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The Best Residential Architects and Designers in California

19 Min Read

It takes a wealth of knowledge and experience to turn your ideas for a new custom home into useful plans that can be put into action by a home builder. So while you could try to design your own custom home, the more practical route is to hire a top-notch residential architect. Architects have the professional training to listen to your wants and needs, evaluate your site, and design a custom house that is within your budget and timeframe, and will pass local building code. We researched hundreds of CA architects to come up with this list of the Ten Best Custom Home Architects in the state.

The CA architectural firms on this list work on any and all styles and types of homes. From classic, traditional estates in Wine Country to sleek, modern mansions with top-of-the-line technology in Los Angeles, and even beachside homes in San Diego with incredible custom home offices — the architects below have you covered. Whether they are creating kitchens made for entertaining or peaceful master suites, to integrating landscaping and indoor/outdoor living into the home design, these architects offer a range of services for any need. They can even recommend the best general contractors and builders to turn their ideas into a reality. They often collaborate with the top interior designers to make sure the design, with all its finishes and furnishings, is cohesive from start to finish. The architects on this list have gained critical acclaim for their residential work around the world. Together, they have countless accolades from the American Institute for Architecture (AIA), many have been included on the prestigious Architectural Digest AD100, an annual list of the best designers around the world, and their high-end residential designs are regularly featured in national publications.

About our methodology: We considered hundreds of professionals while making this list of the 10 best custom home architects in California. In addition to professional associations, we heavily weighted recognition the firm has received in the form of awards and press, any prestigious clientele they have worked with, whether or not they collaborate with other top industry professionals, including architects and interior designers, and what areas they work in, the more exclusive and high-end neighborhoods having greater influence. We also took into account the value of the projects they undertake, years in the business, customer reviews for quality and service, and range of services offered. We also took into account geographic location in order to give you a good sampling of the best companies across the state.

If you are thinking about building a custom home, we recommend checking each builder’s license with the local licensing board, speaking to past clients, and using our bidding system to get competitive quotes from at least 3 contractors. Getting multiple bids is the best way to ensure you get a fair price and that bids include the complete scope of work. On the other hand, if you want to learn more about the cost of building a custom home in California, check out our cost guide article.

This list includes both licensed architects and residential designers who can both design stunning homes but differ in other services offered. Architects are trained in design, engineering, and project management and have passed a licensing exam. Residential designers typically don’t manage projects and plans will need to be approved by a structural engineer. Whether you choose to hire an architect or a residential designer will depend on your project needs and complexity.

10) Andrew Skurman Architects

3654 Sacramento St, San Francisco, CA 94118

Where they work: Mainly California

Andrew Skurman Architects are leaders in the world of traditional architecture, creating custom homes inspired by the classical architectural traditions of French chateaux, Mediterranean villas, and Georgian country houses. The Institute of Traditional Architecture ranks the practice as the #1 in the US and #3 in the world for traditional architecture. They are responsible for some of the Bay Area’s most striking, sophisticated, and architecturally appealing custom houses being built today. Homes designed by the practice have been featured in numerous publications such as Architectural Digest, House & Garden, Southern Accents, Maison Française, The New York Times Magazine, Western Interiors, California Homes, California Home & Design, C Magazine, San Francisco Magazine, This Old House, and the Robb Report. Their work has also been included in numerous books.

“My work is inspired by the rich history of classical and traditional architecture. It is important to advance the language of architecture by studying the past.” – Andrew Skurman

Founder Andrew Skurman began his design career apprenticing with the New York firm of I.M. Pei & Partners. He later worked in the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and as a Studio Director at Gensler and Associates in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1992, he founded his own firm to focus on building homes in the elegant and refined expression of classical architecture. Skurman has been named a Chevalier of Arts & Letters by the Minister of Culture of France and is the recipient of five Julia Morgan Awards. He was President of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, Northern California, and is on its Board of Directors nationally.

9) Aidlin Darling Design

500 Third Street, Suite 410, San Francisco, CA 94107

Where they work: Mainly northern California, with select projects in other regions and states

Aidlin Darling Design has over 150 regional, national, and international awards for their outstanding architecture throughout California and beyond. Founded in San Francisco by Principals Joshua Aidlin and David Darling in 1998, the firm now works on a range of projects — cutting-edge custom homes, as well as some of the region’s best restaurants, institutional and academic buildings, and other general commercial projects. Significant awards for the firm’s work include the 2013 National Design Award from the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum for their body of work, 2 AIA COTE Top Ten Awards for sustainable design, and 7 American Architecture Awards from the Chicago Athenaeum, as well as many other awards from the AIA, IIDA, and ASLA. Their work is frequently covered by top publications such as Architectural Record, Interior Design, Cultured Magazine, San Francisco Cottages & Gardens, The Wall Street Journal, Wallpaper, and Architect’s Newspaper.

