The Business Of Trying To RetireBy Kathy Roberts — LO Profile Editor | Photography By Jim Rogers

After spending many years vacationing here, Ken and Maria Allen built their beautiful dream home on the Gravois Arm of the Lake of the Ozarks with a peaceful retirement in mind. Although business keeps calling Ken back, they now live here, collecting art and spending as much time as they can on their boats enjoying the lake.

Ken began vacationing at the Lake as a child in the late 1950s. Caravaning with several other families from Iowa, they stayed at many family resorts on the Gravois Arm and around the Lake. (One of those families included Mike Janssen, who grew up to be Dr. Michael Janssen, featured in our March 2012 cover story.) After Ken and Maria married in 1978 they spent 14 seasons (1980-1993) at Beautyview Resort in Soap Creek Cove on the Gravois Arm. In 1993 they decided to buy a home nearby, adjacent to the mouth of Soap Creek Cove.

The 1940s cabin was unassuming, just 24 by 24 feet. All they did was close in a screen porch and add a deck. They kept it that way for 15 years, vacationing there frequently as their sons, Drake and Grant, grew up. Ken spent these years moving up through the ranks at Titan Wheel International, then Firestone Farm Tires, a division of Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC, where he retired as President in 2014. Maria retired in 2010 after 31 years with Wells Fargo in the Consumer Finance home office in Des Moines.

The Business Of Trying To RetireIN THE BEGINNING

In the early 2000s they decided to upgrade, and took several years and many steps in planning. Maria culled ideas and design elements from home planning and design magazines. They both were attracted to clean, symmetrical lines, and it was important to Maria that the new space would showcase her art collection as if in a gallery. Ken bought special software to design the house using Maria’s ideas. Throughout the process, they were quite adamant that they were building the home for themselves, not for resale. Thus, everything is quite personal.

Instead of just improving the cabin, they tore it down and started from scratch. The only things to stay were the original fire pit and the boathouse. They had to make much more room on their lot for the new home, and cut down 19 trees, which were burned in the fire pit, fueling many more memories. The first thing built was the “casita,” a cozy living space over the boathouse. It has all the amenities of an efficiency apartment, but is much more stylish. On one wall is a Mel Blanc lithograph featuring the Looney Tune characters standing in front of a microphone. The caption reads “Speechless”. Ken and Maria lived here for the better part of two years while the main house was being built, and it’s now used as a guesthouse.

Ken had planned to be here to oversee most of the construction, but Big Business had other plans for him. He got a new job in the middle of the project that kept him away most of the time. Maria oversaw the construction, spending hours on the phone and weekend visits with the builder, Ralph Essig of Essig Construction, and subcontractors to ensure that her very specific and extremely custom designs were understood and executed accordingly.

The Business Of Trying To RetireOUTDOOR LIVING

From the casita, the Lakeside patio is an immediate draw. A partially curtained pergola at one end surrounds a table for four. Maria wanted an area with a dining-room feel, but without being enclosed by screens. A hanging light above the table was fashioned from a candle–holder turned upside down and wired.

Next is a “living room” area, with a comfy sofa and chairs, perfect for enjoying the sunset with a glass of wine. Nearby, a custom-made concrete raised bar is inset with iridescent stones, shards of favorite wine and beer bottles and rocks from the property. When the stones glow at night it resembles the Milky Way — a totally unplanned bonus effect! Around the rough sides are etched names and outlines of things important to the Allens: the year 1993; two hockey sticks representing the boys playing ice hockey when they were growing up; a wine glass; the word canicula (which means dog days of summer); a coffee cup. The best view of the Lake is from right here!

The Business Of Trying To RetireOn the dock is a swing made from hockey sticks from years’ worth of the boys’ competitions. Their boat is named Tireless Too, meant to be a play on Ken’s retirement from the tire business.

Everything outdoors is meant to be low to no maintenance. The exterior of the home is stucco with an architectural metal roof and clad Pella windows. The concrete patio is scored to look decorative, but can just be swept and hosed off. Railings are powder-coated steel with stainless-steel cables. Son Drake, now a horticulturist and landscape designer living in Des Moines, did all the landscaping. Maria wanted a casual and maintenance-free look, but something that would be colorful throughout the spring and summer. The space between the house and the Lake includes the original fire pit constructed from rocks harvested from cleaning up the lot back in 1993 by Ken and the boys (which Drake insisted be kept) and surrounded by rock benches and a built-in grill. A small waterfall splashes between the house and the casita.

The Business Of Trying To RetireSPECIAL CONCERNS

The house itself is a simple rectangular design. The main living area is on the bottom, or Lake level, with the open space reaching to the upper limit of the home and topped by a ceiling fan intended to resemble a boat propeller. The office and guest rooms are around the circumference of the upper level, reached via a hallway behind glass panels with brushed aluminum railings that don’t obstruct the spacious feeling. Because the main entrance is on the upper level, Ken and Maria wanted to keep everything open so the lower level wouldn’t have a “basement” feeling.

