UIC has already made a huge splash in St. Louis with their out-of-the-box way of blending architecture and design to create some of the most striking contemporary businesses and homes in the city. Some of their most eye-catching projects include the former City Hospital power plant downtown transformed into a climbing gym for Climb So Ill, the pair of upscale wine bars/restaurants Olio and Elaia, City Garden Montessori school, as well as many residential homes that have been popping up in the Botanical Heights and Grove areas.
Founded by architects and partners Brent Crittenden and Sarah Gibson, UIC – which stands for Urban Improvement Company – is a develop-design-build company focused on the mission of improving the city of St. Louis. They are doing this by building unique, modern homes and businesses in areas of the city that have gone underdeveloped over time and turning them around, making them more appealing for visitors and consumers, and more walkable and enjoyable places for residents.
While UIC continues to improve the St. Louis City area, they’re also changing the game for their clients by providing an all-in-one service from real estate development through construction that makes the building process easier and more accessible than ever before. That theme matches the motto of their UIC Homes division: Modern Living Made Easy. To learn more, we reached out to three of UIC’s satisfied customers to get the scoop on their experiences with UIC, why they love their UIC homes and why they believe in the UIC mission.
First, there’s Brad Fratello. He’s an art professor at Meramec Community College and a yoga instructor. It turns out that Brad and his husband Doug are in the design process for their second UIC home. They sold their first to a man who made a blind offer about two years ago. “It wasn’t even for sale,” Brad explains, “but when somebody offers all that you ever hoped the house would be worth when you retire, and they offer it to you 20 years early, you take the money and run.” They plan to make their second home very much like the first, complete with a fireplace, vaulted ceilings and an open layout that leads seamlessly to the backyard, catering to their love of greenspace.
Next, there’s Dana Widmer, who works as the feline manager at Five Acres Animal Shelter and has spent more than 20 years in pet rescue. Her home has a mixture of retro light fixtures, hickory wood floors, a big comfy chair and exposed industrial piping in the kitchen, all culminating in a style that she calls “farmhouse-industrial.” Her home is a cozy 1,000 square feet, which is perfect for her and her pets. Widmer also had UIC do a vaulted ceiling and large windows to really open up her small space.
Finally, there’s John and Amanda McAllister. John is an architect and Associate Vice President with Cannon Design, and Amanda is an architectural designer with Trivers. They went with UIC because they were looking for a modern take on the historical elements of the city’s architecture. The 1,800-square-foot layout of the McAllister home has very efficiently stacked bedrooms to cut down on their carbon footprint, a large, open living/kitchen space and large rear windows that bring in tons of natural light.
Besides just knowing what their homes are like now, the three sets of clients go on to explain the standout moments they had while working with UIC, and what about the home building process made them the happy homeowners they are today. For Dana, it was all about how flexible and easy to work with they were. “I always heard nightmarish stories about building a house and how hard it is, but UIC was the exact opposite,” she says. “One big thing was how accommodating they were with my lighting selection – I like putting unique lighting in my home. I didn’t get my lighting from any of their usual choices, which I’m sure must have been a hassle for them. But even so, they let me pick out what I wanted from things I saw online – which they typically don’t do – and they installed it all for me.” For Brad, it is the endless amount of creative energy that they brought to every design meeting. “They bring refreshing ideas to the table every time you meet with them,” he explains. “We happily learned that when our budget constraints seemed tight, that is when UIC’s creativity gets kicked into gear. Some of our favorite elements of our house were things that they were able to forge out of a limited budget.”
Another big factor that makes UIC stand out for its clients is the intimate, neighborly relationship they bring to the table. As John explains, “It’s the relationships you gain with them. Working with UIC is like having your neighbor build your house. I actually live right down the street from their office, so reaching out to them is always easy, and they’re always happy to come by and take care of anything that may come up.”
As for the impact that UIC has made in St. Louis, Brad goes on to explain that it’s as simple as looking at the neighborhoods they have already developed, “Think about Botanical Grove. It was nothing five or six years ago before UIC started developing it. Literally, there was nothing there. Now, I know that our new place is going to be their first imprint in Tower Grove East and I know that they are excited to put their presence there. I think that everywhere they touch they make better.”
John echoes that sentiment by explaining his amazement in the city’s transition, and how it continues to evolve. “My current neighbor who has been there for over 30 years actually remembered there being a crack house on the lots where I built my house decades before I moved in. That kind of transformation is really incredible to see and be a part of.”
Such transformation can be seen all around St. Louis, from Botanical Heights and the Grove, to the Central West End and Shaw, to new developments in Tower Grove East and Creve Coeur. Soon they’ll be heading north to Hyde Park, where new clients and new styles will add to that historic neighborhood. What seems clear is that no matter where UIC builds, the results will be something unique and unexpected, just like their clients.
For more information on previous projects or to get the ball rolling on your own UIC home, you can visit their websites at uicstl.com or uichomes.com. For information on transforming your current home, visit refinebyuic.com. V
by Tyler Bierman