What’s in a job: The house that Ray built

Ray Daughton stands in front of Ekker Design Build's most recent project, involving a 9-foot cantilever, Cedar City, Utah, Aug. 18, 2016 | Photo by Paul Dail, St. George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — When most people think of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, three things forming the foundation of the pyramid come to mind: food, shelter and clothing. Without securing these basic needs, Maslow proposed, humans will struggle to move on to the higher levels, such as belonging, esteem and self-actualization. Viewed in this way, Cedar City resident Ray Daughton provides a service that helps people better themselves – although his modesty would never allow him to say as much.

Daughton started working construction in 1989 in Las Vegas, Nevada. He said he heard about that first framing job through a family member, but he wasn’t given any breaks.

“My mom’s cousin was working for the same company,” Daughton said, “but he wouldn’t give me a thumbs-up. He just said, ‘Show up and they’ll hire you, but I’m not putting my name out there for you.’”

“I don’t blame him,” he added and laughed. “I was cocky back then. I wouldn’t have either.”

Ray Daughton is on the job site from the beginning, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Ekker Design Build, St. George News / Cedar City News
Ray Daughton is on the job site from the beginning, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Ekker Design Build, St. George News / Cedar City News

Since then, Daughton has been involved in every aspect of homebuilding at one point or another, from foundations to roofs.

He has worked on everything from apartment complexes to award-winning homes. He has built a ward meeting house for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the middle of winter in the coldest place in the western United States. And he has done the finish carpentry on a multimillion-dollar home in the middle of summer on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu.

Currently, Daughton is the foreman for Ekker Design Build, a company he has been working for since February 1997. Admittedly, most of the projects he has been working on recently have been higher-end homes, not necessarily just fulfilling the basic needs of living. These are houses that appeal to a sense of aesthetics. But for Daughton, a man who lives modestly himself, he said he enjoys the challenge.

“I like it better than building the same thing everyone else is building,” he said.

An example of this is Ekker Design Build’s most recent project on Leigh Hill in Cedar City, where his crew had to build a 9-foot cantilever on the second level that would support part of the master bedroom and a deck (seen above in progress).

A cantilever is an overhanging structure popularized by architect Frank Lloyd Wright that doesn’t require any external bracing. An example familiar to Cedar City residents is the suspended northwest corner of the new Southern Utah Museum of Art in Cedar City. It’s a structural feat that requires more than just typical stick framing.

Home of Anne Marie Gardner, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Ekker Design Build, St. George News / Cedar City News
Home of Anne Marie Gardner, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Ekker Design Build, St. George News / Cedar City News

However, the Leigh Hill home isn’t necessarily the most interesting one Daughton has worked on. He speaks fondly of the house they built for Anne Marie Gardner, a local artist, collector and former board president of Friends of the Braithwaite Gallery (now Friends of SUMA).

“That was a good one,” Daughton said. “It represented some firsts, some first things for Shawn (Ekker). He won a whole bunch of awards on that house.”

The awards in question were from the 2000 Parade of Homes, when the house won awards for architectural design, interior design and quality of construction. The house also represented some firsts for Daughton.

“That was the first time I set tile in a house that wasn’t either his (Ekker’s) or mine,” he said and laughed again. “I was like, ‘Are you sure you want me doing this, Shawn? Remember what your basement looked like?’”

While he doesn’t mind working with tile, Daughton’s favorite part of working construction is doing finish carpentry, the final touches that transform a house into a home.

“I would rather do finish work than framing,” he said. “Framing is just back-breaking labor work. For finish work, you have to be a little more precise.”

His skills in this department were put to the test in 2003 when Ekker flew Daughton and a small crew over to Hawaii to work on a home.

The track for these doors had to be hand-routered to assure doors would slide smoothly past each other with less than a half-inch gap between, Honolulu, Hawaii, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Ekker Design Build, St. George News / Cedar City News
The tracks for these doors had to be hand-routed to assure doors would slide smoothly past each other with less than a half-inch gap between, Honolulu, Hawaii, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Ekker Design Build, St. George News / Cedar City News

“That was probably the most intense,” Daughton said. “If it wasn’t 100 percent perfect, we had to redo it. Might as well do it right the first time.”

This was no small feat, as Daughton’s crew had to mill rough-hewn boards of teak wood into the polished pieces of trim that would go throughout the house. To do this, they set up a miniworkshop in the garage of the house, complete with saws, a heavy-duty benchtop planer and barrel sander.

“There was a lot of handcrafting on that job, carving the wood out,” Daughton said. “And the trim work around the countertops in the bathroom had to be routed and perfectly fit.”

It’s obvious from talking with Daughton that this was a very difficult job, but something else that is obvious is the pride he takes not only in his work but also pleasing his employer. He said this is actually one of his favorite parts of the job.

“When the job is done and the boss is happy and he’s impressed,” he said of what he favors. “If you can impress him, that’s a good thing.”

Shawn Ekker said this is an area where Daughton hasn’t let him down. He said:

He’s come a long way. He’s invaluable. … There’s nothing he has said, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ He’s always tried. We’ve had to reverse a few times and do a few things over, but the thing about Ray is that he’s proven time and time again that I can trust him with pretty much anything.

This is an attribute that Ekker said he believes is very valuable in a person and that is also hard to find.

“You have those wishy-washy guys that you don’t know if they’re going to work out, and when you push them a little bit, they bail on you.”

A beautiful location to work but far from home and family, Honolulu, Hawaii, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Ekker Design Build, St. George News / Cedar City News
A beautiful location to work but far from home and family, Honolulu, Hawaii, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Ekker Design Build, St. George News / Cedar City News

Testing limitations and pushing people to the edge is important, Ekker said. Referring to the job in Hawaii, he said that Daughton’s edge is “a long ways out there.”

“I asked him to do things that were not only demanding as far as scope of work,” he said, “but also demanding as far as moving away from his family for a short time and trusting me that everything would be OK. … That was something I asked him to do, and he did it with confidence. His confidence helped my confidence.”

This symbiotic relationship is important in the construction business, Ekker said, where very often things can quickly go bad or not the way you had hoped. In these instances, he said, Daughton has again proved his value.

“People’s attitudes can sour quickly when things go bad, and if you don’t have people around you to say, ‘Alright, let’s get through this,’ it can get discouraging,” Ekker said. “Ray is the kind of guy you want there to help you through it. … If you’re going into battle, he’s the kind of guy you want with you.”

About the series “What’s in a job”

Labor Day invites us to give “tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” according to the Labor Department.

St. George News brings this “What’s in a job” series of stories over Labor Day weekend to recognize workers whose contributions may go unnoticed, who may be less visible to the general public than others and to unpack some of what goes into everyday jobs performed by everyday people in our communities. Work is a good thing. We honor it and those who do it.

Other stories in the series:

Email: pdail@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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