Adam Eisenstat

Unleashed in DC: A Master Builder, A Rare Breed [Real Estate Profile]

The Kent Connection - October 17, 2017

This article, commissioned by a custom home-building firm, involved an onsite visit and multiple interviews. (Click to see > Article as it originally appeared – page 9 of PDF; pg. 16 of publication)

Resit Gecgil, Owner of AR Custom Builders, Is Razing the Blasé Conventions of Modern Construction—One New House at a Time

They just don’t build ‘em like they used to, goes the oft heard mantra, especially among discerning home buyers and the design conscious; those who appreciate real craftsmanship and know “classic” when they see it. Even those who are less concerned with the niceties of architecture and construction usually know what they want, but find that in a city like Washington, an expansive budget doesn’t necessarily mean expansive options.

Enter AR Custom Builders, an emerging standout in the area’s fertile residential landscape. In its three-year existence, the agile, boutique firm has built close to a dozen new homes and condo units. Now focused exclusively on building in prime areas, the firm is currently developing a lot of three homes on Garfield Street which are due to hit the market soon.

Resit Gecgil, the owner and general manager of AR Custom Builders, has an unusually broad set of skills encompassing the many facets of construction management and design. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the building trades coupled with wide-ranging experience in renovation and custom building. He is a rare breed in the world of contemporary homebuilding, where specialization rules the day, with architects, contractors, and sub-contractors each sticking to their respective domains; and houses are often built by committee. In contrast, Gecgil’s is akin to a master builder; that old-world figure who worked without architects and designers, and who had to be conversant in every facet of the builder’s trade.

Gecgil, of course, does work with architects and subcontractors, just like his fellow builders, but the breadth of his knowledge and experience allows him to manage every aspect of a project much more effectively. Consequently, AR Custom Builders operates in a way that sets it apart, with a focus on flexibility, innovation, craftsmanship and adherence to the classic principles of building such as balance, proportion and spatial awareness while at the same time being as cost efficient as possible. These values define the company’s brand, highlight its distinctions, and also describe what it is that Gecgil does and the core thinking behind his work.

Flexibility, for example, is a crucial factor in AR Custom Builders’ unconventional approach to business and building. With his Kent project, for instance, one day he was inspecting the roof of one of the houses and realized that it offered an astounding view, so he decided right then to add a rooftop deck. Normally, such a move would be unthinkable; it would simply take too long—requiring lengthy consultations with multiple parties.

For Gecgil, flexibility and innovation go hand in hand. For his Kent project, Gecgil demonstrated what being an innovative builder means in the DC market, where land is scarce. In this case, it meant devising an engineering solution to fashion a custom space from a parcel of land deemed “unbuildable,” owing to its difficult terrain.

“I understand the essentials of the business and of building. Most people have one or the other—they know how to build, but they don’t know how to landscape,” says Gecgil, explaining why he was able to meet the challenge and transform the uneven, sloping ground, in effect, sculpting the landscape and adapting the topography to his project.

Gecgil is in the real estate business, and the homes that he builds are conceived with an eye toward the market. Nonetheless, he is a true craftsman, compelled by his own standards of excellence and insistence on delivering “a job well done.” “I build houses that I’d want to live in,” he says.

Gecgil’s skill and knowledge as a craftsman are rooted in classic design principles. These ageold standards regarding balance, proportion and volume, for example, complement one another with what seems to be a sort of indisputable logic.

“Everything in life should have balance, he says. “Like if you decide to use heavy trim, you need to make the colors contrast more, to smooth the transition between the walls and the doors. Or if you use too many windows for a room it will be too bright, but no windows or too few makes the space seem gloomy or isolated. Balance is what makes a house comfortable.”

Adapting classic design principles to modern sensibilities is the fundamental idea behind what Gecgil does, and is manifested throughout his work. Sometimes it’s evident in subtle ways, like using square columns instead of the traditional rounded ones for a doorway; or even by what is not there, like plastic, which Gecgil won’t use in anything he builds, because it cannot stand up to the elements, unlike brick, wood, stone.

“Whatever we decide to build and when we’re actually doing it, we look at the essentials, which have been the same for thousands of years: the sun, the basics of proportion. ...You cannot build a house with a giant living room and a tiny kitchen. All the elements have to blend with each other.”

The fact that Gecgil’s grew up in Istanbul and spent his formative years as a builder is not incidental as to why he has developed such a rare combination of skills and knowledge, and the wherewithal to use them effectively. He started working in his uncle’s construction business when he was 12, as a cashier, then at 16 took on a sort of junior CFO role: signing checks, buying materials.

“I started on the business side of construction, touching the money, which taught me that budgeting is a discipline. It’s everything, really. If you lose control of your budget, you lose control of your business.”

Istanbul itself was also vital to Gecgil’s development. “The older neighborhoods there resemble a jigsaw puzzle,” he says, “You have to fight for every square inch, fitting into oddly shaped lots, building on foundations that have no drawings.”

Beyond his experience building and renovating a variety of houses in his native city, there’s an underlying influence that may have become evident only after he left. Gecgil’s exposure to so many different types of architecture and his hands-on experience with them has contributed to making him the master builder that he is today.

Gecgil’s AR Custom Builders is poised to make a serious impact in a market that, not so very long ago, may have been seen as a backwater. As housing prices rise, people naturally will expect more. Classic is something you can’t fake, at least not when you’re engaging an audience that not only knows what it wants but also understands why.