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Best Custom Home Builders (Design-Build) in New York City

December 21, 2017 16 Min Read


Design-build firms provide architecture and construction services via one contract and one team, eliminating the headaches that arise from attempting to keep a client on the same page as the multiple partners deliver on a project. The streamlined approach often means projects can be executed with shorter timelines and more efficient budgets. It’s a perfect approach for New Yorkers who want it done well and want it done now, all with the impeccable quality that New York provides. The 10 design-build firms on this list are executing luxury projects using comprehensive methods.

Top Firms

Design + Build Enterprises

Tambi Kat

103 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11201

About Design + Build Enterprises

Design + Build Enterprises is the Cobble Hill firm making a mark on Brooklyn’s most popular neighborhoods. Tambi Kat, a LEED-certified professional, and graduate of a five-year architecture program, established the company and now serves as a principal and hands-on project director, connecting clients with the teams of designers, technology specialists, and craftsmen that will bring a dream home to life. Kat worked with architects and development firms for years before striking out on his own to assemble a team that would offer soup-to-nuts design and build services. A member of the U.S. Green Building Council, Design + Build Enterprises works on brownstones and apartments in Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, and Fort Greene, where home listings frequently top $15M.

Featured Projects

Design Build + Enterprises renovated an 1860 Italianate-style home in Fort Greene. The house at 158 South Oxford Street — which at one time was on the market for $13M — sits on a hill that used to overlook farmland, but it is now in danger of being overrun by Fort Greene’s sprawling development. Homeowners can watch the neighborhood change through the property’s 33 windows, or from the Gothic, trimmed front and back porches. The 5,400-square-foot, four-bedroom received a new kitchen with a wraparound countertop, butcher-block center island, and subway tile backsplash. One of the home’s bathrooms retains the charm of traditional tilework and a stained-glass window, while another got a slate tile update. The wood flooring was restored flooring throughout — from the parquet entry and upstairs bedroom to the main living spaces’ hardwood planks. An exterior staircase with filigree risers leads from the second-story down to the garden. Design + Build Enterprises completed another gut renovation in Fort Greene, revitalizing a four-story townhouse within a six-figure budget. Each bedroom and living space has its own unique aesthetic, bound together by white trim and a central staircase. The top story, which has panoramic views of the historic Fort Greene, now houses a lofted cinema with three skylights. Outdoor space is precious in New York City, and this home doesn’t disappoint. The master suite extends outdoors to a private teak deck.

Essential Design + Build

Richard Hiler

555 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017

About Essential Design + Build

Formerly known as Atco Construction, Essential Design + Build has provided detail-oriented architecture and construction services since 1971. Working out of their Midtown office, the certified US Green Building Council member brings sustainable construction practices and LEED AP staff to commercial and residential projects throughout the city. Essential Design + Build projects have appeared on Curbed New York. House Beautiful tapped the firm for their expertise for a feature on urban remodels.

Featured Projects

Essential Design + Build renovated a 1920s, 3,373-square-foot home on Summer Street in the Forest Hills Garden neighborhood of Queens. Working with architect Daniel Flebut and the homeowner, a registered architect and interior designer, the firm gutted the home to the studs and reimagined the layout to better accommodate family and entertaining. The kitchen was broadened and now features an island and adjacent wet bar. Original handicraft details and millwork were revived and recreated. Crown molding and traditional tilework nod at Tudor history. The Queens Chamber of Commerce dubbed the project the best single-family home renovation in the borough. In a landmarked section of the same historic neighborhood, Essential Design + Build completed an interior and exterior renovation of a 1940s home. The firm retained as much of the original charm as possible while affording the homeowners something akin to the Manhattan loft lifestyle they left behind. The grand entryway features a checkerboard floor and a staircase with dark wood treads. Replete with modernized mullioned windows, the house is bright and airy. Downstairs, the study’s masonry chimney is a visual backbone, supporting the house from its 16th-century, English roots, up to its eye-catching chimney. The extensive renovation landed on the cover of Metropolitan Home magazine.

