Before it was branded design-build, the method of bringing a designer and contractor under one roof was known as the “master builder” system. Today’s design-build movement started about 20 years ago and caught on fast. The trend was so popular that it caused scores of architects and contractors to change their business models to one that shepherds clients through a single and seamless process for building a home.
This seamless process made the task of finding the 20 best design-build companies in the US daunting. We started with the industry leaders who stand out either for the awards they’ve collected or for the sheer brilliance of their work. To rank them, we gave preference to architecture-led firms, which naturally strive to improve living spaces through design. The highest ranked on this list effortlessly combine the aesthetics of design with the fine details of home construction.
20) Tongue & Groove
Website | 910.679.4610 | 6331 Oleander Drive, Wilmington, NC 28403
This full-service design-build firm is celebrating its 15th year in business and its position as a finalist for the 2017 National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Custom Home Builder of the Year Award. Owner Mark Batson, a Wilmington native and University of North Carolina graduate, opened the firm in 2003 with the intention of disrupting the market with his unique take on design-build services.
Tongue & Groove helps clients find a location, develop a floor plan, and design their home’s interior during and after construction. The firm serves the areas of Masonboro, Myrtle Grove, Wilmington, Kure Beach, and Intracoastal Waterway. It is known for coastal homes with 5,000 square feet of light-filled rooms, arched doorways, warm stucco, teal patina roofs, and intricately designed columns. Such designs have been featured in the national and local press, including in Professional Builder and Builder magazines. Since 2006, the firm has won seven Gold Awards from Parade of Homes, and an award for Best Single Family Home between 4,000 and 8,000 square feet from the North Carolina Home Builders Association (HBA). They are members of the NAHB Builder 20 Club.
19) Cullum Homes
Website | 480.949.2700 | 8408 E. Shea Boulevard, Scottsdale, AZ 85260
The president and founder of this Scottsdale-based firm understands the needs of today’s luxury home buyer. Rod Cullum opened this firm in 1985 after graduating from Arizona State University with a business degree. This family-operated, full-service design-build firm has flourished for over 30 years by offering a refreshing modern aesthetic with a luxurious blend of high-tech.
Cullum is also known as an innovator. He is said to have coined the phrase “Car Bar” to describe the latest design trend — of which he is a part — to build special basement areas for owners to park cars. These areas require elevators with motorized lifts to carry them between a home’s lower and main levels. Cullum’s team serves the Paradise Valley neighborhoods of The Village at Mountain Shadows, The Silverleaf Club and Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, and Paradise Reserve in the foothills of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. His firm is affiliated with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and their Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN), as well as the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
18) Process Design Build
Website | 520.370.8239 | PO Box 36625, Tucson, AZ 85740
Several years after opening this boutique design-build firm in Tucson, Bill Updike completed one of the first geothermal homes in the serene foothills of Dove Mountain. It was just one of the stunning builds that defined this rising star as an innovation leader in The Grand Canyon State’s residential construction industry. Updike, who received a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Technology and Construction Management from Oklahoma State University, opened the firm in 2003 with partner Marc Soloway. He spent summers in college learning how to frame houses and later managed projects for Phoenix-based Whitcomb Construction Company.
Today, Updike erects 5,000-square-foot estates throughout Marana, Tucson, and Oro Valley, AZ. A 2012 project in the High Sonoran Desert featured interiors and exteriors that were connected through multi-stacking sliding glass walls. The project won a Best in American Living Award (BALA) and earned Updike the Builder of the Year honor from the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association (SAHBA).
17) Mike Schaap Builders
Website | 616.399.9925 | 12969 Greenly Street, Holland, MI 49424
Mike Schaap Builders, based in Michigan, has been operating since 1986, by offering designs that appeal to homebuyers with varied tastes. Whether the design preference is a lakefront retreat, a French manor, or a blend of both, Schaap’s team can pull it off and still exhibit a distinctive style. All homes by this known perfectionist qualify as architectural masterpieces. They are skillfully handcrafted by Schaap’s team of 55 veteran project managers and artisans. The firm even has its own studio for custom woodwork.
