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Ostroff is Drafted for Success

Architect Zach Ostroff beat the housing downturn by honing a niche market, then diversifying his clientele.

When he’s not working, he’s studying — finishing up his master’s degree at Lawrence Tech or spending time with his wife, Jennifer, and children, Noa, 7, Maia, 5, and Eli, 3. But when he is working, compass in hand, Zack Ostroff is drawing.

Ostroff, 38, is — and says he always wanted to be — an architect. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Lawrence Tech, in Southfield, he began working for local firms, gaining experience in both commercial and residential work.

“My goal was always to be on my own,” Ostroff said. He was laid off 10 years ago at age 28. That was the impetus he needed to turn his dream into a reality by launching ZO Architecture out of his West Bloomfield home.  “I’ve been growing ever since,” he adds.

The economy was strong 10 years ago when he ventured out on his own. By spending 40-50 hours a week on getting business — mostly residential remodeling and additions — he was able to do 150 to 200 projects a year.  “My biggest challenge was marketing,” he added. Ten years later, most of his new projects come from word of mouth.

When the economy took a turn for the worse, Ostroff began to specialize, focusing on a niche market: accomodating the physically disabled. He concluded that, as the population ages, more and more people need to make changes to their homes in order to get around or accommodate wheelchairs.

While continuing to diversify into commercial projects as well as maintaining his custom design work, Ostroff has developed a reputation for his ability to create barrier-free plans that combine design and function. The audience he culls from includes those injured in auto accidents as well as people with cerebral palsy and other physical limitations.

Art Dermer runs Adco Construction in West Bloomfield and has worked on several handicap-accessible projects with Ostroff.  They’ve worked together for 10 years after meeting through a referral.

“I’m a lone wolf who really doesn’t need a full-time architect so the association has worked out well for me,” Dermer said.

“I respect him. He takes care of business.”

Ostroff also began doing more commercial work, such as the recently redesigned Fringe Salon in West Bloomfield. “It used to be an ugly, 1980s-era Pizza Hut building, and we were able to make it contemporary,” Ostroff said.

The contractor on that project was Neal Budman, owner of Budman’s Remodeling in Keego Harbor. He’s worked with Ostroff for 11 years on commercial, residential and renovation projects.

“This project was on a tight deadline,” Budman said. “Zack is one of the fastest architects I’ve ever worked with. He knows that clients want to get building as quickly as they can. I’ve seen him work up a sweat measuring for a project so he can get the plans turned around within a week — that’s fast and really helps the building process.”

ZO Architecture is currently doing about 50 projects a year, but they’re different kinds of projects than what Ostroff was doing when he started out. “It’s more commercial work,” he added, such as a project he’s working on in South Lyon to expand a medical building.

Dr. Nate Block wants to expand his 1,000-square-foot medical building to 8,000 square feet in order to accommodate more physicians. The project is still in the early stages. “Zack’s helping us with the development process,” Bloch said. “He’s really going out of the way to treat us like family.”

Ostroff also continues to do residential work, including the design of new lakefront homes in West Bloomfield and on Cass Lake.  “My goal is to diversify as much as I can,” he said. He recently began doing consulting work for clients hoping to receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “I review drawings and specifications and fill out the necessary forms to ensure they qualify,” he said.

Ostroff’s days start early, at 4:15 a.m., but no two days are the same.  “That’s what I love about working for myself. One day I’m drawing, the next I’m running appointments or measuring. I recently started getting clients in Ohio, so there’s a bit of traveling to keep things fresh.” RT



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