When Norman Rankow moved to the Vineyard in 1978 with his wife Margaret and their 2-year-old daughter, he started his own construction business and worked out of his pickup truck. Forty years later, Rankow’s Colonial Reproductions is an award winning restoration and building company with a leadership team of five professionals working out of an Edgartown office, and countless subcontractors, electricians, designers, landscapers, architects and others in the building trades working with them.
A New Yorker originally, Rankow moved to the Island when the Long Island construction supply company he worked for let him go.
“I lost my job when New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy,” Rankow told The Times last week. “My wife was pregnant with our first daughter, and we decided I’d go into business for myself here.”
He’d summered on the Vineyard when he was growing up, and he had brought Margaret here on their honeymoon.
“Why did I move here? The same reason everybody does,” he said. “They get exposed to the Vineyard and they want to be here.”
Colonial Reproductions began as a “one-man show,” Rankow said, and as more and more jobs came along, he increased the size of the crew he worked with.
“Now we’re one of the larger firms on the Island — we all think we’re the best, of course,” Rankow laughed. “We have good relationships with architects and owners and we work with the movers and shakers in the industry. We’re blessed.”
Colonial Reproductions takes on all phases of construction, from commercial building to one-room renovation projects to complete restorations and new builds. Right now they’ve got four projects going, four more coming up, plus a few slated to begin in early fall.
Rankow said today’s project planning is definitely different from the way it was done in the late ’70s. Technology allows Rankow to work from anywhere in the world. He can take clients on a virtual tour of their home with his iPhone, or recommend websites like houzz.com to help them generate ideas about what they want in their home.
And what do homeowners want these days? They want current technology, which changes every year, Rankow said. Wi-Fi, media rooms, big-screen televisions, exercise rooms, a functioning home office. “They want their house to live in the 21st century with modern conveniences and state-of-the-art kitchens; no more black coal stoves in the corner.”
Creating the perfect home is all about the client’s vision, and the architect and designers help with that process. His job, Rankow said, is to “bang the nails.”
He recommends clients clip photographs of designs they like and share them with their builder.
“A picture’s worth a thousand words,” he says. “Get a manila folder and if you see something you like, pull it out and put it in the folder. If you want an antique fireplace, show me a picture.”
For restoration projects, it’s simpler to find an accurate reproduction for hardware, light fixtures, and other elements. You can’t always match new to the old, he says, and there are so many new products that look timeless. Of course, getting supplies and design pieces to arrive on the Island on time can sometimes be a challenge.
“We don’t make hardware on the Island; we don’t make toilets here,” Rankow said. “All those supplies come from America, and if the boats don’t run, we don’t get them.”
From an antique whaling captain’s home to a brand-new build that’s constructed to fit in with the environment around it, Colonial Reproductions is equipped to handle every phase of construction and renovation. There are challenges sometimes, Rankow admitted, like renovating homes situated within a small, confined lot, or those with groundwater issues, old oil tanks in the yard, or crumbling foundations. Colonial Reproductions works with town historic districts, planning boards, and zoning officers, making sure the integrity of the original structure is maintained while bringing homes into the 21st century.
“We understand what we have to do, and we love getting those details right,” he said. That being said, he also admits that new construction is much easier than restoring or renovating a property. “New construction is easy, there are no surprises per se,” he said. “With renovations, you never know what you’re getting into, and you’re trying to marry new parts with the old.”
Then there are the inevitable permitting and site challenges that come up, especially when building near the water. “Most of our projects have permitting aspects, so just to get them off the ground can take six months to a year, but we do that every day, so that’s easy for us.
“In the end, we have a bottle of wine, a nice dinner with the clients. We make the project look like it’s been there a hundred years, and they’re happy.
“We’ve built a good support team and a good group of subcontractors,” Rankow explained. “It’s all about making the project the best it can be. Ninety-nine percent of my clients are still friends of mine today. Sometimes we’ve built or worked on two, three homes for them over the years.”
Rankow says over and over that he’s been blessed, that he loves Edgartown and the Island community. Colonial Reproductions gives back by supporting affordable housing initiatives and the Preservation Trust. It helps sponsor local events, and Rankow himself has served on Edgartown’s school committee and library building committee. He’s a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Edgartown Board of Trade. He’s been on Edgartown’s dredge management committee and the zoning board of appeals.
Rankow said his work as president of Colonial Restorations is ever-changing and never boring.
“It starts with the people we work with and the people we work for,” he says. “They know what they want, they’re informed, and they’ve done their due diligence. They’ve done their homework before they hire us, and we appreciate them because they are informed. I like everything about what I do. It’s been 40 years, and it gets better and better.”
Whether a homeowner is considering renovating or new construction, Rankow said, Colonial Reproductions works to meet expectations and to keep projects on budget and on time.
“Communication is key,” he said. “We don’t guess. If you hire us, we’re not doing what we want, we want to make you happy, and we have to get the details right.”
For more information about Colonial Reproductions, visit the website colonial-reproductions.com, or call 508-627-5100.