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In its early years, Lake Forest was known as El Toro, until it was incorporated as a city in 1991. A decade later, its boundaries expanded to cover master-planned developments that not only boosted its emerging commercial scene, but also introduced a social and economic landscape that brings together the best of what the city can offer: an ideal home where people and families can work, live, and grow. For the same reasons, the city’s residential landscapes and the construction industry continue to thrive. Thanks to the region’s top building and design professionals, the city is dotted with some of the most iconic homes in California.
Below are the best residential architects in Lake Forest. Some of the firms included here are based in the city; others are not, but have served the area for years. The article looked at the quality of the firms’ projects for the custom residential sector as well as the award, publication features, and client commendations that these works earned from the design and building community. The list also considered the background of the firms’ principal architects, their years of practice, industry affiliations, and their role in shaping the city and its surrounding areas’ architectural landscape.
Architecture Design Collaborative
23231 South Pointe Dr., Laguna Hills, CA 92653
Architecture Design Collaborative is one of the most productive and promising design firms in the region. Since its founding in 2014, the company has completed over four hundred architecture and interior design projects for a wide spectrum of markets, including the commercial, retail, and residential sectors for both single and multi-family projects. These works, covering over 14 million square feet, are found in California as well as 35 other states across the country. The firm’s extensive design practice is led by its president, licensed architect and AIA member, Craig Chinn. Chin’s rich background in design and in serving a wide array of sectors are behind the firm’s multidisciplinary and award-winning approach to architecture, recognized by Engineering-News Record, VMSD Magazine, MAME, and Building Design+Construction magazine, just to name a few.
While the firm is most celebrated for its designs for the commercial industry, its caliber as a residential builder should not be underestimated. For years, the firm has designed some of the most innovative homes in the region, many of which highlight modern and contemporary influences. As one of the Top 30 Architectural Firms and Fastest Growing Architecture Firms in Orange County, the firm is known for its timeless and balanced residences designed to enhance the lives of its users through functional designs that respond to the surrounding environment and community context.
Artoo Design S2dio
6277 Hereford Ln., Eastvale, CA 92880
With projects found across the United States and the Middle East, Artoo Design S2dio is one of the most established architectural and engineering firms in California. The firm offers a broad range of design services for the commercial, mixed-use, hospitality, religious, corporate, and residential sectors, among others. As a residential architect for the single-family market, the company offers a timeless balance of traditional and contemporary designs, all of which are curated to serve a modern household. The aesthetic influences of Spanish and European accents are complemented by minimalist aspects, airiness, and the clean lines of contemporary spaces.
The firm was established in 2000 and is led by its founder and principal architect, Ramy Ibrahim. Ibrahim is an NCARB-certified architect, a LEED AP BD+C, and an active member of the US Green Building Council. These associations help the firm gain access to the latest trends and technologies, not just as a designer of memorable commercial and residential properties, but as advocates in modern and sustainable design practices. The methods of green design and present-day innovations are constantly incorporated into the firm’s projects, especially for high-end and complex home construction.
Brion Jeannette Architecture
470 Old Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, CA 92663
Since Brion Jeannette Architecture’s establishment over four decades ago, it has focused its design practice on curating environmentally-responsible structures and architecture that not only genuinely reflect the goals and expectations of its users but also enhance their everyday life. The firm is known for its contribution to green design and its role in introducing energy-efficient aesthetics into home design and construction. One of its biggest accomplishments as an advocate for this movement was when the firm’s president and architect Brion Jeannette was asked to help draft California State Energy Commissions’ first Title 24 Energy Codes.
The firm’s principal architect, Amy J. Creager, AIA, shares the same passion and philosophy of creating architecture that pays respect to the environment through designing sustainable homes and using natural, earth-friendly materials in the process. True to Brion’s and Creager’s advocacies, the firm builds modern homes that highlight energy-efficient, functional, and enduring designs. As an architect for the custom residential sector, these homes are not just commended for their green elements but also for their architectural feats. California Homes, Orange County Business Journal, and Los Angeles Times have featured many of the firm’s memorable homes, especially works for its luxury residences.
1120 Bristol St. Suite #120, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Since its inception in 1991, Bundy-Finkel Architects has served Orange County’s commercial, corporate, hospitality, industrial, and residential markets. The firm specializes in architecture, planning, and interior design services and offers a comprehensive design practice with an emphasis on a vertically-oriented approach to collaborative design. The firm makes sure that every member of the team has the opportunity to participate in every aspect of the project. The same process allows a multi-perspective process that offers an educated point of view as designers, technicians, and problem solvers. The firm also makes use of the latest in design and construction technologies to offer its clients a more immersive and in-depth experience in the design process, from project conceptualization through completion.