Mike Schaap Builders serves clients in Holland, Macatawa, Douglas, Kalamazoo, and Portage. Projects by the firm have been acknowledged in cover stories by Cosmopolitan Home Grand Rapids, Professional Builder, Detroit Home, and Great Lakes Design. Schaap is a member of the NAHB Premier Builders Group. His industry accolades include 13 awards from Detroit Home Design and 15 from Parade of Homes. Most notable are Schaap’s three awards from the AIA Grand Valley Chapter.
16) Jim Murphy & Associates
Website | 707.595.9820 | 464 Kenwood Court, Santa Rosa, CA 95407
Santa Rosa-based design-build artisan Jim Murphy epitomizes a solution-driven approach to cutting-edge designs. Murphy was a one-man operation when he started in 1968. Today, he has over 40 employees and a reputation for building mansions throughout Sonoma, Napa, Marin, and Mendocino counties that require a sophisticated level of construction and engineering know-how.
One example is a 12,000-square-foot lakeside farmhouse, with paneling fashioned from 150-year-old wine tank boards and a 3,600-square-foot barn crafted out of timber from a freshly cut redwood tree that was milled on site. When clients wanted a modern home with eco-friendly functions, Murphy obliged, with 1,800 square feet of photovoltaic panels to supply all electricity needs. The home won a 2016 Merit Award for Exceptional Residential Design from AIA East Bay. The firm’s projects are featured in California Home & Design and Trends, and in four books. Murphy was the NAHB Custom Home Builder of the Year in 2011 and winner of the 2006 Pacesetter Award from Custom Home.
15) Orren Pickell Building Group
Website | 847.572.5200 | 1799 Willow Road, Northfield, IL 60093
Over 100 industry awards for Excellence in Architectural Design in some of Chicago’s most upscale communities have made this luxury home builder a national leader. Orren Pickell started out painting houses as a side job to pay his college tuition, then progressed to building homes. His family-owned company has thrived for over four decades, first with Orren at the helm, and now with his daughter, Lisa, who has achieved national fame on her own. In 2017, Lisa was named one of the “Women in Construction” by Constructech Magazine. She also made the Professional Remodeler 40 Under 40 list and was recognized by the HBA of Greater Chicago as Remodeler of the Year.
Orren Pickell builds throughout Chicago and Chicago’s North Shore in styles ranging from contemporary European farmhouse and country club Craftsman to brick-and-limestone French chateaus. The firm has been featured in Luxe, Modern Luxury Interiors, Splash Home, Sheridan Road, and the Chicago Tribune.
14) Jenkins Design Build
Website | 512.402.9222 | 3813 Juniper Trace #100, Austin, TX 78738
After ending a 26-year career in the US Air Force, Chief Master Sergeant Paul Jenkins opened this Texas firm in 1992. He led the company through six profitable years until 1998, when his son, Shan, took over. Shan has a bachelor’s degree in construction science from Texas A&M University and experience managing multimillion-dollar commercial construction projects for H.B. Zachry Co., as well as for Brown & Root Engineering & Construction. As head of Jenkins Design Build, Shan’s intention was to create a value-driven luxury home for today’s environmentally conscious and tech savvy home buyers.
Jenkin Design Build’s homes are priced between $1M and $6M in Austin, Lake Travis, Lake Austin, and Horseshoe Bay. A typical build is a 10,000-square-foot, tile-roofed estate on Lake Travis that has a great room with walls of stacked glass. The high-profile firm has appeared on the TV series Designing Texas. It has received more than 100 awards, including three for Texas Custom Home Builder of the Year. Jenkins Design Build has been on the Austin Business Journal’s list of top 25 builders in Austin for the past 10 years.
13) Camlin Custom Homes
Website | 941.748.1622 | 596 Fore Drive, Bradenton, FL 34208
Kenneth Keating’s luxury home brand is distinguished by a spirited Gulfstream style that blends traditional and modern interior and exterior designs. A Florida Atlantic University graduate, Keating worked as a framing apprentice and then a project manager for a national home builder. After receiving state certification as a building contractor, he opened Camlin Custom Homes in 1984 with his wife, Brenda.