Think of them as the slow food movement for architecture. Since founding their firm in 1998, partners Joshua Aidlin and David Darling have shifted their investigations more and more toward material, site, tactility, physicality, and sense.” – Architect’s Newspaper

As creatively artistic as they are practical, Aidlin Darling Design’s diverse residential portfolio ranges from LEED-Platinum homes designed to be Net Zero Energy to modern urban townhomes. All of their projects demonstrate their keen design ability to firmly situate a home within its site and context while respecting the community within which it is placed and the surrounding architecture. Aidlin Darling Design aims to offer their clients comprehensive services to create a cohesive home. To that end, they also produce custom furniture, provide landscape design, and have gorgeous interior designs. Their collaborative and unconventional approach to designing custom homes produces truly unique spaces that impeccably reflect the homeowner’s tastes and needs.

“Our firm strives to design to all the human senses ultimately seeking a soulful architecture that in the end feels truly effortless.” – Joshua Aidlin

8) Atelier AM

7956 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048

Where they work: Nationwide

Los Angeles’s Atelier AM is a preeminent architecture and interior design firm. Run by husband and wife team Alexandra and Michael Misczynski, they are one of the most talked-about design teams in Los Angeles lately and is frequently sought-after by high-profile clients for their careful and sophisticated designs. Their work has earned them clients such as Tom Cruise and Brad Grey and are particularly popular among serious art collectors for their keen ability to incorporate and highlight art with their careful home designs. They have been featured in many international and national publications, including in The Wall Street Journal, which described the firm as becoming “…known for rooms that meld eye-catching antiques in settings that are both austere and deeply comfortable in a traditional sense.” Unsurprisingly, Atelier AM has been named to the prestigious AD100.

“Incorporating materials that range from weathered wood to shimmering, ultrapolished steel, the pair has, in less than a decade of practice, created casually sophisticated residential spaces for an elite clientele.” Architectural Digest

Prior to opening his own practice, Michael Misczynski worked for renowned architect Richard Meier, assisting on major projects including the Getty Museum and the Ara Pacis Museum in Rome. Partner Alexandra Misczynski trained under distinguished decorator Michael Smith and Naomi Leff. Their work is known for blending minimalistic architecture and classical proportions with carefully selected classic antiques and exquisite furnishings, creating tranquil and yet boldly sophisticated environments.

7) McClean Design

190 S. Glassell St. #203, Orange, CA 92866

Where they work: Mainly California and New York, with select projects elsewhere

Los Angeles’s McClean Design is responsible for some of the most impressive, glitziest, largest, and most expensive private estates in the world. The practice was founded by Irish architect Paul McClean in 2000. In the past 17 years, they have grown into one of the leading contemporary residential design firms, working on luxury projects across California, as well as in New York and Canada. In addition to their superb custom home work for private clients, McClean Design also works with developers on extraordinary speculative homes. LACurbed noted that with his most recent homes – which include drawing up plans for a $500 million estate in Bel Air – “he might just have unseated architect Richard Landry as the Megamansion King of Los Angeles.”

“Our projects reflect an interest in modern living and a desire to connect our clients to the beauty of the surrounding natural environment. We make extensive use of glazing systems to maximize views and provide a warm light filled contemporary space. We strive for simplicity and an openness to the surrounding landscape that erodes the division between indoor and outdoor spaces; homes with an emphasis on texture and natural materials.” – McClean Design

Growing up and studying in Ireland, Paul McClean traveled extensively and was greatly influenced by the diverse architecture he was exposed to. He worked for award-winning architectural practices in London, Dublin, and Sydney, Australia before moving to southern California and working for various local firms. Before long, he founded his own practice to have greater control over the direction of his designs. This has enabled him to work with a wide range of clients and aesthetic styles, pushing boundaries and expanding his stylistic vocabulary along the way. He places a strong emphasis on environmentally sustainable design practices and site-specific design solutions. McClean has established lasting relationships with high-quality builders and other design professionals helping to ensure that his custom home designs are created to the highest quality at every step of the process.

6) Landry Design Group

1818 S Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

Where they work: Worldwide

The award-winning Landry Design Group have grown since their founding in 1987 to become one of the most sought-after design studios for custom residential architecture around the world. Landry Design Group has been included on the AD100 list since 2000, as well as on the “Robb Report Recommended” list of best architects since 2007. Named by Build Direct as one of the 15 Best Architects In Los Angeles and by Ocean Home Magazine as one of the Top 50 Coast Architects, it is no surprise that founder Richard Landry was featured among Robb Report’s “Leaders of Luxury” this year. His Landry Design Group has earned multiple Gold Nugget Awards from the National Association of Home Builders.

