Built to Last: Jim Davis

Since 1974, contractor Jim Davis has been building some of L.A.’s most spectacular homes, including the award-winning private homes of Conrad Buff and Don Hensman. In 1989, Jim launched his own firm, Davis Development Group, and has continued to work with renowned figures like Barbara Barry and Frank Gehry. Jim’s project management style has created lasting relationships with clients, many of whom have brought him back to oversee second and third homes, including Hollywood film veteran Nancy Meyers. Aside from his devotion to creating luxury homes, Jim’s passions include soccer, jazz and painting, and, most of all, time with family.

How would you describe your aesthetic? Eclectic. Bohemian. I love all styles of great architecture—traditional to contemporary. There’s nothing better than a great design executed well. My own house is half contemporary and half traditional, wrapped up in a craftsman style shell. Everything ties together seamlessly with a reclaimed, antique French oak floor. I’m fortunate enough to work on a broad variety of styles so I’ve tried to blend them all into one great living space.

How did you get started in the business? My father taught college architecture and was always doing something to our house. I was drafted at an early age to help with his projects, including spending weekends in the college woodshop helping to build cabinets and furniture. I started my career in LA building cabinets and interior finishes, including several recording studios and nightclubs. The first house I built was a Buff & Hensman design. I was part of a small crew hired by the owner builder. I developed a great relationship with both Don Hensman and Conrad Buff and together with a friend of mine, formed a partnership that went on to build more than a dozen of their designs in the ’70s and early ’80s including both Don and Conrad’s personal homes. Five of them are featured in the Buff & Hensman book published by USC press and used as a textbook in their school of architecture.  

From where or what sources do you derive creative inspiration? I love well-crafted things that show the patina of a life well lived. I love great architecture, music and art. I’m always studying and absorbing my surroundings. I’ll be out to dinner with my wife and she’ll catch me staring at the ceiling or a wall or a doorjamb and ask me where I am. The answer? I’m putting myself in the process of how a particular detail is put together. I appreciate the effort required to create something unique. I think your living space should be such that everywhere you look, no matter what room you’re in, you are inspired: a great detail, a garden vista, lighting that creates a perfect mood.

If you could reside on a Hollywood film set from any era, what would it be and why? I can’t really answer that. I’m drawn to so many styles. Great design is timeless and transcends age. My film set would have a great view with plenty of land around it. A space that feels warm and inviting. I’ve built two houses for Nancy Meyers and love her sense of style. Her movie houses always become one of the stars.

What takes a kitchen or bath from ordinary to extraordinary? The line dividing the kitchen from the rest of the house has dissolved to where it almost doesn’t exist. Everyone always ends up in the kitchen so why not make it a great place to hang out? My wife and I like to cook, so an extraordinary kitchen has to start with great appliances and plenty of workspace—enough room for the whole family to participate in preparing the meal. A kitchen that flows seamlessly from inside to out is amazing. Our kitchen opens to a covered patio with the BBQ just outside, so we grill almost every night. For me, every room should have a special feel, especially the master bath. A volume ceiling is great. Views to the outdoors. A floor to ceiling steel-pane window framing a contemporary freestanding tub. And I like hardwood floors in the master bath. It feels warmer and more inviting.