The firm’s signature design practice was developed by its principal architects, Timothy Bundy, a LEED-Accredited Professional, and Richard Finkel. From their years in Cal Poly Pomona as classmates to the start of their design practice, Bundy and Finkel’s partnership has produced a lasting presence in the region’s architectural landscapes, especially for the single-family sector. The firm’s portfolio features traditional and modern homes curated and designed with the quality and efficiency for which the firm is known.
David R. Olson Architects
470 Wald, Irvine, CA 92618
Specializing in high-end custom residential architecture as well as commercial, retail, and restaurant design, David R. Olson Architects boasts almost three decades of design practice. David R. Olson is an AIA and NCARB-certified design professional, holding numerous licenses in several states. Under Olson’s leadership and his profound understanding of architecture, the firm is celebrated for its timeless designs, with a portfolio of projects that highlight contemporary and European revival architecture. Many of these works have been featured in industry publications such as the Orange County Home, California Homes, Architectural Styles, Outdoor Rooms, Desert Homes.
One of the firm’s luxury custom home design projects can be found in Rancho Mirage. The home’s design drew inspiration from the classic elements of Spanish Revival Architecture: the style’s signature red-tile, low-pitched roofing, contrasted by its thick, stucco walls. Its rounded arches smoothly balance its seemingly bold and imposing figures. The architecture’s asymmetrical form adds character to the home. The same warmth and sophistication are extended to the home’s interiors, with natural materials like wood and stones crafted and molded into custom features, fixtures, and other luxury finishes.
20992 Calle Celeste, Lake Forest, CA 92630
Established over 20 years ago, Design Ethos has dominated Lake Forest’s architectural scene, especially when it comes to delivering new residential designs. The firm is not only an architecture firm; it is also licensed and trained to conduct neighborhood planning and zoning services that cater to general contractors and developers. In addition to its portfolio of residential architecture and remodeling, the firm is also known for its compact and innovative accessory dwelling units. These small-footprint homes can be designed according to the functional needs of project owners, including guest houses, rental properties, or for aging members of a household.
The firm’s practice is led by licensed architect Simon Hibbert. His rich experience in design and art has helped the firm deliver some of the most unique homes in the region, many of which are inspired by transitional and traditional architecture. Hebbert is also a member of the USGBC and is a LEED-Accredited Professional. He has also established lifelong networks with the industry’s biggest institutions which helped him have a clear understanding of the housing and zoning laws, as well as specific HOA (Homeowner Association) regulations.
247a Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Horst Architects first opened its doors over 30 years ago. It was established by AIA member Horst Noppenberger as an answer to the region’s need for sustainable, modern, and contemporary residential architects. Beginning as a small design practice, the firm has evolved into what it is today: a multidisciplinary architecture studio that highlights the significant roles of technology, culture, and environment in curating and building residential spaces that are holistic, eco-conscious, and most importantly, represent the clients’ most ambitious design aspirations.
The result of this comprehensive practice is a highlight commended design portfolio with projects featured in Luxe, Interiors World Architecture, and Ville Giardini, among others. The firm’s works are also constant winners of the annual AIA Awards recognition, as well as the Laguna Beach Architecture design competition, to name a few. Beyond its stunning designs and quality architecture, the firm is also known for its green design advocacy. Horst’s LEED affiliation and training have allowed the firm to deliver sustainable homes throughout Orange County and many other surrounding regions. Its overall design portfolio includes works for residential, commercial, and small footprint prefabricated homes.
John Valle Architect/JV Architecture
25181 Rivendell Dr., Lake Forest, CA 92630
John Valle Architecture is one of the most established local design companies in Lake Forest. In over 30 years, the firm has produced an extensive portfolio of residential spaces that have helped shape the city’s and its surrounding communities’ residential and commercial landscape. Aside from its expertise in architecture, the company is also known for its comprehensive construction management capabilities that ensure that every project follows the financial requirements of the build and is delivered within the set timeline.
As a designer and creative professional, principal John Valle, AIA, is interested in exploring the “why” and “where” of the creative process. That is, working closely with its clients and project owners to fully understand the design expectations, motivations, and functional and performance potential of the project. These factors are then translated into a realistic architecture plan that captures the aesthetic aspirations of the client while ensuring that the architecture will cater to the actual needs of their users through a solid construction practice and innovative solutions. The results of this harmony between form and function are modern, traditional, and contemporary structures that are celebrated for their thoughtful designs, unique craftsmanship, and lasting performance.