Beckman Studio Design Build

Thomas Beckman
Brian MacKinnon

186 Grand Street, Third Floor, New York, NY 10013

About Beckman Studio Design Build

In 1994, sculptor and master builder Thomas Beckman established Beckman Studio Design Build, a multi-disciplinary firm he leads with support from Director of Project Management Brian MacKinnon. Beckman, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, traveled the United States extensively and took on diverse apprenticeships before settling in New York and opening a studio in the Meatpacking District. In his 20-plus year career, Beckman has amassed a client list that includes Calvin Klein and Burberry, and he broadened his focus to luxury interiors and custom furniture. Experience in international real estate development, MacKinnon is a hands-on leader, facilitating interactions between designers, clients, and construction crews. The New York Times and Interior Design have featured Beckman work.

Featured Projects

The Beckman Studio renovation of a 1,000-square-foot loft in Williamsburg took the unit from cookie cutter to one of a kind. The firm chose finishes that play off of the unit’s covetable views of the Williamsburg Bridge and Lower Manhattan, as well as the neighborhood’s industrial past. In the kitchen, white subway tile evokes classic New York and the brickwork patterns of nearby buildings. The team treated an exposed steel column — not unlike the beams that anchor the 100-year-old bridge in the East River — so it would patina over time. Beckman Studio also transformed a 1,500-square-foot loft in the heart of Tribeca. In the main living space, the firm used maple cabinetry, Carrara marble slabs, and a travertine fireplace front to make the most of light from the apartment’s northern exposure. The two baths showcase a similarly unpretentious luxury, with custom millwork, Moroccan marble floors, and frosted windows that diffuse daylight through the room while affording the homeowner privacy. The apartment also received upgrades to its electrical, mechanical, and audio-visual systems for state-of-the-art, sustainable living.

Studio DB

Damian Zunino
Britt Zunino

311 West 43rd Street, Penthouse, New York, NY 10036

About Studio DB

Damian and Britt Zunino are the minds behind Studio DB, a Manhattan-based firm that has delivered forward-thinking designs and skilled craftsmanship on residential projects since 2007. Britt, a trained studio artist, and former professional snowboarder, eventually went for an Interior Design degree from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. The management and merchandising experience she gained working for Ellen Tracy and Philippe Starck have been an asset to the company’s evolving aesthetic. Damian utilized his master’s in architecture from Yale University first to design homes in Connecticut, and then to take a position working with esteemed New York firm CookFox Architects. He is a LEED Accredited Professional who brings sustainable strategies to all of the firm’s residential undertakings. In the last decade, Studio DB has racked up features in The New York Times, Wallpaper Magazine, Vogue Paris, and Elle Décor.

Featured Projects

Home World Design magazine profiled the Studio DB renovation of a downtown townhouse, originally built in 1888. The single-family smart home encompasses a whopping 9,600 square feet of living space, plus a 1,000-square-foot roof terrace. The continuous stair reaches all the way through the glass-floored fifth and sixth stories. Two large skylights and translucent finishes fill every level with natural light. The ground floor is a dream for the homeowners’ children, with a half-court for basketball, a rock climbing wall, and a 100”, retractable projector screen. Guests can take an elevator down from their second-story suite to the cellar level, where they can enjoy a wine vault, 700-square-foot gym and yoga studio. The third-story kitchen — dressed in oxidized maple and lacquered cabinetry — is open to the two-story living room. North of Union Square, Studio DB tackled a smaller project with the same level of finesse. For the full renovation of a 2,800-square-foot loft, the team designed an open space primed for privacy. The homeowner can create intimate enclaves with custom teak, steel, and glass sliding doors and bookshelves. White, epoxy floors, a bi-level library, and a cantilevered steel staircase lend industrial sophistication.