The Allens also took aging into consideration, as they expect this to be their last home. They installed an elevator that they use now for groceries and such. On the lower level, the elevator opens into the laundry and pantry room, which leads into the kitchen. The open stairway incorporates wider treads with a lower rise between each one. Doorways throughout the home are wider — three feet rather than the standard 28 to 32 inches. Most of the storage in the kitchen and baths is in large pullout drawers instead of in low cupboards. Toilets throughout the home are higher, and radiant heat is built into the tile floors.

The Business Of Trying To RetireKen and Maria put a lot of themselves into this home. Maria designed all the cabinets, millwork and more, and Ken constructed the railings from the designs Maria researched. Most of the walls, furniture and flooring are neutral, so as to not distract from Maria’s art. She is drawn to color, abstracts and dimensional art, and has filled the home with unique, beautiful pieces.


The door coming in from the patio opens into the dining room and kitchen. The dining table is custom made of tin ceiling tiles from architectural salvage, and seats eight. Above the table is “The Wave” light fixture imported from Italy specifically because it reminds Maria of the waves in the Lake.

Looking toward the kitchen, the eye is drawn to the long horizontal window over the sink looking out to Maria’s garden. She says she loves to look out at the flowers when she’s cleaning up. All the countertops are dark gray quartz, and the island is fitted with a glass cooktop. Between the kitchen and living room is a bar with a raised glass bar top, pendant lights and finely corrugated metal on the
living-room side.

Maria says she was very particular about the windows throughout the home. All are floor-to–ceiling, evenly spaced and sized, with triple panes, between-the-glass slim shades and rollscreens. All, of course, very easy to keep clean!

The Business Of Trying To RetireTurning to the living room, the centerpiece is the impressive floor-to-ceiling cherry-wood fireplace. Surrounding the upper reaches are very colorful “oboes” covered in vivid yarns and fringes combined with multicolor canvases, spectacularly setting off the fireplace and the entire room. Beneath the oboes are shadowboxes for Maria’s collectible glass pieces. A beautiful red Swarovski tulip tops a chairside table.

Around the corner is the master bedroom, set off by another wave: an inset glass sculpture above the headboard against the chartreuse wall. On the opposite wall is a painting of a hat, which Maria says reminds her of her dad and grandpa.

A regular showerhead, a handheld wand and a soothing rain-shower all occupy the large glassed-in shower space in the master bath. Close by is a Bain Ultra Tub with a heated back and headrest. The sink countertop is higher to accommodate both aging and Ken’s 6-foot, 3-inch height. The master closet at the back runs almost the entire length of the lower level, allowing for many built-ins and shelving.

Upstairs are two guestrooms. One features a bed built and upholstered by Ken and Maria, and black-and white photos of Ha Ha Tonka over the headboard. A Tiffany vase rests atop a chairside table, and a beautiful mirrored armoire keeps any clutter out of sight. In the other guest room Ken and Maria painted one wall with a stenciled design.

The Business Of Trying To RetireThe walls in the guest bath are beautifully tiled for architectural appeal, and the counter appears to be floating. Maria planned this bath for use by future grandchildren, with a storage bench for toys. Painted glass tiles adorn the wall next to the window.

Halfway around the walkway is the front door, cleverly done in purple with “buttons” of multiple-color fused glass squares down the front. Stand just inside the door for a spectacular view down into the living area and the wall of windows looking out to the Lake.

Artwork is scattered around the walkway, which has built-in floor lighting for safety. In one corner is a round chessboard table from Italy. Unfortunately some of the chess pieces are broken, so Maria uses it to display other art. In another corner is an acrylic “flame,” next to a stainless steel and glass piece. Each piece of glass was hand-painted and inserted into cuts in the steel.

Last, but not least, is the office, tucked into a corner of the upper level. Sliding doors can be closed for privacy if necessary, but Ken prefers them open. Besides his computer and other business accoutrements, he has a wall full of travel souvenirs that are near and dear to his and Maria’s hearts. These include a didgeridoo from Australia; a Laha ’Ole basket made of palm leaves from Hawaii; a ukulele from Hawaii; a painted wood bird from Russia; masks from the Virgin Islands; a mask from the Yucatan; an elephant sculpture from India and a tea set from China, among many others. The Business Of Trying To RetireKen estimates that he has spent approximately seven years of his life away from home traveling the world on business. Whew!

He is still a strong advocate for agriculture, and travels often to speak on behalf of the farming industry. He is a board member on the National Council for Agricultural Education; President of NASCO (North American Strategy for Competitiveness); and sits on the Executive Committee of the Sponsors’ Board for the National FFA Foundation. He recently spoke at the Ports to Plains Alliance Annual conference in Del Rio, Texas. Yet he continues to say, “I’m retired!”

He and Maria expect the travel to slow down in the new year, so they can settle down into their beautiful, comfortable Lake retreat and get down to the business of relaxing.

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