Launch Slideshow

Jay True (left) and Jim Murphy of Jim Murphy and Associates.

Grand Crew: Jim Murphy and Jay True master the wine country estate.

Custom Builder of the Year

Grand Crew: Jim Murphy and Jay True master the wine country estate.

Custom Builder of the Year

  • This California home's stone-and-plaster walls conceal a high performance core built with insulated concrete forms.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E4E%2Etmp_tcm48-687423.jpg

    true

    This California home's stone-and-plaster walls conceal a high performance core built with insulated concrete forms.

    600

    Tim Maloney

    This California home's stone-and-plaster walls conceal a high performance core built with insulated concrete forms.

  • A wall of lift-and-slide doors opens the great room colonnade to a covered terrace with an outdoor fireplace.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E4F%2Etmp_tcm48-687424.jpg

    true

    A wall of lift-and-slide doors opens the great room colonnade to a covered terrace with an outdoor fireplace.

    600

    Chris Larrance

    A wall of lift-and-slide doors opens the great room colonnade to a covered terrace with an outdoor fireplace.

  • Like many JMA projects over the years, this weekend retreat in Kenwood, Calif., draws its inspiration from the wine-growing regions of the Mediterranean.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E50%2Etmp_tcm48-687425.jpg

    true

    Like many JMA projects over the years, this weekend retreat in Kenwood, Calif., draws its inspiration from the wine-growing regions of the Mediterranean.

    600

    Chris Larrance

    Like many JMA projects over the years, this weekend retreat in Kenwood, Calif., draws its inspiration from the wine-growing regions of the Mediterranean.

  • A product of JMAs long-standing relationship with architect Howard Backen, this Napa, Calif., residence bears the hallmarks of Backens California farmhouse style, reflected here in the buildings simple volumes, metal roofs, and exposed timber trusses.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E51%2Etmp_tcm48-687426.jpg

    true

    A product of JMAs long-standing relationship with architect Howard Backen, this Napa, Calif., residence bears the hallmarks of Backens California farmhouse style, reflected here in the buildings simple volumes, metal roofs, and exposed timber trusses.

    600

    Tim Maloney

    A product of JMAs long-standing relationship with architect Howard Backen, this Napa, Calif., residence bears the hallmarks of Backens California farmhouse style, reflected here in the buildings simple volumes, metal roofs, and exposed timber trusses.

  • With every room opening to the outdoors, this Napa, Calif., house promotes a casual relationship with its site.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E52%2Etmp_tcm48-687427.jpg

    true

    With every room opening to the outdoors, this Napa, Calif., house promotes a casual relationship with its site.

    600

    Tim Maloney

    With every room opening to the outdoors, this Napa, Calif., house promotes a casual relationship with its site.

  • While the forms and materials used in this residence make reference to vernacular agricultural buildings, the craftsmanship and performance are contemporary.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E53%2Etmp_tcm48-687428.jpg

    true

    While the forms and materials used in this residence make reference to vernacular agricultural buildings, the craftsmanship and performance are contemporary.

    600

    Tim Maloney

    While the forms and materials used in this residence make reference to vernacular agricultural buildings, the craftsmanship and performance are contemporary.

  • This modernist residence perches on the slope of Sonoma Mountain. Its stone walls use material excavated on site.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E54%2Etmp_tcm48-687429.jpg

    true

    This modernist residence perches on the slope of Sonoma Mountain. Its stone walls use material excavated on site.

    600

    Michael O'Callahan

    This modernist residence perches on the slope of Sonoma Mountain. Its stone walls use material excavated on site.

  • Aluminum screens shade an elevated deck overlooking the guest house and Sonoma Valley.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E55%2Etmp_tcm48-687430.jpg

    true

    Aluminum screens shade an elevated deck overlooking the guest house and Sonoma Valley.

    600

    Michael O'Callahan

    Aluminum screens shade an elevated deck overlooking the guest house and Sonoma Valley.

  • This deck offers an unobstructed view of Sonoma Valley. JMA worked on this project with San Francisco-based STUDIOS Architecture.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E56%2Etmp_tcm48-687431.jpg

    true

    This deck offers an unobstructed view of Sonoma Valley. JMA worked on this project with San Francisco-based STUDIOS Architecture.

    600

    Michael O'Callahan

    This deck offers an unobstructed view of Sonoma Valley. JMA worked on this project with San Francisco-based STUDIOS Architecture.

  • Clerestory windows feed light from the uphill side of the living room through a wood-and-steel roof structure.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E57%2Etmp_tcm48-687432.jpg

    true

    Clerestory windows feed light from the uphill side of the living room through a wood-and-steel roof structure.

