Jeff King Talks With

Architect Malcolm Davis

We thought it would be interesting for our readers to better understand what motivates, inspires and challenges architects and designers when they are designing for residential clients in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a result we developed seven questions and asked two architects and two interior designers to respond.

Our first installment is from Malcolm Davis, principal at Malcolm Davis Architecture. Malcolm is a Bay Area native with an intimate understanding of its regional building styles and climates. Educated at UC Berkeley, his strong appreciation of the craft of building goes hand in hand with thoughtful stewardship of resources. He takes pride in creative problem solving through simple, elegant solutions. Employing a timeless vocabulary and a restrained palette, Malcolm’s projects over the last 20 years have earned multiple awards from the American Institute of Architects and publication in Dwell, Elle Decor, Sunset Magazine, California Home & Design, and the San Francisco Chronicle.


Jeff King & Co: Where do you look for design inspiration?

Malcolm Davis: I’m inspired by vernacular designs and structures, where solutions are simple and the guts are exposed. I love knowing how things work and looking at the other side of things; “what’s behind the curtain?” From a shaker chest to an old barn or factory, I like to bring that sense of clarity of purpose to my projects.



Improvement is the motivation behind all remodels. How does your design improve a client’s experience in their home? How do you know you’ve provided a good design?

When a client tells me how much their home supports them in their everyday activities.  A good design should be like a well-tailored suit of clothes: comfortable, handsome and timeless.


In an urban environment such as San Francisco, you’re often dealing with preexisting structures. What are the greatest challenges creating a new design in an existing home?  

Depending on the existing house, the neighborhood, and the client’s preferences, I generally try to work “with” the existing structure if there are salvageable areas of character/function rather than automatically erasing all that came before. With an existing building, I frequently try to imagine it as the best version of itself and then work to tie that with more modern and functional components.



As we live in them today, kitchens are often times the most important room in the house. They can also be the most complex and expensive rooms to remodel. How do you design a kitchen for the 21st century homeowner? 

Allowing the kitchen to have the “appropriate” amount of connection to the rest of the living spaces can be quite subjective to different clients and between a country house and a full time residence. I like to get the client’s expectations and goals clearly in mind as I start the design. Is it really a “chef’s kitchen” or a place to have wine and cheese while waiting for the takeout to arrive, or leaving to go out to eat.


Bathrooms can be simple and functional for one person or a place of retreat and spa for another. How do you approach bathroom design for each type of client? What are a few of your favorite elements to include in a bathroom?

Whether it’s small and functional or more grand, I always work for as much natural light as possible.  I like to keep the palettes calm and cohesive. And practically speaking, storage.



Outside of kitchens & baths, what is your favorite living space to design? How do you make this space stand out?

I like to design all kinds of spaces.  I like when I can make something special out of what could be a perfunctory space. I love the “in between” spaces like porches and mudroom/entries and entrance sequences. I think they can establish the feeling of a project and set it apart.



What are the current design trends that you hope to see disappear in the near future?

Trends in Design. I think trends are fine for colors and hairstyles but I try to stay away from trends in planning a building or a renovation. I want my work to be more about a feeling than a particular time or fashion.



Thanks for chatting with us, Malcolm!

Find out more about his work at Malcolm Davis Architecture.


Read our next interview in the series: Q&A with Marnie Wright, Interior Designer!