In 1953, Arthur Rutenberg relocated to Florida from Chicago. He was 26 years old when he built the first Rutenberg Home in 1954 on an $800 lot in Clearwater, and in 1978 he sold his first franchise. Today there are franchises in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Now synonymous with luxury homes and quality craftsmanship, Rutenberg was inducted into the Florida Housing Hall of Fame in 1996.
It was during the ITT development of Palm Coast in the late ’70s that Rod Kimberley was overseeing independent brokers, frequently making the trip to the area from Washington, D.C. At the time, William (Willy) Groff, a pilot for Eastern Airlines, was building houses in and around Daytona Beach. When the two met 16 years ago, they realized they had a couple of things in common: A mutual respect for one another’s work ethic, and an interest in owning an Arthur Rutenberg franchise.
Since then, under the name of Oceanside Homes and Remodeling LLLP, they have built more than 300 homes with an estimated value of $350 million. All are single-family dwellings with an average price of $400,000-$500,000, ranging in size from 2,600-4,000 square feet. The projects are in and around Palm Coast, mostly in the gated communities of Hammock Dunes, Grand Haven, Hammock Beach and Palm Coast Plantation.
Kimberley, who handles sales and PR, points out that the Arthur Rutenberg name on a home guarantees quality and pride of ownership. “People always mention if it’s an Arthur Rutenberg home,” he says. “Buyers are more savvy now and will generally talk to more than one builder. And probably 95 percent of them will have lower prices. But we look at design and layout, the lower cost of maintenance and resale value. We’re proud of the level and amount of satisfied customers and the overall long-term value.”
“These homes stand out from the design standpoint,” agrees Groff, who handles the operation and construction side of the business. “The designs are a cut above everybody else. Rutenberg built his reputation on the Florida lifestyle, meaning clean floor plans, a lot of glass in the house and outdoor living space.”
Architecturally based, Rutenberg Homes carries 85 established plans which include cost support and can be modified to the customers’ specifications. Known for minimal interior walls and free-flowing space, the homes are all checked by an interior designer to ensure functionality, adequate lighting and disability-friendly hallways and showers.
“Our houses function very well. We know when we build a room that sofas and artwork and bookcases will work, because it’s been an initial part of the design,” says Kimberley. “We also consider the lot itself and try to situate the home to minimize heat from the sun and to keep all the trees we can.”
“We’ve just been approved to start construction with Certified Energy Star rating, and right now we’re the only builder in Flagler County that will have that,” he continues. “When we’re done building that home, we can almost tell you what your electric bills will be. It’s about appliances, AC, specs for windows, insulation; it’s a very big deal. And as fuel continues to soar, electricity is in direct correlation.”
Another feature that makes this company unique is its insistence on using only the best talent, a concept they call the Quality Zone, where the most proficient people are used in each area of building. Before beginning construction, Kimberley informs the neighbors of the plans; he makes sure his construction sites are cleaned up and behavior is professional at all times.
But perhaps the most special feature is the back of the house, which is usually 95 percent glass to bring the beauty of the outdoors into interior living areas. “We typically have 8- or 10-foot sliding glass doors to access the outdoor living areas,” says Kimberley. “We’ve always designed large cabanas and lanai areas, so it was a natural expansion to create outdoor kitchens, fireplaces and living areas around the pool.”
Kimberley says that while many builders are incorporating these ideas, the key is still in design and integration. “In order to have an effective outdoor living area, it must have immediate access to the primary areas of the house. You want to be able to walk straight from the pool into a pool bath, get food directly from the kitchen to the outdoor cooking area, then be able to sit down and have a glass of wine by the fireplace.”
Brian Kopec and his wife, Rachael, moved from Maryland and opened Kopec Insurance in Palm Coast seven years ago. They owned the lot, but Kopec says when he started shopping for a builder, the name Rutenberg kept coming up — especially the homes that caught his eye.
“They build a stunning home,” Kopec says. “They’re architecturally striking. Their proportions are spot on, and they’re designed to create proportion with good flow. The company insists on a higher level of workmanship as the corporate standard. Rod and Willy make every attempt to carry that out.”
When asked his favorite feature of the home, Kopec laughs, then settles on a choice. “The amount of glass as it opens out to the back of the home,” he says. “But again, it’s how the whole thing works. While these are definitely custom homes, the whole organization can really hang their hat on the design team. I hate to be cliche, but the old adage is true of Rutenberg Homes: ‘Often imitated, never duplicated.’ ”
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