Since our founding in 1978, our work has been grounded in respect for structure, materials and their expression, allowing us to achieve clarity and free-flowing movement through space that brings an intrinsic connection to nature to the fore, merging indoor and outdoor into a singular, holistic experience.
Because of the structure of our business, we serve as the owner, the architect, the developer and the general contractor, providing unique degrees of freedom that allow us to work from a shared vision.
Envisioning The Business Model
“My time at IIT was integral to the development of my architectural vision. I first spent five years there obtaining my undergraduate degree in Architecture under a program built by Mies van der Rohe. I returned to IIT for my Masters, this time with Arthur Takeuchi as my mentor and thesis advisor. With his guidance and encouragement, I developed my design for a modular housing system and the business model that would later become Optima.
I formed my opinion on design first as a student, then later in professional office settings. I was frustrated by the red tape within the traditional model where owner, architect and developer are separate, and I was passionate early on about architecture and design leading the process. This inspired me to start Optima, an idea Arthur Takeuchi had planted in my mind during my time as a student. In starting Optima, we maintained control of the entire process as owner, architect, general contractor and developer. Our goal was to start with small projects and we learned as we went, improving each time we started something new.”
The Early Years
“When I met David, he told me of his vision for Optima on our first date. His master’s thesis was a prefabricated, modular home that could be a one-of-a-kind model. It made perfect sense that he would build it and I would sell it.
Both having entrepreneurial spirits, we split our time between our day jobs and developing our first Optima projects. I was teaching at the time, and would use my free time looking for land to develop while David worked late teaching at IIT. Our first project was urban renewal land in Hyde Park.
We started Optima by going rogue, David working as both architect and developer with a design-driven product, while I was responsible for selling, a rarity in the late 70s. We were passionate about our business model from the beginning, with a plan to double in size and take on new and bigger challenges with each project.”
“In 2000 we decided to look for a second market outside of Chicago. We wanted to create opportunities that would enable us to have projects in another market when the real estate market in Chicago was in a down cycle.
Our grandfather, Timothy Sheehan, had a home in Scottsdale at McCormick Ranch and would live there during the cold Chicago winter where our family would often visit him.
As we evaluated other markets for expansion like Los Angeles and Denver, there were several things that we liked about Arizona. First, we saw that there was consistent increase in population and job growth. We were also excited about the warm weather and the opportunity to design residences that took advantage of functional livable outdoor space and developments that had world class outdoor amenities and open, walkable landscaped settings. We saw the opportunity to develop in the urban cores of downtown Phoenix, Biltmore, Old Town Scottsdale, Kierland, North Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, and now with the continued development of the highway system and the Light Rail there are even more opportunities for development. But perhaps what was most exciting about Arizona was from the inspiration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. Having designed a home for our family in 1982 using a light gauge steel for the structure, as well as a modular home for a family in Homewood, Illinois, my father saw an opportunity to explore desert design possibilities first with a series of single-family homes before starting multifamily projects. One of the most interesting parts of the Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin curriculum was that the students were sent out to the desert to design a small shelter. This was something my father thought was a great way to teach students about architecture and the importance of shade, structure, building orientation, materials, and use of native desert plants when designing in the harsh desert climate. This became the focus for the series of houses, that essentially became a laboratory for testing contemporary architecture and modern design principles, ideas, and materials such as how to use concrete, steel, high performance glazing, louvers, shading devices, and desert style green roofs and landscaping in the desert.”
Responding to the Market Crisis
“In 2007, our ownership team was working on various projects within the Optima footprint; I was a construction superintendent, David Jr. was developing Optima DCHGlobal, David Sr. was designing Optima’s projects and running the business and Eileen was in charge of sales and marketing. When the market crashed we were in the midst of delivering a combined 1,400 condominiums between IL and AZ, and we all came together to preserve our business, for the sake of our team members, our financial partners, our buyers, and our family.
I got my managing broker’s license to sell our newly built condominiums at Optima Old Orchard Woods. To meet market needs, we introduced both rentable residential units and rentable office space in both our Arizona and Illinois projects. Making sacrifices and realigning our strategy allowed us to meet our financial obligations and uphold our responsibilities to our partners, our communities, and our team through the continuation of our business.
I’m proud of how we stuck to our values during that time; we’re committed to building strong, lasting relationships, and that’s exactly what we did. Neither our family nor our team walked away from our projects, but instead focused on our long-term vision and promises.”
Visioning the Future
“Looking forward we want to continue to evolve all aspects of our vertically integrated system.
We will continue to find great sites and build meaningful relationships with property owners that are interested in bringing higher density to locations that really need it.
We want to continue to push the boundaries of the live, work, play style of living as well as create communities where people find lifelong relationships and friendships with interesting people of all ages.
We want to continue to learn and explore all possibilities of development, architecture, and construction; to continue evolving our architecture and construction by pushing the limits of imagination and creativity. We will continue using the latest design technology as efficiently as possible to improve our structures, envelope, interiors, Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing, floor plans, amenity spaces, and sustainability.”
“At the end of the day, we want Optima to be a place where everyone on our team feels heard and appreciated, and comfortable raising their hand to suggest ideas, especially when they’re outside of the box. We want them to know that their work is meaningful and ultimately connected to our purpose.
We equip our team for success and aim to give team members the highest-quality experience, from interviewing, to onboarding, to professional development. With our collaborative and communicative environment, this is the strongest team we’ve had in over 40 years.
It’s important to us to give back to the community, and through team-building and service days like working with Habitat for Humanity we do just that. It’s also important to us to have open dialogue and to constantly challenge ourselves and each other. David Jr. and I are in constant communication with the team, and host events like Town Halls to give everyone the opportunity to ask us questions and investigate fresh, new ideas to keep us at the forefront of design, development and construction.
Four decades later, a few things haven’t changed. We’re still not afraid to take risks. We’re still passionate about building lasting communities and relationships. We still keep great design at the forefront of everything we do. And our hope and vision is to continue creating beautiful, and innovative spaces for people to enjoy for years to come.”