The Brooklyn Home Company

Lyndsay Caleo and Fitzhugh Karol

138 Union Street #1B, Brooklyn, NY 1123

About The Brooklyn Home Company

Projects by The Brooklyn Home Company have garnered press from Brownstoner, Curbed New York, The New York Times, and The Real Deal. The family-run firm has expanded their focus from single-family homes to also developing and designing several multi-unit buildings throughout Brooklyn. Married couple and co-Creative Directors Lyndsay Caleo and Fitzhugh Karol both trained in studio arts at the Rhode Island School of Design. Lyndsay’s brother Bill is the company founder and head of operations. He has more than a decade of experience in Brooklyn real estate. The team at iFathom Construction Corp., led by Pete Gerolimatos, works exclusively with The Brooklyn Home Company as a dedicated general contractor. Food & Wine has tapped the firm for their kitchen design expertise. Their projects — which command millions on the market — have also been featured in New York Magazine.

Featured Projects

The Brooklyn Home Company renovated a four-story townhouse on 5th street in Park Slope. The ceiling wood beams are one of the home’s defining characteristics. The designers uncovered them during demolition and smartly decided to keep them exposed. Custom, built-in shelves also run throughout the house. In the living room, they frame a fireplace and integrated wall sculpture by Karol. A new, two-story extension houses the kitchen, an homage to cottage aesthetics with a vintage farm sink, reclaimed-wood open shelving, and an island topped with Sapele wood. A few blocks down in South Slope, The Brooklyn Home Company transformed a 15th street duplex, from the interior architecture to bespoke furniture. Though decorated in a palette of subdued neutrals, the home has textural depth from dark exposed ceiling beams, an interior stone wall, and painted exposed brick. Karol’s distinct sculptures make another appearance, creating shadows under the abundant natural light. Reclaimed factory floors add the sustainable, vintage touch that is The Brooklyn Home Company’s signature.

Descience Laboratories

Simrel Achenbach

284 Kingsland Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222

About Descience Laboratories

With work featured in The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Record, Elle Decor, and Interior Design, Brooklyn-based Descience Laboratories is a making a splash in New York’s residential design-build scene. Simrel Achenbach founded the firm in 2000, having already gained 15 years of experience in international art and design. Descience Laboratories takes a tailored approach to each project, whether that calls for artisanal millwork or cutting-edge machinery. Also a furniture studio, the firm’s pieces often make appearances in high-end interiors.

Featured Projects

Architectural Digest covered a Descience Laboratories downtown Manhattan loft makeover for Dutch fashion photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. Working in collaboration with designer Daniel Sachs, they joined two lofts in a Nolita building to create one expansive, 3,400-square-foot unit. Pine built-ins add a warm hue without breaking with the industrial aesthetic — so does the bleach alder wood kitchen, light and airy against wide-plank pine floors. Touches of red cedar in the master suite intensify the tonal depth and pop against the dark ceramic tile behind the vanity. The dynamic yet neutral finishes are a complementary backdrop to the homeowners’ collection of pop art, as well as their own work. Descience Laboratories bathed another Nolita loft in wood for a decidedly more finished aesthetic. The double-height living room borrows from contemporary Japanese design, with low-profile seating and second-story panels that resemble traditional screens. Beyond the two-story wall of mullioned windows and doors is the kitchen, where white, flat-faced cabinets and a wood-plank ceiling balance a waterfall-edge marble island with a six-burner range.

Harper Design + Build

Ryan Harper
Christine Harper

The Architect’s Magazine Best of Design Award for Residential Interior

343 Sixth Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215

About Harper Design + Build

Harper Design + Build, a Park Slope-based firm, provides a full-service experience to homeowners in New York’s well established and currently trending neighborhoods. Principal, architect and general contractor Ryan Harper founded the firm in 2004, drawing on experience as an architect and contractor with Gensler and Saladino Group. His college experience in the University of Cincinnati architecture program gave him a formal and practical education in the finer points of design and project management. Also a principal and licensed architect, Christine Harper joined the company after nine years as a senior associate at 1100 Architect, working on residences for high-profile clients. In total, Christine has over 18 years of experience in high-end residential design. Look for projects by Harper Design + Build in The Architect’s Newspaper, GQ, and New England Home.

