La Casa Builders Inc. started on solid rock.
“I was building a home at the base of Pinnacle Peak Mountain,” recalls Ron Steege, a co-principal, with Tim Larson of the Scottsdale-based custom builder now in its 20th year. The 10,000-square-foot north Scottsdale home was designed by John Rattenbury, senior architect at Taliesin Architects, founded by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Larson owned Tim Larson Custom Carpentry. “Ron hired me to do the interior trim carpentry in the home. Things went well, and after he finished it, we decided to continue on together,” recalls the native of Ada, Minn., where he graduated from high school in 1977, attended East Grand Forks Technical School for Construction and worked for and eventually purchased a general contracting company.
“I became very impressed with Tim’s skill, work ethic and personal integrity. I asked him to join me in a general contracting venture,” says Steege, born and raised in Bloomington, Ill. There he graduated from high school in 1963 and pursued design education at the Art Institute of Pittsburg, the Ray Vogue Art Academy in Chicago and Illinois State University.
This combination of Steege’s design skills and Larson’s master craftsmanship has allowed each man to contribute individual expertise and synthesize a partnership that has made La Casa one of the Valley’s most-respected luxury builders and premium remodelers.
Essential to the success has been continuing friendship: “There was and is a chemistry that Ron and I have together that is hard to explain,” Larson explains. “It’s like he is my brother.”
At Home Building Homes
A specialist at desert and hillside construction as well as golf course lots, La Casa has built customs in luxury communities such as Silverleaf, DC Ranch and Desert Highlands in Scottsdale and on premium sites in Phoenix, Paradise Valley and Carefree.
“Our passion, from the day we started until today, has been to build timeless ‘works of art’ utilizing the very best in materials, craftsmanship and technology,” Steege says.
Flexibly adapting to their clients’ visions, they have built in styles as diverse as Mediterranean, Spanish Colonial, Tuscan and Contemporary as well as created fusions realizing the visions of their clients.
Inspired by the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright, the firm also completed a renovation of the hillside Lykes/Melton home ― designed by Wright just before his death in 1959.
“Our goal was to conserve the character and integrity of Wright’s work but bring the livability features of the home into the 21st century,” Steege says of the 1994 project.
La Casa also excels in green, or sustainable, homes, implementing strategies such as recycling Douglas fir beams from a 70-year-old saw mill in Oregon, Low-E glass, high-SEER-rated HVAC systems with HEPA filters, tankless water heaters, lighting-control systems, foam insulation and geothermal technology to heat and cool a home.
After schooling, Steege worked as a graphic designer, freelance illustrator and art director for Country Companies Insurance Company before moving to Arizona in the middle ‘70s with his wife Jennifer to start a design/build company. An artist, she grew up on a farm in central Illinois, and they met in an art class at Illinois State University.
“We looked all over the Southwest and fell in love with Arizona ― everything about it: the climate, the people. Most of all the diversity of the Sonoran Desert totally captivated us,” recalls Steege, who lives with Jennifer in downtown Scottsdale.
They started in Tucson, renovating doctors’ offices, dental clinics and homes, including that of singer Linda Ronstadt’s grandparents, which is now owned by her uncle and aunt.
They relocated to the Valley to work with Gerry Jones, who has designed and built many hillside homes in Paradise Valley and Carefree for clients such as Hugh Downs, Paul Harvey and the Darlington family.
“Gerry taught me the art and science of building complex desert homes on difficult sites utilizing the best materials and craftsmen,” Steege says. “Tim and I still embrace many of the methods and techniques taught by Gerry in our current projects.”
Larson, meanwhile, moved to Arizona in January 1985 with his wife, Carol ― she’s an elementary school teacher ― from native Ada, Minn., to join her parents, who had relocated here two years earlier, as well as to get away from northern winters and, at the same time, reap some of the carpentry work in the growing Valley. He and Carol are also Scottsdale residents.
Desert weather perfectly dovetailed his skills and aptitude: “I have always been a hands-on active type person, so that’s what I like about the construction field,” Larson says. “I like to see the progress that you can make every day. Every day is new and different. It is never monotonous.”
Integrity, Detail, Service
Start-up La Casa was Larson, the Steeges and one laborer. “We actually worked out of our homes and a trailer on site,” Steege recalls, noting that Jennifer was the office administrator for the first 10 years.
Mostly, the company did remodeling for the first eight years. In 1998, they built a large custom home. “After that, more new home opportunities came up, and since then we have been doing more new construction than remodeling,” Larson says.
Today, their core staff includes an additional eight employees, who handle municipal permits and reviews, cost analysis, value engineering, construction specifications, competitive bidding, sub-contractor and supplier selection, project management and administration.
An additional 50 to 100 personnel work in the field on projects. “Over the 20 years, we have gained experience selecting subcontractors,” Larson explains. “Just being the least expensive person isn’t always good. You have to know if a company has sufficient crews to handle the work. You also need to know their level of craftsmanship.”
He adds: “When we have a good subcontractor, we like to stick with them because they know what we like and dislike. Some subcontractors are good for a while and lose a key employee, and then we have problems. It’s a daily process of keeping good quality subcontractors.”
To do otherwise would be to shortcut clients ― a breach of the company’s mission of integrity, detail and service.
“Many of our clients may only build or renovate one home in their lifetime, and we want that experience to be positive and enjoyable,” Steege says. “Our daily reality is that we build dreams, and Tim and I, and the La Casa family, take that responsibility very seriously.”