Breaking the rules

RCR/DC’s modern designs have wide appeal

839 N. HermitageMeeting a visitor outside a recent East Village project, at 839 N. Hermitage, developer Bob Ranquist corrects what has become a common mistake.

“No, it’s not a single-family,” he says. “There are five condominiums in the building. But I constantly have people asking me, is this a single-family home? You truly have no idea.”

The mistake is understandable. Like many of the condos developed by Ranquist’s company, RCR|DC Group, LLC, a division of Ranquist Home Builders, there is a wholeness and integrity to the design unusual in small multi-unit projects. There is no series of obtrusive balconies in front, and decks with fire exits have not been hung out back in typical fashion, like laundry left to dry.

Instead, Ranquist and Mark Peters, of Mass Architects, have turned the rules for this sort of building upside down. The penthouse is a single-floor unit with a spacious terrace created by a setback, and rather than being treated as ugly stepchildren, the first-floor units are luxury duplexes with massive outdoor terraces and spectacular 19-foot glass atriums.

“We gave a lot of emphasis to these duplex units,” Peters says. “I put the master bedroom up above and created this expanse of glass 19 feet tall that’s very open. To offset this, we focused in on these private terraces. There’s a direct relation between the terraces and the inside spaces when the window shades are open.”

In true Miesian fashion, Ranquist and Peters are obsessed with how interior and exterior spaces relate. The result is a design that’s much more thoughtful and practical than that of the typical low-rise condo.

Outdoor space provides a prime example. Lakeview is peppered with condo buildings that have sunken terraces or patios, but the spaces are so small and boxed-in they become prison cells and ultimately, garbage receptacles for passersby. At 839 N. Hermitage, Ranquist’s ground-floor units have terraces 25 feet wide, large enough for a party but private enough for a quiet cup of morning coffee. Residents can enter through the unit or from a separate side entrance, another functional touch that increases usability and the connection to ground level.

Much of RCR|DC’s creativity and the units’ appeal come from choosing sites that are extra wide, according to Ranquist.

“Most places in the city, you have a 25-foot lot, so inside the unit is 18 or 19 feet,” Ranquist says. “We don’t buy single lots, so we can do wider buildings. It’s the width that gives you the creativity.”

Peters says RCR|DC’s approach gives him much greater design freedom. “With these wide sites, we can use scissors stairs that helix around in the middle with an exit to each side, leaving the ends (of the buildings) clean. You don’t have to break up the terraces or have paths coming up.”

Most of Ranquist’s units are at least 24 feet, and some 32 or 40 feet wide, which gives an incredible feeling of openness, according to Karen Ranquist, the developer’s wife and an agent with CMK Realty, which is marketing RCR|DC’s projects.

“We’re not even going to look at a single lot,” says Karen, who works closely with her husband on everything from sales to floor plans to finding sites. “We’ll only look at things on larger parcels that give us the ability to be more creative and unique. That’s what buyers respond to: the emphasis on design, the efficiency of the space and great floor plans.”

The contemporary look of the projects, the clean lines, planar surfaces and elegant geometry, also draws buyers in a market where most small condo buildings are poor imitations of vintage styles.
RCR|DC recently sold out buildings at 935 N. Wolcott and 839 N. Hermitage, and at press time, had sold six of seven units at 1212 N. Hoyne after a month on the market. The company’s latest projects are 836 N. Paulina, a seven-unit condo building, and two-nine unit buildings on the 900 block of North Wolcott called the Brownstone and the Greystone.

The project at 836 N. Paulina has a similar style to 839 N. Hermitage, around the corner. The units all will have two bedrooms except for the penthouse, which has three bedrooms, three baths and 2,300 square feet. At 40 feet wide, this condo takes up an entire floor and includes 1,500 square feet of outdoor space on two separate decks.

The design also calls for three simplex units with two bedrooms, two baths and about 1,200 square feet of space. Three duplexes will have layouts similar to the ones at 839 N. Hermitage – 2,000 square feet of space, with three bedrooms, two baths, large, recessed terraces and 19-foot expanses of glass in two-story living areas.

“It’s a pretty dramatic space when you walk into it,” Peters says. “People are willing to sacrifice a little bit of usable space for this.”

The Brownstone and Greystone will be built on seven contiguous lots on Wolcott – a rare find in booming East Village. The Brownstone, which is on the market first, includes three simplexes with two bedrooms and two baths, priced from the $340s. Four three-bedroom two-bath duplexes will have private terraces similar to the duplexes at 839 N. Hermitage and wide expanses of glass.

The Brownstone comes with the kind of premium finishes for which RCR|DC has become known. Units include stainless steel Sub-Zero and Miele appliances, Duravit, Grohe and Kohler fixtures, Arclinea cabinets, oak floors, gas fireplaces, granite counters and master baths with Jacuzzi tubs. Garage parking is included in the pricing.

At this development, the mirror buildings will feature a single main entrance in the middle “to give a feeling of community,” Peters says. The smooth exterior wall surfaces, tinted brown and gray as the names imply, have stone accents that provide a contrast in texture.

“We never repeat ourselves,” Ranquist says. “People have an idea our projects are by the same developer, but we’re always looking for new materials and new ideas.”