President and founder Richard Landry, who diversified his design studies in Montréal and Copenhagen, is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards and a member of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. Although he has earned the most acclaim for his large-scale statement estates, he has just as much experience with modest homes. As often as he designs enchanting classic châteaus and cutting-edge contemporary compounds, Landry creates Craftsman-style lake homes and unassuming rural villas of superior quality. His ability to achieve incredible livability within a sophisticated aesthetic has earned him clients like Gisele Bündchen and Tom Brady, Eddie Murphy, Wayne Gretzky, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Mark Wahlberg.

5) EYRC Architects

10865 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232

Where they work: Mainly California, with select projects in other states and countries

Culver City-based Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects (formerly Ehrlich Architects) has earned many of the industry’s top awards. They have been honored with the AIA National Firm Award, the AIA California Council Firm of the Year, and inclusion on Architect Magazine’s Top 50. Among their more than 150 awards for architecture and design are nine national AIA awards. EYRC Architects’ work has been published widely, including in Architectural Record, NY Times Homes Magazine, Dwell Magazine, HGTV, Custom Home, and Architectural Digest. A total of eight monographs have been published on the work of the top practice.

Founded in 1979 by Steven Ehrlich as a tiny residential design studio, the versatile practice has grown into a 40 member team with an international reputation for design excellence and an exemplary professional culture. Led by Partners Steven Ehrlich, FAIA, Takashi Yanai, FAIA, Patricia Rhee, AIA, and Mathew Chaney, AIA, with five Associate Principals and Associates, the practice’s design philosophy starts with a profound respect for a building’s inhabitants. Called multicultural modernism, this approach informs all of their homes and interactions with clients. As explained by the firm: “The seeds of this philosophy were planted during founder Steven Ehrlich’s six-year work/travel sojourn in Africa in the 1970s. Serving in the Peace Corps in Morocco, traversing the Sahara and later teaching architecture in Northern Nigeria, he studied vernacular ‘architecture without architects,’ formed by the constraints of site and climate and the inspiration of culture.” EYRC Architects is dedicated to creating a healthy community culture and works within an environment that encourages their staff to challenge norms and be creative with their design work.

4) Appleton Partners LLP

1556 17th St, Santa Monica, CA 90404 (and a Santa Barbara Office)

Where they work: Nationwide

There are only 10 architects in the U.S. with the honor of being selected for AD100 every year from its inception in 1999 until 2016. One of those world-class architects is Marc Appleton, founder of Appleton Partners LLP. With offices in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, Appleton is joined in his practice by Principal Kenneth Mineau. Their work has been featured in over 100 publications including Architectural Digest, Town & Country, and The Robb Report, as well as numerous books and other periodicals. Notably, Architectural Digest has written 14 feature stories on the firm’s residential projects, including two cover stories. More recently, the practice was named by Build Direct as one of the 15 Best Architects in LA.

“To create residences in styles as diverse as Shingle and Cycladic—and to do so with fluency, restraint, and unerring sensitivity to scale—requires exceptional versatility. Architect Marc Appleton … has demonstrated just such skill in projects from coast to coast.” – Architectural Digest

Before he opened his own practice in 1976, Marc Appleton honed his skills at some of the country’s best practices, including Benjamin Thompson & Associates, MacAllister, Rinehart & Ring, and Frank O. Gehry & Associates. His work is influenced by travels to far reaches of the globe, visible in the stylistic diversity of his portfolio. His work draws on the “time-honored traditions of vernacular architecture, subtly reinterpreting them to evoke a presence of the past.” But above all, Appleton is inspired by and drawn to the Spanish Colonial Revival dwelling, and especially that of his design idol — George Washington Smith. And while the work of his practice may range from grand estates to humble community projects — they always feel perfectly tailored to their location and context, whether urban or rural.

3) Ike Kligerman Barkley Architects

1099 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Where they work: Mainly California and the northeast

Ike Kligerman Barkley Architects is a sought-after architecture and interior design firm with offices in New York City and San Francisco. Led by accomplished architects and principals John Ike, Thomas A. Kligerman, and Joel Barkley, the practice has been chosen for inclusion on the AD100 since 1995, is on Luxe Interiors + Design Gold List, Ocean Home Magazine’s Top 50 Coastal Architects, and was named one of New York Spaces’ Top 50 Designers. Not just that, but they have earned the AIA New York Chapter Award, the DDB Stars of Design Award, the ICAA Julia Morgan Award, and the ICAA Stanford White Award. Their high-end designs can be seen in most of the industry’s top publications: Interiors, Architectural Digest, Luxe Interiors + Design, House Beautiful, San Francisco Cottages & Gardens, California Home + Design, C Magazine, Vogue Australia, Elle Decor, The New York Times, and Vogue, among many others. The practice has published two books on their work.

