown. “Eventually, we want our vineyard to be fully organic— it’s about 95% organic right now, and we’ve been incorporating more biody- namic practices,” she says. She views biodynamic farming as a step above organic. “It creates incredible fertility on your land, gives back more than it takes from the soil, and it involves the cosmos and the rhythms of life,” she explains. She first learned about it from her friend Angela Macke, who owns a biodynamic farm and tea shop near Traverse City. Then she started going to biodynamic farming conferences and planted an experimental biodynamic farm on her property in Malibu. Since making the changes at Bonobo, she says, “there’s been more wildlife. There are hawks circling and making nests, voles running around…you can tell it’s thriving.”

Amy’s hands-on approach to green living has served her well in creating her skincare line with TruSelf Organics, which will launch in early 2018. “We’ve been developing the products for about a year now, and I’ve been the guinea pig who tests them. I’ve gone through four or five different versions of each product to keep refining and fine-tuning,” she says. Geared toward mature skin that needs hydration, the line will include products like a facial cleanser, exfoliator, moisturizer, and body lotion. Everything will be scented only with essential oils (no artificial fragrances), and the packaging will be 95% plastic-free. One idea of hers that didn’t make the cut: a rose toner. “Initially I thought it would be really lovely. And then we had the formulator make one and it had this real old-lady smell. All the younger girls in the company were just like, errrrr,” she recalls. Liz Robertson, the marketing manager for TruSelf (which, by the way, is also based in Traverse City), appreciates how informed and involved Amy has been in every step of the process. “Amy is so incredibly sweet, real, and down-to-earth. I mean, I could have guessed that might be the case, but being that I’ve never sat down with anyone remotely famous, it was so refreshing and comfortable,” she says.


Other SmartHouse products in the pipeline: Mattresses, including a crib mattress, plus bedding and home decor. “Having done 500 makeovers on TV alone, this is a world I’m so familiar with,” Carter explains. They may tackle baby products next—they certainly see plenty of opportunities to improve upon the poorly-made plastic stuff currently on the shelves. “SmartHouse is still really in its beginning stages, but it’s something we thought would be fun to create together—different than what our careers are doing, but still in line with our values,” Amy says.

Speaking of their careers, those are humming along, too: Carter is hosting the fifth season of Great Christmas Light Fight for ABC and just finished shooting a revival of Trading Spaces for TLC. And his nonprofit Carter’s Kids has built 65 playgrounds to date for children across the country. Amy is producing two environmental documentaries that will come out next year: Kiss the Ground, about reducing climate change via regenerative agriculture, and Another World is Possible, about the youth climate movement.

But of course, Amy and Carter’s most meaningful collaboration is raising their daughter Flora, who was born last December. They want to bring her up to be compassionate and capable, with practical skills such as being able to grow her own food. But for now, they’re still in baby mode. “It’s a lot of work, no doubt,” says Amy, but she’s grateful that Carter is a hands-on dad who’s always willing to take a late-night or early-morning shift. “I see how much happiness she brings him, and how he just lights up at the cuteness,” she says. Carter counters, with a laugh, “My biggest quality is being resourceful. I’m not the smartest or the fastest guy, but I’m resourceful. With a child, that has totally changed. Someone said to me you should always put “for now” at the end of a sentence when talking about your baby. Like, my baby is sleeping through the night FOR NOW. That is the God’s honest truth.”


A MONTH AFTER FLORA WAS BORN, Amy revealed on Instagram that they had used a surrogate. “After years of fertility struggles I give thanks today to our kind, loving surrogate for carrying her,” she wrote. The post got picked up widely by the media. Her intention was to explain that “no, I was never pregnant and yes, I have a child” while also acknowledging how terrific their surrogate was. “I wanted to put it out there what our experience was, and not be embarrassed about it or shy about it. It was really such a blessing in our life that I was totally willing to share.” After secretly struggling for more than five years and having to dodge people’s “are you going to have a baby?” questions, Amy is sensitive to other people who are going through it. “I never thought in a million years I would have a surrogate,” she says. “I never thought I would have fertility issues. You get dealt a different hand and you learn to appreciate what’s available now.”

One of the challenges for Amy in having someone else carry their child was giving up control. “I got her a water filter, eco cleaning products, certificates to get organic food,” Amy says. ”There were ways that I found to support her in the pregnancy. She was really open to it, and I was so happy she was open to it, because I didn’t want to be annoying.” Amy is also concerned about electronics and Wi-Fi signals, but didn’t want to be too extreme about it. “I was like, can you just not use your cell phone that much,” she says. “Can you turn it to airplane mode at night?”

In response to Amy’s post, lots of commenters talked about their own experiences with infertility, and then several friends approached her to ask for advice about using a surrogate. She’s happy to help demystify things. “For so long,” she says, “I had no idea if we would be parents, how our child would come to us, how it would all shake out. And now we have this gorgeous child, and it was worth the wait.”