As the financial, cultural, and commercial hub of Northern California, San Francisco is an attractive destination for entrepreneurs and developers, especially given its rank as the fourth in the state in terms of population. Every day, the city caters to an ever-growing demand for retail products and services, as well as for the need for innovative, interactive, and sustainable commercial centers that host dining, shopping, and socializing activities for its wide range of demographics. To design and build green and modern spaces that answer to the specific needs of consumers, brands, and business owners, the city relies heavily on its long list of top architectural firms to help shape its vibrant commercial landscapes.
This article features the best retail architects in San Francisco. Included in this listing are architecture and interior design firms that have completed multiple commercial and retail projects in the city. The companies were qualified based on the quality of their projects through the awards, publication features, and industry recognition that they acquired through the years. The article also considered the background of their principals, their accreditations from, and memberships with industry institutions, as well as its productive collaborations with the top brands and firms in the field. Most importantly, the firms were selected based on the reviews and testimonials that they have received from their commercial clientele.
AXIS/GFA Architecture + Design
1000 Brannan St. Unit #404, San Francisco, CA 94103
About AXIS/GFA Architecture + Design
AXIS/GFA Architecture + Design looks at its architectural practice as an opportunity to produce transformative designs and spaces that can make the world a better place. By focusing on a client-centered and highly collaborative approach, the firm delivers a range of unique, inspiring, and world-class architecture and interior design projects for commercial, residential, hospitality, and mixed-use clients.
As an architect and designer for retail brands and other relevant sectors, the firm presents an extensive portfolio composed of notable clients from a diverse spectrum of industries. National and global brands, such as the Old Navy, The North Face, Laura Ashley, and Pottery Barn, have relied on the firm’s multi-level expertise. In recent years, the company was chosen by a renowned developer to complete a 50,000-square-foot retail-centric mixed-use building in San Francisco.
It has also worked on one-of-a-kind projects that redefine how consumers and customers interact with built spaces. For instance, in collaboration with MBH Architects, the firm designed a 5.400-square foot, technology-inspired, and state-of-the-art retail design for the multinational video game and digital entertainment giant, Sony Interactive Entertainment. Principal architect Shawn Alexander, together with MBH Architect’s principal, produced an interactive retail space as an extension of the store’s existing Playstation center.
901 Battery St. Suite #300, San Francisco, CA 94111
About BAR Architects
Comprehensive, branded designs tailored to the specific needs of each client characterize BAR Architects’s extensive portfolio for the commercial and retail sectors. Regardless of size, value, or complexity, the company’s projects are produced through cost-effective planning and healthy architectural solutions. Its over 50 years in the industry is marked by award-winning works, recognized by respected institutions and publications, such as Engineering News-Record (ENR) California, San Francisco Business Times, Architectural Record, and regional and national American Institute of Architects chapters, among others.
Aside from completing a rich retail portfolio for luxury brands in San Francisco, the firm has also partnered with international retail chains to complete multiple locations not just in the US, but also in Asia and Europe. American fashion company Ralph Lauren, for instance, has been working with the company’s design team for years, to deliver the global brand’s flagship stores and prototypes in Japan, Mexico, England, and Italy.
One of the most exciting aspects of this commission is how the firm designs every store in reference to the distinct architectural and cultural characteristics of each location. Arizona’s Ralph Lauren store, for instance, highlights themes inspired by early Argentinian and Southwestern elements. During the early years of this partnership, some of these projects caught the attention of industry organizations, winning awards and recognition, including the Gold Nugget Merit Award.
Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
49 Geary St. Suite #300, San Francisco, CA 94108
About Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s over 50 years of design practice is marked with outstanding milestones that established its reputation as one of the most celebrated architectural firms in the country. Over the years, it has earned 10 National Honor Awards from the AIA, and more than 675 awards from a long list of industry institutions, publications, and magazine rankings. The firm currently operates throughout its six locations, serving public, private, and non-profit clients. Some of its most notable works are from the commercial and retail markets, all of which represent the company’s caliber in designing creative and innovative spaces.
One of the company’s most recent works was for the American online clothing retailer, Everlane. The firm was commissioned to design its largest store to date. The “canvas” was a two-story brick building, located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This structure traces its origins back to the 1960s and its redesign focused on transforming the space and incorporating Everlane’s minimalist and transparent nature, two of the several characteristics that define the brand. Designed for the millennials market, the store’s interior elements and layout were curated to offer open, engaging, and welcoming spaces with an emphasis on shopper experience.