The couple have built over 1,600 high-end homes in Southwest Florida’s most exclusive communities, such as Lakewood Ranch, Sarasota Polo Club, Siesta Key, and The Inlets. Their projects have been profiled in Professional Builder Magazine and Custom Builder Magazine. The firm’s floor plan for a project in The Inlets waterfront boating community was featured in Better Homes and Gardens. The firm has a long list of industry awards, including NAHB Custom Builder of the Year for Best Home in the Southeast Region and a BALA for Best Single Family Home in the Nation.
12) Murray Homes
Website | 941.906.7000 | 25 Smith Osprey Avenue, Sarasota, FL 34236
It takes unusual talent to win clients in the exclusive communities of Florida’s Bird Key Island, which boasts some of the poshest neighborhoods in the country. Murray Homes is not only a preferred builder in Bird Key, it’s also sought after to design spectacular vacation retreats for the upper crust in Longboat Key, Casey Key, Siesta Key, and West of The Trail.
The Sarasota-based firm is run by a team of real estate wizards, John and Steve Murray. Both had successful realty and home building companies in their native London before moving to the US in the late 1990s and establishing this award-winning design-build firm. Since then, the duo has built over 120 unique waterfront mansions throughout Sarasota. A typical Murray Homes structure is a 5,000-square-foot home in Bay Isles, Longboat Key that won The Wall Street Journal Home of the Year. The highly decorated firm made the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s list of Top Custom Home Builders and received an Aurora Grand Award.
11) Blue Heron
Website | 702.531.3000 | 1320 Villa Barolo Avenue, Las Vegas, NV 89052
Founded in 2004 by Steve Jones and Tyler Jones, Blue Heron is a design/build firm specializing in custom homes and boutique communities in Southern Nevada. It is the Las Vegas leader in implementing energy efficient technology and ultimate green building methods in all its homes. Years of innovative experimentation with desert contemporary design concepts have resulted in the unmistakably unique Vegas Modern™ signature style now known synonymous with Blue Heron homes.
Topping off this firm’s list of achievements is being chosen three times to serve as architect, designer, and builder for the New American Home — the first contractor chosen more than once and are built throughout the master plans in Las Vegas. The firm’s projects are widely acknowledged in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Builder Magazine, Luxe, Las Vegas Review Journal and Luxury Las Vegas. Blue Heron’s awards include several Gold Nugget Grand for Best Custom Home and the Dream Home Gold for Green Home Project of the Year and has achieved the “Platinum” LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council and the “Emerald” certification by the National Green Building Standard.
10) Gabriel Builders
Website | 864.879.3035 | 641 Garden Market Drive, Travelers Rest, SC 29690
Gus Rubio’s full-service design-build firm, which is one of the most decorated in South Carolina, has also achieved national recognition. Rubio is a Certified Master Builder (CMB) who first worked construction jobs while a student at Furman University. After graduation, he was hired by remodeling contractor W.R. Grace to perform quality controls on building operations. The experience led him to understand the importance of having all building projects evaluated by quality control professionals, which is standard procedure at Gabriel Builders.
The elegant manors designed by this firm cost up to $10M and appear throughout Travelers Rest, Lake Keowee, Charleston, and Highlands. Designs range from a 5,000-square-foot French manor with a two-story gym to a 30,000-square-foot Old World mansion with a tropical pool house. Rubio was named the 2014 NAHB Custom Home Builder of the Year, won 15 awards from Southern Home and Garden Bridge, and won nine from South Carolina Pinnacle. In 2015, Rubio was named Ocean Home Platinum Builder of the Year.
9) Merlin Contracting
Website | 702.257.8102 | 6408 Arville Street, Las Vegas, NV 89118
A key player in the Vegas custom home building market for decades, Merlin Contracting has recently made news for receiving the NAHB Custom Home Builder of the Year Award in 2017. The firm was started in 1989 by Vegas native Stephen Jones, who was later joined by his brother, builder Bart Jones. The firm is known for mall-sized homes priced up to $25M that it builds for celebrities, casino owners, and Fortune 500 executives.
