Asheville’s Kevin Reed wasn’t always a custom-home builder. A few decades ago, he was about 15 years into a mechanical engineering and project managing career. Then he took his family to Disney World.
He walked into the Wilderness Lodge, one of Disney’s trademarked resorts, and had a epiphany. He wanted to build something like that—something both rustic and comfortable, with amazing craftsmanship and minute attention to detail, something that blends nostalgia with contemporary technology.
He was enthralled by the enormous, weight-supporting beams in the Lodge, carved to look like totem poles. He loved the freedom of the five-story open atrium. He liked the natural timber beams and railings, the design that harkened back to mid-century national parks. He liked how the Lodge was surrounded with boulders, reeds, and man-made streams and waterfalls. It was timeless Americana, and he wanted in.
That trip happened in 1998. In 1999, Kevin quit his engineering job and founded Bluestone Construction—a North Carolina-based custom residential building firm that excelled in both traditional styles and contemporary homes.
Mind + Body
Kevin had always been around nice homes. As a kid, he spent a lot of time touring property with his father, a real estate developer. Kevin also enjoyed woodworking from an early age.
“I’m very task-oriented. I like the feeling of accomplishment when you build something,” he says. “I love the idea that I’m putting something together that will last 100 years, and people will live there.”
He’s also a design-enthusiast. “If I hadn’t been an engineer, I would probably have been an architect. And if I wasn’t an architect, I would have been a landscape architect.”
He’s always checking out the design of any new space he finds himself in, whether that’s a luxury golf course or a five-star hotel. He likes the hands-on aspect of building—the challenge of sketching or examining something on paper, then making that drawing a reality.
Kevin will offer a design opinion when asked, but he’s diplomatic about it.“We work with a lot of interiors and architects, and I definitely enjoy that. Sometimes they don’t have the time, and we end up working directly with the client to figure out how to make something happen. But I defer to an architect’s style.”
Working as a premiere homebuilder allows Kevin to handle innovative and beautiful materials and to use both his mind and his body. When working as an engineer, he sat behind a desk most days. Daily tasks were often very similar to whatever he did the day before.
“One of the best parts of my job now is that every day is different,” he says. “One day I might be working on an estimate or a proposal, and the next I’m doing an inspection or figuring out how to build a house, or ordering materials. I do everything, and I enjoy doing everything.”
Building Relationships, As Well As Homes
Kevin started building high-end homes because he enjoys problem-solving and working with what he calls “neat” materials. But one aspect of the job has surprised him—how much he enjoys forming relationships with clients.
“I really enjoy planning with the clients,” he says. “We try to get involved early and offer input in the beginning, during design, because that’s fun.”
He also likes the beginning of construction, when the lot is being cleared and the foundation is being laid. Some challenges may arise a few months in, but in these early, halcyon days, there is nothing but excitement and expectation from both the clients and the crew.
Kevin is in frequent touch with clients throughout the process, meeting with them weekly if needed. “I’m good at making sure clients understand the drawings that they paid for. There are a lot of people who see the finished house and say, ‘I didn’t know it was going to look like that.’ So I walk them through the drawings and stay ahead of construction, making sure they understand what we’re about to do.”
But he also finds himself staying in touch with clients long after a project. They’ll grab a beer or have dinner at each other’s house. Kevin is shy by nature, but he’s found it easy to bond with clients, because they already have common ground and a collaborative project. The relationship is meaningful from the start, so he gets to skip the cocktail-party small talk.
“Working with my clients has made me more comfortable around people in general,” he says. “It’s taught me to be very in-tune to what people are thinking. If we’re in a meeting with a client, I’ll pick up on their feelings or concerns, even if they don’t explicitly say them.”
Now building relationships with clients is Kevin’s favorite part of the job.
Inside the Brain of a Builder
Wondering what’s fun for a custom home builder? For starters, building your own vanity for a bathroom that you’re remodeling in your home, when you can’t find one you like that fits the space—sketching that vanity on paper, cutting out the pieces, and putting them together like a puzzle. That’s a roaring good time.
Want another example? Remodeling a non-descript brick box of a 1400-square foot home, built in the 1950’s. Doubling or tripling the size of that home, creating something that won’t even be recognizable as the original house, when you’re done. Doing this for fun, not for any client, so that you can decide everything about what goes where and what materials to use, and then selling the home when you’re done, because you don’t actually need that house. You just bought it to play with it.
These are two recent personal projects occupying Kevin’s spare time. But Kevin finds client work fun, too. He once built a timber-framed indoor pool house with a gorgeous lap pool, a jacuzzi, a small putting green, a dry sauna, and an attached weight room. The pool house required two foundations—one for the pool and one for the perimeter of the building.
“It was challenging, because it was a steep lot, and we had to build behind the existing house,” Kevin says. “Anything that’s challenging, I tend to enjoy.”
More recently, he did a multiple award-winning renovation. The client wanted to open up the interior, which required knocking down a weight-baring way. So Bluestone brought in 20-foot steel beams. It took 20 workers just to carry them into the home. Then they had to knock a hole through the roof with a wrecking ball, so they they could raise the beams to hold up the second story, while they tore down the wall—a process Kevin describes (in total seriousness!) as “really fun.”
Opening up this area allowed the living room to flow into the kitchen, which made a huge space for entertaining. They knocked down another wall and removed a staircase to create a dining room off the side of the kitchen, out of what used to be an office, as part of this great open area. Then—as the cherry on top—they removed dated French doors and installed a 12 x 20 foot sliding door that opens to an amazing mountain view and a screened porch with a built-in grill and stone fireplace.
Kevin particularly loves building screened porches. The way that they connect inside with outside gives him the same feeling he got twenty years ago from the Wilderness Lodge. He enjoys their vaulted ceilings, the unexpected amenities such as outdoor kitchens, entertainment spaces, and fireplaces. He knows how relaxed people will be on these porches, which means that building them relaxes him. And, because this is Asheville, there’s often an fantastic view. “On a fall morning, my contractors and subs will just stop and take a moment to take in the the view, and someone will say, ‘This is why we do what we do,’” he says.
Why Bluestone Is The Best Custom-Home Builder in Asheville
Kevin can easily list his strengths as a builder: “I’m organized. We’ve developed a lot of good processes at this point. I’m a good financial manager.” Often he builds for other professionals with demanding careers, such as doctors, lawyers and other engineers. They generally mention how much they appreciate Bluestone’s organization.
Another big strength? “I care A LOT,” Kevin says. “It’s my name. It’s my company, so what we put in the wall or behind the wall, behind the sheetrock, is as important to get right as a $20,000 granite countertop.”
Finally, Kevin welcomes challenges. “I tell architects, ‘Give me your hardest projects,’” he says. “If the client’s afraid or another builder’s afraid, let us know.”
And Bluestone’s crew is expert enough to master those challenges. “We’re not the cheapest builder, and we’re not the fastest. But if you want it right, we’re a good choice for you,” he says.