“The firm speaks “architectural languages of the past with a sure command of grammar and syntax and a rich vocabulary of form and detail.”” – Robert A.M. Stern, in his foreword to the monograph Ike Kligerman Barkley: Houses

Ike Kligerman Barkley Architects has worked on historically-inspired homes around the world — including “a Georgian townhouse in the River Oaks neighborhood of Houston; a mountain lodge in Aspen; a loft in a repurposed butter factory in Manhattan; a vernacular white villa in Cabo San Lucas; a Romanesque building on Stanford’s campus; and a rambling, weathered shingle house in Martha’s Vineyard.” Their work shows inspiration across history and styles, tied together with the goal of enhancing life through good design. Above all, Ike Kligerman Barkley Architects aims to produce personalized living environments.

2) Georgis & Mirgorodsky

La Jolla, CA

Where they work: nationwide

William T. Georgis is one of the most celebrated architects in California. His architecture and interior design firm Georgis & Mirgorodsky has offices in New York City and La Jolla, California. Established in 1992 and gaining prominence as William T. Georgis Architect, the new practice was established in 2017 when Ilya Mirgorodsky was made a partner. The practice has repeatedly been included in the AD100 and a monograph of the firm’s work, Make It Fabulous: The Architecture and Designs of William T. Georgis, was published by The Monacelli Press in 2013. Geogis’s work has been widely exhibited and his work is included in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Denver Art Museum, Colorado.

“Georgis’s charismatic spaces marry bold artworks, gutsy furniture, punches of color, and head-turning accents, such as custom-made carpets that appear to be splashed with paint à la Jackson Pollock and mirrored walls that look shattered by gunshots.” – Architectural Digest

Georgis & Mirgorodsky are dedicated to a collaborative work style that brings clients into the process and is informed by a variety of styles, from the past and present. For two decades, the practice has been designing residences for high-profile clients, including art collector and real-estate tycoon Aby Rosen. Their new homes can be found across the country, spanning coast to coast. In addition to homes, the practice has designed the Tiffany Gallery at the Museum of the City of New York, The Grill and The Pool restaurants at New York’s Seagram Building, interiors of a Gulfstream G650 jet, and were trusted with the renovation of the public spaces of the landmarked Lever House in New York City.

Before opening his own practice, Georgis perfected his skills working for some of the country’s best architects, including with Robert Venturi of Venturi, Rauch, and Scott Brown and Robert A. M. Stern Architects. He is a member of the Collections Committee of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the Philodoroi and William Society of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

1) Richard Meier & Partners Architects

1001 Gayley Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024

Where they work: Worldwide

It’s not shocking that Pritzker Prize-winning Richard Meier was included in the inaugural group of Architectural Digest’s Hall of Fame, alongside an exclusive list of the best designers and architects of today. He has earned all the other top honors in the field as well, including Gold Medals of the American Institute of Architects and the Royal Institute of British Architects as well as the Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Art Association. Meier’s firm — which has offices in New York and Los Angeles — currently has projects in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Maybe best known for institutional buildings such as The Getty Center in Los Angeles and Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and luxury high-rises, he has excelled throughout his career designing private residences.

“Rational modernist forms, abundant natural light, and the color white are key themes that guide the 75-person firm of Pritzker Prize-winning maestro Richard Meier.” Architectural Digest

Meier is joined in his practice by Design Partner Michael Palladino, FAIA, Partner James R. Crawford, AIA, and 4 Associate Partners. For over five decades, the practice has worked on important projects worldwide. They focus on the creation of thoughtful, elegant contemporary architecture that is not only beautiful but also programmatic and highly functional. They root their designs in classic design issues such as site, order, and natural light through a modern aesthetic. Their projects have received 30 National Honor Awards from the AIA and over 50 from the New York AIA and other regional chapters.

How can I find a contractor or home builder near me?

Read our latest articles on the best residential contractors and home builders in and near California. If you don’t see your city or project type below, just let us know – we are happy to create a tailored recommendation list just for you.

Interior designers in California

Design-build firms (Custom home builders) in California

About Our Rankings

This list takes a range of ranking criteria into consideration, including but not limited to: work history, customer satisfaction, awards and recognition, geographic area of work, cost, building permits, and clientele. We spent over 40 hours researching local contractors before calculating the final ranking for this post. If there is additional information about your business that could affect these rankings, please fill out this form and we will take it into consideration

Get Bids For Your Build

If you are thinking about building a custom home, we recommend checking each builder’s license with the local licensing board, speaking to past clients, and using our bidding system to get competitive quotes from at least 3 contractors. Getting multiple bids is the best way to ensure you get a fair price and that bids include the complete scope of work.