Architect James McIntosh in one of his current projects at The Vintage. “I’m fortunate,” he says. “People seek out an architect when things are going well and they want to enhance their lives.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRANDON HARMAN
Many know him as “Jimmy Mac.” The fun and familiar nick-name speaks volumes about James McIntosh, principal at JMA Architecture, and the relationships he has honed over the past 33 years. His inner circle stretches across the desert through referrals as he builds, and rebuilds, prominent homes in The Vintage Club, The Reserve, and Bighorn Golf Club.
McIntosh enrolled in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as a structural engineer after working in the construction industry as a carpenter and certified welder, ultimately graduating with an architecture degree. Now, the 12-year member of the Palm Desert Architectural Review Commission addresses each of his client’s specific needs informed by a rare sense of possibility for land and structure.
With prime parcels scarce and renovations on the rise, McIntosh knows when to tear the back off a dark home and finally let the light inside — “or take down existing architecture that might not have been all that good to begin with to develop something special.”
James McIntosh poses in his current Vintage Club project.
His drafting table currently includes the Design Collaborative showhouse tentatively set for spring 2024 at The Vintage along with transformative renovations that stretch the imagination while fulfilling clients’ utilitarian and aesthetic preferences.
What’s your approach when a client first engages you?
We spend a lot of time at the beginning of every project gaining an understanding of their lifestyle, hopes, and future goals. Information in hand, we start to formulate a design that will be unique to that particular client.
A truly successful architectural solution requires both creativity and practicality — and it needs to be able to be built within the budget. These parameters need to be considered simultaneously in the early design phases. I look at it as starting with a good foundation. Initial decisions are critical and need to be vetted thoroughly since all subsequent design decisions will be made, and built, on top of them. People say, “You cannot build a good house on a bad foundation,” and this is very true. Inevitably there will be fractures. Everything built on that foundation will suffer and the project will never achieve any glory.
How has your clientele shaped your career?
I have always said that I feel lucky that I chose the Coachella Valley as a place to practice architecture. Because our seasonal environment attracts an international community of part-time residents, I’ve been exposed to different perspectives from many areas. My clients have shared their perspectives and the habits that form their successful lives and help them to achieve happiness. I have applied these lessons learned to my own business practices as well as my own personal rules for living.
Is there one moment that has impacted you most?
A new client and I were discussing architectural styles. While looking at my portfolio, they remarked that they loved that none of my projects looked similar to one another. I was pleased they were recognizing the effort that my team and I put into each project to make them unique — and the creative solutions we present that fit their lifestyle. In my mind, this is the real key to being a great designer.
Some designers establish a pattern then apply it to most of their work as “their style.” I prefer to start fresh which each project and, through established fundamental design principles, create something that addresses the uniqueness of the client as well as the unique characteristics of the site where the building is going to live. It was one of the best compliments that I have received.