Kristine Sprague Architect
944 Calle Amanecer, Suite D, San Clemente, CA 92673
Specializing in residential design, Kristine Sprague Architect highlights a comprehensive design practice that creates functional and stunning houses. Principal architect Sprague is also a LEED-Accredited Professional, a membership that emphasizes the role of green design in curating spaces for modern users. The firm is also equipped with the latest in design technologies and offers 3D remodeling services for its initial design stages. Aside from its free on-site consultation services and the actual construction drawings services, the firm also manages the project’s permit processing and bidding process, thanks to its established relationship and familiarity with HOA, local review boards, and the institution’s corresponding requirements.
From its San Clemente studio, the firm extends its services throughout Lake Forest, Dana Point, Ladera Ranch, Laguna Hills, and other surrounding areas. Some of its works have been featured in New England Home, Berkshire Magazine, and Berkshire Eagle in the past years. One of its most stunning projects is for the redesign and transformation of a Spanish-Colonial Revival home in San Clemente. Originally a 980-square-foot residence, the home was built in 1927. The firm was tasked to redesign the historic home into a 1000-square-foot, two-story residence and add a one-car garage as well as extend the living space through an additional guest suite. One of the challenges of this project was how to add new structures that pay respect to the home’s existing architectural context. Aside from its challenging topography, the firm also overcame the challenge of a complex permit processing stage before breaking ground.
57 Vantis Drive Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
MYD Studio is not just a typical residential architecture studio. Beyond its excellence in designing modern and contemporary space, the firm is one of the leading advocates of green and sustainable designs. Its green design methods are not only reflected in its new construction works but are also applied to its remodels and additions services. To incorporate this innovative practice, the firm works in a highly-collaborative environment wherein contractors, consultants, and clients work together to achieve one goal: a functional, ecologically-conscious, and architecturally-unique residence that respond to the needs of the homeowner’s modern lifestyles.
The company is led by Lauren Moss, a licensed architect, and a LEED-Accredited Professional. Since she started her design practice, Moss has completed and led design projects for the residential, commercial, and academic sectors. She has also served on the US Green Building Council’s Steering and Education Committees for the organization’s Orange County Chapter. Moss is responsible for developing Cal State Fullerton’s green architecture curriculum. This extensive experience allowed her to have a multi-faceted understanding of the design process and produce some of the most notable modern and contemporary homes in the region.
23 Orchard Rd. Suite #150, Lake Forest, CA 92630
Architecture, planning, and interior design projects dominate Studio-195’s portfolio. The firm is an emerging California design studio that is built on a highly collaborative foundation. Its team of creative professionals and licensed architects is renowned for its dynamism and original designs that represent the individuality, personal brand, and design preferences of its users. Behind the firm’s continued success as a professional that caters to the region’s demanding residential sector is principal designer, Tarane Rahmani, who has led many design collaborations for the market.
As a designer that has extensive experience in working with international residential and commercial clients for over 25 years, she brings together an award-winning portfolio, recognized by the industry’s most respected bodies and publications, including the AIA Chicago and The Residential Architect magazine. In the past, she worked with one of the leading firms in the region where she was the lead designer for multiple award wining projects such as Golden Nugget award for Best International Attached product and a San Diego single-family residential project, a work that also earned the Gold Nugget Awards for the Best Architectural Design of a Single-Family 4000-5000-Square Foot category, the Gold award for best neighborhood from NAHB, Best Single-Family over 3000-Square Foot category, and Community of the Year award from San Diego building Association. The same work also earned the premier San Diego Building Industry Association Icon Awards.
22386 Woodgrove Rd., Lake Forest, CA 92630
Zen Architect’s successful design practice can be attributed to the background of its principal architect, John A. Salat. Salat is a member of the AIA, where he has chaired as the organization’s liaison for emergency programs. He has also been a part of some of the institution’s local planning boards. Leading a private architecture firm, Salat is an award-winning designer, incorporating the fundamentals of both architecture and engineering to complete some of the most complex and high-value residential projects in the region. To date, Salat has completed over 600 design projects for the commercial and residential sectors.
Many of these works have been highlighted in the design and building communities’ renowned publications, including The Register and OC Home and Garden Magazine, Reader’s Digest Home, among others. The firm’s extensive residential portfolio features traditional and residential designs. These homes were either inspired by the elegance of Spanish and European elements or are a combination of the functionality and minimalism of modern and contemporary designs. While these homes are curated with varying degrees of value and complexity, the overall project list further emphasizes the firm’s ability to deliver unique residential spaces that represent the firm’s in-depth understanding of a wide range of design themes and answer to the functional and aesthetic needs of their users.