A well-publicized project in Tournament Hills is an 11,000-square-foot mansion that required 25 stonemasons setting 2,000 tons of mortar to fashion walls more than two feet thick. Merlin Contracting has been featured in dozens of national magazines, major trade publications, and hundreds of newspaper articles, including those by The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Chicago Sun Times, and Luxury Las Vegas. Other honors include the #9 ranking on the 2015 Vegas Inc list and building the 2004 New American Home.
Website | 480.621.7878 | 9811 E. Bell Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85260
Arizona native Sam Fratantoni exhibits an extensive knowledge of European architecture and an intuitive understanding of modern luxury. His family-run company has been at the top of Arizona’s custom home building market for more than three decades. Before starting the firm in 1989, Fratantoni studied architecture at Scottsdale Community College and the Phoenix Institute of Technology. He is joined by his wife, Josie, who spent years working for her parents’ home building company, also in Arizona.
Fratantoni Luxury Estates offers full design and architecture services with its affiliate companies, run by Josie and the couple’s sons, Angelo and Vince. The firm builds anywhere in the world, but in Arizona, it focuses on the areas of Fountain Hills, Mesa, Phoenix, Rio Verde, and Paradise Valley and typically charges over $10M. The firm’s style pays tribute to grand European palaces with dramatic foyers, ballrooms, and fixtures cast in 24-carat gold. Fratantoni’s distinguished clientele include world-famous athletes and owners of NBA teams.
7) Smith Brothers
Website | 877.230.0333 | 444 S Cedros Avenue, Solana Beach, CA 92075
This firm has made a name for itself by designing the biggest and most extravagant homes in exotic places that contain amenities not found elsewhere. The business, which operates out of California and Hawaii, was founded in 1978 by Jeff Smith, a veteran of the Solana Beach home building community. When the design-build trend hit the California housing industry, Smith added top-tier architects and designers to his already skilled team. He quickly became known for his unique interpretations of diverse styles, from California cottage to contemporary Zen.
The homes, fit for royalty, are built throughout Honolulu, Cardiff By The Sea, Carlsbad, Del Mar, La Jolla, and Solana Beach. A particularly remarkable home in the Bali Pavilions on Kauai contains doors that disappear, allowing the living room to extend into tropical gardens. Smith Brothers Construction has been profiled in Luxe, Hawaii Home + Remodeling, and Ranch & Coast. A list of the firm’s awards is available upon request.
6) Magleby Construction
Website | 801.785.9998 | 1291 West Center Street, Lindon, UT 84042
The first NAHB Custom Home Builder of the Year Award won by this firm went to founder Paul Magleby in 2006. The second was for his son, Chad, in 2016. Paul founded this legendary Utah firm in 1974, after graduating with a degree in construction management from Brigham Young University. Magleby Construction specializes in residential estate homes and high end remodel projects. The firm builds all genres of architecture, with projects typically ranging from $2M-$25M, in Park City, Utah County, Salt Lake City and Sun Valley Idaho.
A famous build in northern Utah, which was inspired by the movie The Lord of the Rings, has an exterior made of quarry stones, barn wood planks, and over sized beams. The firm’s reputation for superb quality craftsmanship is the reason realtors use the phrase, “a Magleby custom build,” as a selling point in listings. Industry honors include Golden Nugget Awards, BALA for Best Custom Home, and the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Utah HBA.
5) Remick Associates
Website | 415.896.9500 | 1230 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
The San Francisco-based boutique firm of Remick Associates blends traditional architecture and design principles with an understanding of modern contemporary home styles. Two of the firm’s principals have backgrounds in architecture. Nic Ehr completed the architecture program at Arizona State University and worked for a prominent San Francisco firm, Sandy Babcock, before joining the Remick team in 1988. Principal John Kosich, who is lead architect, received a Master of Architecture from the University of Michigan and worked for the Bay area’s Fisher-Friedman Associates. He has been with Remick Associates since 1991.
