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Monday, September 1, 2014

The Wronkse Brothers: Making small homes hip, popular and profitable

Kevin (left) and Hardy Wronske/Photo by Martha Benedict

First project on Patton Street project in Echo Park. Photo courtesy Heyday Partnership

By Brenda Rees

They are smart, sleek and small – and probably in a neighborhood near you.

Leading a quiet revolution in the housing development landscape, Heyday Partnership is changing minds and raising eyebrows by designing, building and developing relatively affordable contemporary residences, with most homes being constructed from Eagle Rock and Glassell Park to Echo Park and Silver Lake. Boring stucco-box, cookie-cutter construction for the masses? Naw, you won’t find that with these guys.

With a string of real estate successes that span more than 10 years, Heyday has weathered the first five years of its business model – usually the toughest time to stay afloat – and brothers Hardy  and Kevin  Wronske are seeing a future where they can continue to carve out their characteristic small-spaced dwellings and have, as they say, “a lot of fun” to boot.

“I think we are finally hitting our groove,” says 36-year-old Kevin, the brother who graduated from Southern California Institution of Architecture (SCI-Arc) and often puts pen to paper to design the under-2,000-square-foot homes that Heyday is known for.
Brother Hardy – who brings a construction background and USC’s Dollinger Master of Real Estate Development degree to the table – is also relishing the fruits of the hard work of the past decade. “What we want to create is a business that will last, not some quick get-rich scheme,” the 38-year-old  elaborates. “I don’t want us to get much bigger, but I think we will always have room for refining our practices.”

Buzz Court, Silver Lake/Courtesy Heyday Partnership

Before teaming up for Heyday, both brothers spent time working for private companies and Hardy did a stint for Habitat for Humanity. Growing up in Florida, the Wronskes, who now call Silver Lake home, remember working for their father, a well-respected landscape designer. They spent summers lifting and hauling but they say they were also introduced to how space can be changed with certain dimensions and details. As a homage to their father (“Who really taught us the value of hard work,” says Kevin), Heyday’s Buzz Court in Silver Lake takes on Papa Wronske’s nickname.

To be sure, the boys have come a long way. For their first projects, the Heyday office was, well, the work site. About five years ago, they set up shop in Echo Park. Two years ago, the brothers — now with about seven full-time employees to oversee – are working out of a non-descript downtown L.A. space in the shadow of the Sixth Street Bridge.

Through the years, the Wronske mantra was to create affordable housing in small spaces, but doing so with style and green-minded commitment (all their homes are LEED certified). The brothers take their cue from Los Angeles’ small-lot ordinance that allows property owners to carve up exiting lots into smaller pieces that can be developed and sold as individual homes.

How small? Think 1,300 to 1,600 sq. ft. (Their biggest project to date will be the 1,950 sq. ft. Peak Place in Glassell Park, six units that are slated for groundbreaking this spring.)

Their two and three-level ultra-mod homes often feature balconies and patios, stainless steel appliances, solid core doors and sustainable bamboo floors. Amid the sleek contemporary design lines, you’ll find tank-less water heaters, drought tolerant landscaping, low-flow fixtures and green roofs pre-wired for solar.

When both were in the respected schools back in the late 1990s, the brothers discovered fellow students who were often struggling to find a place to live. Their friends wished someone would build homes for them – nontraditional and simple, avoiding the American dream home of a bungalow with a white-picket fence. The brothers quickly realized these folks were – and are – their core market.

Even today a Wronske home appeals to the young up-and-coming crowd, homeowners who would rather appreciate a compact and efficient kitchen than mow a lawn. After going on the market early last fall, the six homes in Buzz Court, for example sold out within two months at prices starting in the mid $700,000 range.

While young single people are often the ones buying Heyday homes, the brothers have seen a great interest from married couples and small families. And to counter concerns that such small spaces would mean quick turnovers, the boys point out that since Eagle Rock’s Rock Row hit the market in 2009, only one unit out of 15 has changed hands.

“People who buy our homes are staying there,” says Hardy who adds that he sees a common thread with buyers. “First time buyers, young, professional and able to embrace the art and design of the building,” he says. “They also tend to be fit,” adds Kevin. “After all, they will be going up and down three flights of stairs.”

Critics also worry about that the high density in Heyday homes could possibly bring extra cars on the street, more need for public utilities, etc. During a recent city council candidates’ forum in Echo Park, some of the contenders said they would look at restricting the use of the small-lot ordinance that builders like the Wronskes have taken advantage to build their projects.

The brothers remind naysayers that city zoning laws are their own.  “If people want to change their zoning regulations, they can,” explains Hardy. “We are just being responsible developers working within the regulations. We would never, like some developers have done, ask to have certain regulations waived, or work around other restrictions. We go by the book.”

As anyone knows, with success comes … competition.

Today, the brothers are witnessing Big Developers – many from Orange County – swooping down to gobble up big chunks of property in Northeast Los Angeles. The days of buying and building high-priced, multi-united properties – like the Rock Row’s 15 units – are probably over for a while for the Wronskes. But they don’t mind. They’ll refocus and go forward.