Featured Projects

Harper Design + Build partnered with O’Neill McVoy Architects to reconstruct a cramped carriage house in Brooklyn as a bright family home. The street-facing facade is in step with Clinton Hill’s neighboring brownstones, in opposition the more modern rear design of the house. To bring light into the space, Harper Design + Build added floor-to-ceiling windows on the first and second stories overlooking the private yard, and cut out volumes of negative space that brighten the master bedroom and library, and also makes space for a garden centered in the first floor. The renovated home was featured on Dezeen and earned a Best of Design Award for Residential Interior from The Architect’s Newspaper. In Manhattan, Harper Design + Build reworked a 5th Avenue condo for Interior Design Hall of Fame inductee Celeste Cooper. The 2,000-square-foot apartment already offered sweeping views of Central Park, but the firm upped the ante by adding a top-of-the-line, stainless steel kitchen, bespoke Corian cabinets, and a seamless epoxy resin floor. A cutting-edge lighting program allows for efficient, customizable environment. Other luxe features include a butler pantry concealed behind sculptural, black-lacquered, sliding doors, and a foyer finished in vellum goatskin. The American Society of Interior Designers featured the richly appointed home on a tour for emerging designers.

TRA Studio

Caterina Roiatti,

Regina Kellerman Award for Historic Preservation

1 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038

About TRA Studio

Caterina Roiatti, AIA, NCARB and Parsons School of Design graduate Robert Traboscia co-founded TRA Studio Architecture in 1997. Throughout their 20 years in business, the firm has drawn attention from notable outlets such as The New York Times, Architectural Record, and The New York Post. TRA Studio is skilled at contemporary build-outs and historical renovations. Roiatti has served as a co-chair of the AIA New York Historic Buildings Committee, and the Greenwich Village Society recognized the firm with the Regina Kellerman Award for Historic Preservation for their work on 173 MacDougal Street. Several of the team’s projects have landed in the AIA Guide to New York City.

Featured Projects

TRA Studio designed and built out a unit in the historic Ritz Tower, the standard for New York City residential luxury. Built in 1925, the Midtown East icon was the first residential high-rise to go up on the island of Manhattan. The apartment’s open layout, though, is thoroughly modern. By carefully reconstructing three adjacent apartments as one expansive unit, TRA Studio afforded the homeowners light-suffused, expansive space for entertaining; bedrooms for five children; and a master suite. The airy living room transitions almost seamlessly to a terrace that places guests high above the bustle of the streets below, yet in the thick of the city’s diverse architecture. Exposed, cast-iron columns hint at the building’s rich history. In another unique Upper East Side endeavor, TRA Studio redesigned a rare four-story, brick townhouse with a detached carriage house. Behind the custom, corten steel gate and limestone facade is a canopied entryway and a wood staircase wrapped in glass and metalwork. The two-story carriage house is a self-sufficient guest suite — the likes of which are unheard of in the concrete jungle — under a living green roof. The buildings are bridged by a private courtyard and a skylit, underground passageway extending from the townhouse basement. The property hit the market with a list price of just over $14M.


Ben Bischoff
Oliver Freundlich and Brian Papa

141 Beard Street Building 12B Brooklyn, NY 11231

About Made-NYC

MADE is a design-build practice based in Brooklyn’s Red Hook piers, led by Principal Ben Bischoff. Bischoff founded the company in 2002 with fellow Yale School of Architecture graduates Oliver Freundlich and Brian Papa. The firm’s choice of office — a Civil War-era warehouse — is no accident. MADE is known for having a particular finesse for adapting historic structures for modern living. MADE combines design, fabrication, and contracting services to execute architectural designs to their fullest potential. The Architect’s Newspaper, Elle Décor, and New York Magazine have picked up on MADE’s bold designs and precise execution.

