Written by Andrea Darr | Photos by Matt Kocourek
hat does a builder build for himself? He uses the best construction, of course, but what lifestyle and look does he choose? For Jeff Ashner, one of KC’s top custom home builders, it’s about surrounding himself with the things—and people—he loves most.
At his 20-acre property in Stilwell, Jeff and his wife, real estate agent Dana Benjamin, built a home that Jeff says many people would consider too large for homeowners their age. But between them, they have five daughters and wanted everyone to have a place to come home to.
Jeff calls his style Alpine Rustic, a theme he knows well after a stint building in Montana. The home is all wood and stone, reclaimed this, reassembled that—an all-enveloping sensory feast. He worked with interior designer Janet Alholm and, after she passed, Amber Gardner and Pat Conner to help make sense of the melange.
Jeff sourced materials from deconstructed buildings, former restaurants, old farms and ranches, stone quarries and even twigs taken straight from his land.
“Everything in this house has a story,” he says. “My dad said, ‘This isn’t a house, it’s a museum.’”
The lower level is of particular interest, both an entertaining space and a mecca of curiosity. The staircase alone bangs off a handful of notable details: Sticks harvested from the grounds were treated and cast to form the staircase spindles. Rock tile adds texture to the treads.
Turquoise nuggets were ground, mixed with epoxy, and rubbed into the wood steps’ crevices for a minute but meaningful detail. “It’s kind of a fun thing, don’t you think?” Jeff asks.
“I just like rocks. When I was little, my dad would take me to construction sites and I would collect rocks in my pockets,” says Jeff, who still always carries a few in his jeans pocket to this day.
Downstairs, he dedicated an entire room to his collection of ancient history. The display room under the porch is a work in progress, Jeff says, as his collection is ever-changing as he visits the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show every year. “I’ve bought some crazy things that don’t mean anything to anyone else except to us,” he says.
If he weren’t so successful as a builder? “I’d probably be a prospector,” Jeff says with a chuckle.
Dana brings her own collections to the marriage and house: Several salvaged items from her family’s former business, Benjamin Ranch, are enjoying a second life here, including an antique clock, stable doors and an original Native American costume.
“Dana accepts my quirks,” Jeff says, adding that before they joined families and houses, their kids all came to the same conclusion about each parent: their stuff all looks the same. “There’s not a lot of disagreement in our style. We fit like hand in glove.”
Jeff also required a tight relationship with his subcontractors, bringing some out of retirement, to customize the designs swirling in his head and to ensure the job would be done well.
“It had a collaborative feel,” Jeff explains. “People aren’t used to doing things differently; they have to find the right mechanism to do it. But there’s camaraderie in it, and now they want to come back to see how it turned out.”
“There’s nothing perfect, but everything came together well,” Jeff adds.
Even though the couple aren’t big drinkers, a curvilinear bar at the base of the stairs—loaded up and featuring rusty recycled metal on the cabinet fronts—faces the open space. “If I drink anything, I like tequila,” Jeff notes. That’s why the tequila tree he saw at a restaurant in Newport Beach appealed to him so much. He commissioned a residential-scale version and hired lighting designer Jon Cale to adjust the bases to fit different shapes of bottles and light them with changing colors.
Inspired by an idea he saw in Vail, Colorado, Jeff sliced tree trunks and attached the rounds to the TV wall as a backdrop, highlighted by glass-blown sconces by Dierk Van Keppel (whom you can read about on page 49). On either side of this divider, Jeff keeps poker and craps tables, slots and pinball machines for family play time.
His Jesse James-style hideout is hidden for a reason: It’s a mess, Jeff admits, but what comes out of it is true craftsmanship, whether it’s fixing up watches or creating jewelry for his daughters.
This home is the culmination of two lifetimes—his and hers—their parts and pieces forming a united whole.
“We put it all together in a way that reflects us; it’s personal and timeless,” Jeff says.
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