“Instead of doing one big project, we’ll tackle five smaller ones,” says Hardy. Isn’t that more work?

“Sure,” says Hardy, “It’s about three times as much work, but it’s fun. We can explore the design, try new things and incorporate diversity. It just means we have more time for fun – and that’s what it’s all about.”

Kevin and Hardy Wronske in their downtown office/Photo by Martha Benedict

Milestone Projects for Heyday Partnership

First Project:  Patton Street, Echo Park (pictured at top)
Details Four Unit Apartment Building; 4,200 Sq. Ft.
Completed 2004

Photo courtesy Heyday Partnership

First Single Family Homes:  Jack + Jill, Lincoln Heights
Details: Two Hillside Single Family Homes; 1,650 Sq. Ft. Each
Completed 2006

Photo courtesy Heyday Partnership

First Small Lot Subdivision: Rock Row,  Eagle Rock
Details: 15 Single Family Homes;  1300-1610 Sq. Ft.;  LEED Platinum + Gold; Sold Out in Five Weeks
Completed 2009
Sales Price: $465,000 – $600,000

Photo courtesy Heyday Partnership

Most Recent Project: Buzz Court, Silver Lake
Details: 6 Single Family Homes (Small Lot Subdivision):  1500-1900 Sq. Ft. Each; LEED Platinum: Sold Out in Four Weeks
Completed 2012
Sales Price: $765,000 to $835,000

Next Project: Peak Place, Glassell Park
Details: 6 Single Family Homes (Small Lot Subdivision); 1950 Sq. Ft. Each; LEED Gold Predicted
Break Ground Early 2013
Estimated Sales Price: Approx. $500,000

Brenda Rees is a writer and Eagle Rock resident

20 comments

  1. Was this a paid advertorial?

  2. Seriously gouging for dramatically undersized sardine cans. For those prices or less, I can get a nice house with more space and even a yard.

    • The relentless cynicism and negativity of Eastsider thread-dwellers is pretty over-the-top. Every time I dig into the comments, the majority of contributors are bashing local businesses and community members. I have to ask: are these really my neighbors?

      I don’t know why it’s necessary to heap so much abuse on a couple of dudes who chose to live and set up shop in our neighborhood, attend local architectural schools, employ locals, play nice, and build small local developments at market prices. LEED certification is a bit of a scam, but it looks like their intentions are in the right place.

      1500-2000 sq ft is hardly a “sardine can” – it’s roughly the median square footage for residential in Echo Park. Even the guy that conceded that they build a “decent product” spent his comment tearing these folks down for not being the next Neutra. It’s like every ‘hoodie is Howard Roark all of a sudden.

  3. Some might say that two Wronkses don’t make a right, but the redundant use of the near-identical images of the brothers is pure genius. Sitting them in almost the exact same poses but on different risers of the same staircase is classic in its subliminal depiction of their upward mobility.

  4. I like their designs. Glad they are taking creative risks. Loo, change in inevitable. The Echo Park I moved into 20 years is bound to change just like everything in life. If change has to happen, I’d rather it be with creative flair rather than one stucco job after the other.

  5. At least in Silverlake can we agree to stop calling mainstream neutered modernism “new and creative” 80 years after the first modern houses were built in our neighborhood? This developer caters to existing mainstream aesthetics and jumbles up the same “creative” design ideas from the grocery store safe pages of Dwell as many others all over the country. It’s a decent product, but it’s still just a product made to conservatively appeal to a wide audience.

  6. Wow, those are absolutely hideous.

  7. Yup, purty ugggly. And so much money! And still so big! I bought my happy little EP hillside hut in ’82 for 112K, and its more than big enough at 850sq ft. And damn,it sure don’t have those graffiti-me big empty walls..EXP is smiling.

  8. If Buzz Court is sold out, how come I’ve never seen anyone coming or going from that place? No cars, no people…nothing. Not sure I’d believe the hype.

    • I saw the moving trucks there twice moving people in. And this weekend saw some people in the front unit.

    • Patience, children. They will be seen, once spring has sprung and summer arrives, since they will have to sit on the curb in order to enjoy the great outdoors beyond the confines of their shoeboxes……

  9. These houses look awesome. Modern, interesting and efficient. I’d love to live in one of them.

    You nay-sayers are snarky, negative and dumb. You seem old, too.

  10. Ughh…yes me another snarky. Now I can put face to archos ripping the eastside aesthetics. These dwellings look like something from IKEA and they do stick out on drive bys like a sore thumb. Soon Los Angeles eastside will be predominantly populated by transplants from the westside and the cultural flattening will be complete. These bros are soldiers in this movement, albeit more then likely they are not conscious of this. Its a bit of an orwellian evolution. The masses flock to a ruse they think creates an outside identity until they are all simply one big ball of sameness. Portland is williamsburg is silverlake is appleton is kansas city is dubuque….

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