For nearly 20 years, he has been designing and remodeling custom homes for clients throughout Washington, DC, Virginia and Maryland, and beyond. Award-winning Great Falls-based architect James McDonald sat down to discuss an illustrious career, James McDonald Associate Architects (JMAA) and a long-standing collaboration with Joy Design + Build. 

JOY: How did you get started designing buildings? 

JM: Growing up in Indiana, I visited every new project, climbing in the dirt as custom homes in my neighborhood were going up. I came by my interest naturally as my dad is a chemical engineer and mom an interior designer. I was keenly interested in the addition they built on our family home.  

I spent a couple of years traveling in Europe, impressed with the Pantheon and Colosseum in Rome, and so many buildings in France, Germany and Belgium. Architecture that lasts! 

After earning a BA of Architecture from Ball State University in Indiana, I came to Washington, DC to work for an architecture firm focused on healthcare.  

In 1989, I went from sitting in a board room, to looking across at individuals, when I started doing residential work. It was wonderful to start building on a personal scale, turning clients’ dreams and aspirations into homes. 

JOY: When did you start your own firm? 

JM: With two people in the basement, I started JMAA in 2009. We’re now 11. The strength of our company is our team. 

JOY: What distinguishes you from your competition? 

JM: Aside from quality design, we have a reputation for easy-to-build from construction drawings. We’ve been recognized by Fairfax County for providing the cleanest sets, translating into an easy and quick approval process. 

JOY: Do you have a special project, one youve found especially challenging or rewarding? 

JM: Every year there’s a special project. Last year, we remodeled a small “shot gun” house on a challenging lot but, in a wonderful, Great Falls location. Practically next door, we designed the 24,000 square foot French Country Le Chateau de Lumiere.  

We love to build in every scale; from highly detailed tiny jewel boxes full of light, space and charm to grand manor homes with understated elegance. 

JOY: When did you start working with Joy Design + Build? 

JM: It’s been 12 years now. John Joy has a unique ability and great knack for utilizing homeowner resources. We meet clients together for a charrette process, designing in front of them. By looking at their faces, gauging reactions to ideas, within two hours we have a general direction. This seamless collaboration shortens the design process considerably. 

There’s an unwritten dialogue when we work together. John understands what clients want because he listens. 

We also have a great relationship with everyone on our collective teams, from selection to production.  

We like to say, ’JMAA is one of Joy’s favorite tools.’  

JOY: What have you chosen for your family home? 

JM:  With my wife, Lynne, also an architect and my partner at JMAA, early in our marriage we built a Farmhouse Craftsman style home in Great Falls. With a modest budget, we built it for our needs, learning a lot about each other during the process. 

JOY: What do you see as new trends in luxury custom builds? 

JM: There’s been a slow transition from the 1980s Colonial Revivals to French Country, American Craftsman … toward adapting to current lifestyles. We’re seeing kitchens as the epicenters of homes, with a lot less emphasis on separate living rooms. We bring today’s current trends into all of our projects.