The firm, which works in Piedmont and San Francisco, is known for architectural features that create a distinctive environment, like the 27-foot stone wall it created for a rustic lodge in Napa Valley. For a turn-of-the-century mansion in Pacific Heights, a curved staircase with a forged bronze railing that winded through five floors added drama and elegance to a classical setting.
4) Phil Kean Designs
Website | 407.599.3922 | 912 West Fairbanks Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789
This prominent Florida firm is run by a man who has not one or two professional certifications, but three. Phil Kean, AIA, is a Harvard-trained architect with state licenses in interior design and construction. He has spent 30 years cultivating a portfolio that demonstrates design expertise in an array of environments. His modern, traditional, tropical, and transitional structures have graced the covers of Florida Design, Professional Builder, and scores of other national and local publications. Industry recognition has been as extensive. Kean has won 72 Aurora Awards. He also designed and built the 8,245-square-foot New American Home in Orlando’s Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, which earned a LEED Gold certification and a National Green Building Standard Emerald Certification. In 2017 alone, the firm collected 28 awards, including the Grand Award for Custom Home from the American Institute of Building Design and the Grand Award from the Greater Orlando Builders Association for Best Custom Home between $5M and $6M. The firm serves the central Florida area and its beaches.
3) Jauregui Architecture Interiors Construction
Website | 281.362.1708 | 25317 IH-45 North, The Woodlands, TX 77380
This firm’s rise to the top of the US design-build market started decades ago in Mexico, when Luis Jauregui became frustrated with a strike at the local college and transferred to Texas A&M University. Jauregui stayed in America, opened Jauregui Architecture Interiors Construction in 1980, and grew to become one of the biggest names in the custom home industry.
The firm has completed over 300 luxury custom homes and 45 spec homes that are priced in the multimillions. It has garnered over 100 industry awards from national and state organizations, including eight STAR Awards for Best Custom Home and numerous awards for Best Custom Builder, including the 2016 NAHB Custom Builder of the Year. Jauregui is a leader in the design-build industry, as past president of both the HBA Austin and AIA Austin, and cofounder of AIA CRAN national. He is most recently recognized as Outstanding Alumni, Texas A&M College of Architecture and Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.
2) Marmol Radziner
Website | 310.826.6222 | 12210 Nebraska Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner are the artistic forces behind one of the most successful design-build companies in Los Angeles and the US at large. Both are highly esteemed architects. Marmol, FAIA, is the managing principal, with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from California Polytechnic State University. Radziner, FAIA, has a Master of Architecture from the University of Colorado and is the design principal on all projects. Since its founding in 1989, the firm has shown a consistent focus on creating timeless settings for today’s luxury homeowners.
Marmol Radziner’s designs show a strong influence by the modernist movement as it developed in California in the 1960s. The firm’s homes feature linear structures, steel frames, and lots of glass to combine indoor and outdoor living areas. The homes, considered extravagant even by California standards, have attracted endless critical acclaim, including Interior Design magazine’s Best of Year Award and Hall of Fame. Many of the firm’s projects appear in Dwell, Harper’s Bazaar, and Architectural Digest.
Website | 212.690.4950 | 432 West 127th Street, New York, NY 10027
Located in New York City for over 40 years, GLUCK+ is recognized for its unique approach in providing single-source responsibility from design through construction to building commissioning in an integrated process driven by architects at every phase. The firm is one of the most successful Architect Led Design Build firms in the United States, completing a wide range of commercial, educational, mixed-use, and residential projects. Fast Company has included GLUCK+ on its annual list of the “World’s Top 10 Innovative Companies in Architecture,” for “taking control of the entire building process.”
The firm was founded in 1972 by Peter Gluck, an iconic figure in American architecture who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in from Yale University. The firm has received hundreds of national and statewide design awards. Gluck has personally received top honors from the AIA and Design-Build Institute of America, including national merit and architectural design excellence awards. He was recently featured in numerous press stories for a four-story retreat in Upstate New York that he built for his family, which is known as Tower House and described by Gluck as “a stairway to the treetops.”