William Davidson can be found on weekends scouring antique shops for old building hardware and fixtures.
The founder and president of Del Mar-based Davidson Communities will then take the old light fixture, doorknob or faucet he finds, get it duplicated and incorporate the replica into the design of one of his houses.
This attention to detail is one of the reasons the reception area cabinet at his modest Del Mar headquarters is nearly overflowing with more than 100 building industry awards for quality and innovative design.
“Bill Davidson is one of the most creative minds in the home building industry,” says John Daley, president and CEO of Nicholas Grant Corp., an infrastructure contractor in San Diego. “If the design isn’t new, he doesn’t have any fun with it.”
Daley, who does paving and grading for Davidson, has known the homebuilder for nearly 15 years. He’s done the infrastructure for many of Davidson’s projects as well.
“Bill’s product is the best in the industry,” Daley said. “I bought my last two homes from him , a townhouse in Casa Bella in University Towne Centre and a house in the Private Collection in Del Mar Heights.”
Davidson, 51, an Oklahoma City native who grew up in Houston, originally had planned to become an architect when he was came out of the U.S. Navy in the late 1960s. However, an instructor at Mesa College cautioned him against becoming a home design architect because he said there was little money in the specialty. Commercial architecture design didn’t appeal to him and his fascination rapidly grew with the residential architecture of the early 20th century.
Davidson received his associate’s degree in construction management from Mesa College in 1971 and decided to become a builder instead of going on to get a four-year architecture degree at an out-of-town college. Friends had introduced Davidson to San Diego before he joined the military, and memories of the great surfing here drew him back. He wanted to stay after spending from 1967 to 1969 here in the U.S. Navy Air Reserve. He was also fascinated by the residential architectural styles in the San Diego neighborhood of Kensington.
That fascination with old houses has continued to this day, and the models Davidson built at Cielo on the east side of Rancho Santa Fe reflect the inspiration of a bygone era. The five different floor plans on the eight lots the company owns there range from 3,700 to 6,230 square feet and are priced from the high $800,000s.
Inside them is wainscoting, bull-nosed wall corners, vaulted or recessed ceilings, archways, and hardware designs borrowed from the 1920s.
When possible, he uses native stone for steps and walkways and veneers on exteriors.
“We try to take the rock color from the mountains and include it in the house,” Davidson said. “That kind of ties the building into its surroundings.”
His own house in Del Mar is a completely restored 1911 California bungalow.
After leaving Mesa College, Davidson worked for Hallcraft Homes and then for architect-developer Ed Malone at the Malone Co. Both were San Diego County companies.
He started Davidson Communities in 1978; his first project was University Point, a six-unit condominium near the University of San Diego campus.
“I had worked for companies that built thousands of houses and wanted to do something on a large scale, but the bank said I had to start with a small project,” Davidson recalls. “I was scared to death for a while there. I missed the regular paycheck I had been getting working for someone else.”
The small condo development was a success and Davidson’s next project was Leucadia Village, a 52-unit duplex condo development in the hamlet of the same name.
“That project put us on the map,” Davidson says.
Currently, Davison Communities is building million-dollar homes at Cielo and at The Meadows in Del Mar. The company is building homes priced around $500,000 at Sage Canyon in Encinitas as well. Shelbourne at La Costa Valley is a Davidson development of 2,700- to 3,900-square-foot homes that start in the low $500,000. It’s scheduled to open for sale later this month.
He is bothered that building affordable housing is no longer practical in San Diego County.
“You have to go all the way to Lake Elsinore or Temecula for an affordable lot now,” Davidson said. “The building industry here has to educate the public about the difficulties with the government planning process and how it adds to the expense of the final product.”
Local governments in San Diego County are becoming more favorable toward extended family dwellings and urban in-fill development and that encourage him.
“We can’t just draw another circle around San Diego and start building out again,” Davidson says. “It’s too expensive and the roads are congested. We need to get used to higher density living in the city through urban infill.”
Davidson, a past president of the San Diego chapter of the Building Industry Association, is also a former member of the board of trustees of the Ecke YMCA and a member of the Children’s Hospital Foundation. He also served as chairman of the San Diego Construction Industry Foundation, coordinating donations of labor and material to benefit charities.
This month, he will be inducted into the California Building Industry Association Hall of Fame. In 1992, California Builder Magazine named him builder of the year.
He enjoys looking through secondhand and antique stores for things he can add to his home designs. Davidson also likes to collect old mechanical clocks and wristwatches.
He and his wife, Kathy, have three children, William, 13, Nicole, 12, and Christopher, 9.
They have the youngsters involved in the Kid Corps, a charity that organizes volunteer beach clean-ups, and meals for the needy.
“Bill Davidson is basically the class leader in the San Diego building industry,” said Alan Nevin of Marketpoint Realty Advisors of San Diego, a housing research firm. “His projects inevitably are the highest quality and best design.”
Crucial to Davidson’s success, Nevin said, is his ability to encourage the best designs from his architects. Also important is Davidson’s ability to adapt to changes in the marketplace by giving homebuyers the features they want in a house.
“The architectural design, interior decoration and the personal touches give someone who walks into one of his houses the feeling that somebody with excellent taste had a hand in every detail,” Nevin says.
Larry Case, principal of Case Group Architects in Solana Beach, has designed about 3,500 of the approximately 4,000 homes Davidson has built.
Davidson is always looking for unique items to add to his houses, Case says. He also encourages creativity and innovation in architecture.
“Bill is very good at letting architects do their designs unfettered,” Case says. “He is looking for creativity and he doesn’t want to stifle the architect.”
Davidson’s attention to detail frequently results in many other construction professionals visiting his models, just to see what sort of innovations he has created, Case says.
“Bill’s projects are the trendsetters that other builders try to duplicate,” Case says.