Tim Larson of La Casa Builders: ‘It’s got to be just right’

We talked with Tim Larson of La Casa Builders on what he loves about his work, where the opportunities are, and what trends he’s seeing.

Q. How did you get started building?

My dad tried to help me build things, but was horrible at it, I guess that got me started. I went into construction in ‘78, but the contractor I worked for had a heart attack. So I was self-employed from 21 on. I moved here in ‘85, started a carpentry business, then converted to construction in ‘91. I’ve been self-employed my whole life.

Q. We’re persuading kids to go to college, and now there are too few people in the trades. We’ll always need people who can build stuff, but it’s getting hard to find young people who are interested. What are your thoughts on that?

I’m not the college type, I’ve got too much energy, plus not everybody can write papers. This is an honorable job to build and construct things, but hard work. I saw it as a way to make very good money without a college education. If you know how to do it, you can make as much as a doctor. You can stay in it for a long time. I had a grand opening of a new project last night and I said, “Shoot, it’s been 40 years!”

Q. What’s your favorite thing about being a builder?

It’s rewarding to see what you do; you can look back at the projects. Then there are the clients you meet, I just love them. You get to know them, learn about who they are through building their house. We keep in touch; I’ve got about 30 or 40 houses I maintain. The best is when we assemble a unique, one-of-a-kind full team (architect, designer, all the consultants) and can brainstorm and get creative.

Q. Is there a trend, a direction people are going?

Very much contemporary. Even taking what’s there and getting cleaner lines. Lighter colors. White is in.

Q. What’s the most challenging work as a builder?

The hillside projects. Utilities and getting everything up … everything’s trickier. Contemporary is harder –– everything has to fit perfectly because there are no moldings. I told a client, “Contemporary is the hardest one to build. You have no room for error.” In their mind, it’s the simplest, easiest thing to build, but you need to be the most precise in the field, double-checking everything.

Q. Other than the weather, what’s the biggest difference between building in Arizona and Minnesota?

Houses have to have footings 5 feet deep in Minnesota because it’s so cold; so all the houses have basements. Harder here, to pull the dirt off, especially in a big city.

Q. What kind of finishes are you seeing?

A lot of transition on the cabinet side. Wood grain finishes are back, in lighter finishes. We’re seeing alternatives to the marble countertops, some of the manufactured products. We never would have thought of using these when I first started, but they’ve come a long way.

Q. Is it difficult to find craftsmen who would have done that original work in the past?

Masons are hard to find; nobody coming out of high school wants to lay block. That’s hard work and can be a rough crowd. The mason La Casa Builder’s working with now is probably the best in the state; I need him because it’s got to be just right. He’s close to retirement. You do see some who pop up that enjoy their trade. Same with metalwork. If they get too specialized, nobody calls them; when things are good, they’re okay. With a downturn, it’s tough. But they enjoy what they do. I like to work with people who enjoy the art of creating.

But mostly, I enjoy working with the clients, one at a time, walking them through the project, fulfilling their dreams.