    600

    Michael O'Callahan

    Clerestory windows feed light from the uphill side of the living room through a wood-and-steel roof structure.

  • The two-story living room and wrap-around deck enjoy long views over the vineyards to Dry Creek Valley.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E58%2Etmp_tcm48-687433.jpg

    true

    The two-story living room and wrap-around deck enjoy long views over the vineyards to Dry Creek Valley.

    600

    Tim Maloney

    The two-story living room and wrap-around deck enjoy long views over the vineyards to Dry Creek Valley.

  • The main house and guest cottage enclose a courtyard/pool deck punctuated with planting beds.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E59%2Etmp_tcm48-687434.jpg

    true

    The main house and guest cottage enclose a courtyard/pool deck punctuated with planting beds.

    600

    Tim Maloney

    The main house and guest cottage enclose a courtyard/pool deck punctuated with planting beds.

  • Surrounded by acres of productive Zinfandel vines, this family compound makes reference to the vintners art with a wine cellar in the form a barrel.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E5A%2Etmp_tcm48-687435.jpg

    true

    Surrounded by acres of productive Zinfandel vines, this family compound makes reference to the vintners art with a wine cellar in the form a barrel.

    600

    Tim Maloney

    Surrounded by acres of productive Zinfandel vines, this family compound makes reference to the vintners art with a wine cellar in the form a barrel.

  • Jay True (left) and Jim Murphy of Jim Murphy and Associates.

    http://www.residentialarchitect.com/Images/tmp6E5B%2Etmp_tcm48-687436.jpg

    true

    Jay True (left) and Jim Murphy of Jim Murphy and Associates.

    600

    John Lee / Aurora Select

    Jay True (left) and Jim Murphy of Jim Murphy and Associates.

You can’t talk with Jim Murphy and Jay True for long before the conversation turns toward grapes. In California’s Sonoma Valley, where their company, Jim Murphy & Associates (JMA), is based, vineyards are everywhere. Doctors, tech industry entrepreneurs, and entertainment executives move here to establish their own labels. Well-off retirees grow grapes instead of grass. In upscale homes, climate-controlled cellars and tasting rooms are as common as ice makers. The influence shows also in the architecture of JMA houses: a robust Mediterranean blend with California farmhouse overtones and notes of San Francisco modernism. Building at the top of this market entails complex projects, sensitive sites, formidable regulations, exacting architects, and demanding clients. And in this environment, no one builds a better house or runs a better company than Jim Murphy and Jay True.

But don’t take our word for it. Ask JMA client Darryl Roberson. Roberson is founding principal at STUDIOS Architecture, an international firm whose recent projects include a 28,550-square-foot expansion of MTV Networks headquarters in New York and a 5 million-square-foot renovation of the Pentagon. Fifteen years ago, JMA built a weekend house for Roberson and his wife on a mountainside near the town of Sonoma. “It was sort of an experiment,” says Roberson, who produced only a minimal plan set and worked out details with his builder during construction. “What I learned from working with Jim and Jay was that they were right on it. They came up with a lot of great ideas.” When the time came to build a year-round residence on the property (see photos), he says, “It was automatic that I would work with them again.”

JMA president Murphy took a hands-on role in the project, Roberson says. “He knew I would be detailing it out as we went along, so I just stayed ahead of him. He knew I was the architect, but he also knew when he would step in with advice.” At least once, in the case of a stainless steel exterior stair, the builder actually overruled the architect. “Jim said, ‘What you have detailed isn’t good enough; I don’t think it will last over time,’” Roberson remembers. “And it was built already. Jim said, ‘We’re going to pull it out and do it over,’—at his own cost.” Roberson insisted on splitting the expense, but he remains impressed with Murphy’s insistence on getting things right. Moreover, he says, “He understood the design intent. My specifications were thin, but I trusted Jim.”

Murphy, who clearly enjoyed the collaboration, puts it more succinctly: “I love to solve problems.” Tall, lean, and not yet gray at 68, Murphy is famously frugal with words, especially when talking about himself. But an affinity for solving problems explains as well as anything else how a self-educated builder finds himself on equal footing with an architect of Roberson’s stature. Murphy got into construction in 1963, at the age of 21, as a drywall taper making $4 an hour, a career choice motivated primarily by the fact that his previous job paid only $3. But he seems to have shown aptitude for the work from his first day. “The next day,” he remembers, “they gave me a $1 raise.” By 1966, he was running his own drywall company, and was soon building houses on the side. He sold the drywall company in 1972 to concentrate on spec construction, but the early 1980s recession put an end to that. “It almost put me under,” remembers Murphy, who vowed never again to build with his own money. And so a custom builder was born.