Architect designs dramatic spaces
By Jean Murphy | Daily Herald Correspondent Contact writer
March 21, 2009
David Hovey, the New Zealand-born, award-winning architect who owns Optima Inc. in Glencoe and Scottsdale, Ariz., takes pride in the fact that other builders have a difficult time competing with him.
He is currently building two large condominium projects, Optima Old Orchard Woods in Skokie and Optima Camelview Village in Scottsdale.
"We have a paradigm for how we do things," Hovey explained.
"We try to find the absolute best location and design the best possible building for the site," he said. "Then we sell it at a lower price than anyone else could."
The Old Orchard Woods project overlooks Harms Woods Forest Preserve, yet is close to shopping and transportation. Units sell for between $300,000 and $1.5 million.
The Camelview Village project in Scottsdale overlooks the famous Camelback Mountain and is considered one of the best locations in Scottsdale. Units there sell for between $350,000 and $3.5 million.
Optima's team tries to make sure that it is impossible for a prospective buyer to find a better development with more amenities anywhere near their projects.
The fact that Optima is vertically integrated with one company handling the projects from start to finish allows them to succeed.
"We have built-in cost savings because of the way we are organized and those cost savings can be passed on to our customers," Hovey explained.
Optima handles its own land acquisition, architectural design, construction, marketing, financing and even property management after the projects are sold.
"We have found that this is a good formula for real estate development, especially multifamily projects," Hovey said.
His dream home: Hovey would build a contemporary home on the ocean in New Zealand where he could enjoy the crashing of the waves and lots of trees. The home would be built of steel and glass and would feature floor-to-ceiling windows so that he could commune with nature.
His favorite amenity: It would have to be a lack of an amenity - walls. Hovey prefers simple floor plans with lots of open space. "I do not want my home to be subdivided by walls. I like to define functional living spaces with paintings, sculpture and furniture," he explained.
Background: Hovey was born in a small town outside of Wellington, New Zealand, the son of an American World War II veteran and a New Zealand woman.
About the time Hovey was graduating from high school, his father moved the family to his hometown of Chicago. Hovey was therefore able to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology where he earned both bachelor's and master's degrees in architecture.
Now 64, Hovey continues to serve on the school's board of trustees and he teaches classes there occasionally, retaining the title of associate professor.
He formed Optima in the Chicago area in 1977 and expanded to Arizona in 2000.
The details: Hovey is known for his commitment to modern architecture and the use of steel and other modern materials in his buildings. They have given him the flexibility to design innovative buildings like the three, 20-story towers linked by cantilevered ledges, voids and sky gardens at Optima Old Orchard Woods.
He has also won awards for his ability to integrate a building's design with its environment and was even the keynote speaker for an event at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West facility in Arizona.
Over the years Hovey has primarily built condominiums, although he has also built a few custom homes in Arizona and also does some commercial development in his mixed use communities.
Fortunately, Hovey had foreseen the real estate downturn and he managed to sell close to 90 percent of both his Arizona and Illinois projects before the bottom fell out of the market.
Before building Optima Old Orchard Woods, Hovey designed and built Coromandel, a community of 400 condominiums and townhouses on the old Sara Lee site in Deerfield. He also built Optima Views and Optima Horizons in Evanston, as well as a 175-unit community in Northfield.
His philosophy: "We have a niche in the Chicago market," Hovey said. "We provide high-quality multifamily units with outstanding amenities. We try to give our buyer's a sense of place. We want them to buy into a whole community so we offer fitness centers, indoor pools, huge party rooms, small grocery stores and even dry cleaners.
"And we build our buildings in the best possible location - not shoehorned in between other buildings," he continued. "Old Orchard Woods, for instance, is located right on the forest preserve. And like all of our communities, when you pull up, there is a grand scale to it like you are at some major resort development.
"We are very selective about our locations and we win lots of awards for our developments. Our project in Scottsdale, for instance, features huge green outdoor terraces on all the levels because people want private outdoor spaces where they can enjoy the wonderful weather there," Hovey said.
His buyers: Optima tries to appeal to both ends of the market spectrum, from young professionals to empty-nesters who are scaling back from a large home.
"So we offer a mix of unit sizes, locations and views to try to appeal to everyone," he said. "Consequently, we have European buyers, Canadian buyers, young buyers, older buyers. Between 35 and 50 percent of them are buying second homes but the rest are permanent residents.
His two-city approach: "I expanded to Arizona in 2000 and found that the opportunities in Phoenix and Scottsdale are terrific," Hovey said. "I intend to do more there because the population in that part of the country is growing, unlike the Chicago area where the population is pretty static."
Hovey also enjoys the contrast of climates and terrains between the two areas. Building in Chicago is totally different from designing for and building in a desert and Hovey admitted he finds the differences stimulating.
"I have also found the reaction to our products out there has been overwhelmingly positive - from both the market and the municipalities out there."
Biggest changes he has seen in the business: The recent importance of energy-efficiency, green buildings and landscaping has had a major influence on how Hovey builds.
And, of course, the computerization of all aspects of building - from design to construction to marketing - has changed the way all builders operate, he said.
Future plans: Currently, Hovey said he is holding back due to the economy but he is actively shopping for land at a good price for future communities. He is also doing the design work on a 55-story condominium building he is planning for Chicago, one block east of Michigan Avenue near the Tribune Tower.