Featured Projects

Architectural Digest and Curbed New York covered Brooke Shields’ family home renovation, a joint effort between MADE and British interior designer David Flint Wood. When Shields and her husband purchased the landmarked, four-story townhouse, it needed a total gut. MADE set out to restore as much of the original, 1910 architecture as possible while preparing the $5.6M, Greek revival structure for a modern update. On the main floor, glossy, dark wood floors add edge and glamour opposite white crown molding. In the master suite, the expansive walk-in closet is formed from rift-sawn white oak and includes a library ladder for access to floor-to-ceiling shelving. The black-painted, free-standing soaking tub recalls the black and white motif in other finishes throughout the home. The guest room isn’t short on glamour; a luxurious, oversized marble mantel plays off of the form of the deep-set windows. MADE also designed and built some of the Greenwich Village abode’s furniture pieces, including the reclaimed-wood dining table and the master bath vanity. In the upscale Brooklyn neighborhood of Boerum Hill, MADE designed and rebuilt a previously gutted 2,400-square-foot townhouse. The design-build firm oriented the house around a switchback staircase situated under a skylight. The untraditional layout makes for more spacious floorplans and a light-filled home. The master bedroom and bathroom are divided by a floor-to-ceiling, wood-paneled volume and a sliding screen. The kitchen features custom cabinetry built from salvaged wood beams.

Aerial Design-Build

Julie Kelley
Rupila Sethi
Jessica Maktal

122 E. 57th Street, Suite 4R New York, NY 10022

About Aerial Design-Build

Aerial Design-Build specializes in residential and restaurant design-build projects. Founding Principals Julie Kelley and Rupila Sethi work with design-build director Jessica Maktal in their Midtown office. Kelley, an 18-year veteran of the New York construction scene, leads the corporate side of the business. With degrees in architecture and lighting under her belt, Sethi has worked on commercial projects for Tiffany and HBO, as well as luxury residences in the US and abroad. A graduate of the prestigious City College of New York architecture program, Maktal rounds out the leadership trifecta as an on-the-ground project manager. New York Magazine consistently lists Aerial Design-Build among the top contractors in the city, and the firm recently became a member of U.S. Green Building Council. Their projects have garnered attention from Architectural Digest, The Huffington Post, and CNN.

Featured Projects

Aerial Design-Build created a Gramercy Park apartment for fashion designer Derek Lam and his life and business partner Jan-Hendrik Schlottmann. Now referred to as “the treehouse,” the unit overlooks Gramercy Park, the private green space only accessible to residents of the surrounding buildings. Lam’s apartment, at the recently redesigned, the 1930s 50 Gramercy Park North, is a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath spread that cost the pair $4.8M before renovations. The design-build firm partnered with interior design house Neal Beckstedt Studio to outfit the space with custom, pale-washed oak cabinetry, and wall panels. The tan hue is utilized again in the master bath, which is swathed in travertine. The Wall Street Journal covered an Aerial Design-Build project at 24 West 30th Street. In partnership with architect Aaron Schiller of Schiller Projects, the firm completed a $700k renovation of a 1,979-square-foot unit in the Pell Building. With eleven-foot ceilings, the apartment in the 1909 warehouse building had good bones. During the first four months of the 14-month renovation, the team opened up the floor plan by removing interior walls and exposed some of the original masonries. A louvered partition separates the entryway from the high-end kitchen. Bleached wood plank floors bounce light from the apartment’s 24 windows.


  • Jake Gustafson

    Jake has served as Senior Editor at New York City Architects and brings a wealth of experience rooted in his passion for building. Holding a degree in Construction Engineering Management from Oregon State University, he actively engaged in industry-related activities, including membership in the Associated General Contractors of America student chapter and participation in the Associated Schools in Construction student competition. Previously, Jake served as a project engineer for a prominent general contractor in Portland, where he played a pivotal role in various aspects of construction projects, from pre-construction to subcontractor management. His expertise extends to working on innovative projects, such as North America's largest CLT commercial building. Expertise: Commercial Construction, Commercial Remodeling, Home Design and Build Key Highlights: Editor at New York City Architects, Project Engineer for Portland-based general contractor, Field Engineer for the largest CLT commercial building in North America Education: Oregon State University - Degree in Construction Engineering Management

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