Airy, expansive, and generously-illuminated interiors in a light palette amplify the sense of transparency that the brand seeks to represent. Just like its other locations, the same elements are translated into the retail company’s Brooklyn store. Well-lit, double-height spaces provide a vast and freeing room for exploration and reflection. The color theme complements its choice of a 20-foot glass as a material that lets in and enhances the flow of natural light throughout the space. A total of 2,000 square feet occupies the store’s first level. and an additional 700 square feet for its iconic mezzanine. Connecting these two spaces is a grand precast terrazzo tread staircase that features a glass guardrail and a thoughtful detail of a minimalist handrail in maple wood. Its ceiling, designed to appear as a neutral plane, features deep louvered scrims and completes the store’s overall ambiance of subtlety and openness.
250 Sutter Street Suite 350, San Francisco, CA 94108
About BRR Architecture
Multi-awarded and recognized by different regional and national AIA Chapters, BRR Architecture belongs to the country’s elite list of design professionals that offer a full-scope and comprehensive services in architecture, interior design, virtual reality, and code services, among others. It works from eleven locations throughout the U.S. and is supported by more than 85 licensed architects and nine National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ)-accredited interior designers. The firm is also licensed to practice in 50 states. This overwhelming scope allows it to cater to large-scale and long-term partnerships with the biggest names in retail.
The firm’s partnership with international shoe company Converse, for instance, goes back to 2013 when it first commissioned the company to be the lead architect and designer for several locations. These stores, designed based on the brand’s newest factor store program, are scattered throughout urban and suburban locations and measure an average of 4,000 square feet. These retail spaces carry their signature industrial-inspired interior, but are also designed depending on their surrounding landscapes and structures.
While conceptualizing designs that easily fit with every environment and cultural context, the firm made sure that these architectures also adhere to the most stringent green building standards set by the USGBC. In fact, 15 of these projects are created for sustainability and are all LEED-certified. Seven of these passed the Silver certification while three are Gold-certified. More than ten projects are also designed to follow the same standards and achieve the same accreditation.
DLR Group | Kwan Henmi
456 Montgomery St. Suite #200, San Francisco, CA 94104
About DLR Group | Kwan Henmi
Two highly respected principal architects lead Kwan Henmi’s dynamic and collaborative design practice. Sylvia Kwan is an AIA Fellow and a LEED-Accredited Professional who founded the architecture and planning firm in 1980 and has since served San Francisco’s communities. Under her leadership, the firm ranked among the Top 100 Women-Owned Businesses in the Bay Area compiled by the San Francisco Business Times. The same publication also included the firm in its listing for the Largest Bay Area Architecture firms. Denis Henmi, FAIA, LEED AP, serves as its vice president. Henmi brings more than four decades of expertise in designing and building urban environments. He was a recipient of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB)’s President’s Medal for Distinguished Services.
Unforgettable and enduring spaces for the residential, transportation, academic, civic, and commercial sectors dominate the firm’s portfolio. One of its most outstanding projects for the retail sector is for a renowned brand, J!NS. Completed in 2015, the J!NS San Francisco flagship store project measures more than 4,900 square feet and is strategically located at the heart of the city’s Union Square. The store showcases one of the largest selections of fashion frames and prescription eyeglasses. Having this particular product as the highlight of this retail space, the company was faced with the challenge of putting these small and delicate objects into the spotlight, especially in a large, expansive space. Additionally, the company had to make sure that every aesthetic decision should coincide with the brand’s vision of “simplicity and accessibility.”
The solution was to create a well-lit, organized space that elevated each of the product’s unique design and functionality. By making use of repetitive grids, the firm produced a space of individuality and congruence, while aligning the same material and geometric elements with the overall aesthetic theme of the interiors. The use of neutral colors and display cases with matching palettes visually placed the focus on the brand’s signature spectacles and frames. In the following year after its completion, the project ranked First Place in the Retail Design Institute’s Excellence in Store Design, Hard-Line Speciality Category.
Edmonds + Lee Architects
2601 Mission St. Suite #503, San Francisco, CA 94110
About GKW Architects
As a full-service design, architecture, and development firm, Edmonds + Lee Architects introduces architectures and spaces born from its profound exploration of “light, space, plane, material, and the endless possibilities of form.” The firm’s gallery represents the product of its materially grounded and philosophically motivated approach to design, through groundbreaking works that have been constantly featured in major industry publications. Wallpaper, Dwell, de zeen, Casa Vogue, Curbed, San Francisco Chronicle, and Architizer, among others, highlighted the firm’s modern, innovative, and thoughtful residential and commercial spaces.
For one of its most stunning works, the firm led the design for Atelier Jin Wang’s flagship boutique in San Francisco’s Union Square. The cult bridal retailer commissioned the firm to incorporate a simple, yet stunning material palette. The firm made use of a wide continuum of shades of white that embraced the store’s wide-open gallery-style spaces. This was visually accented with ultra-clean lines.
Foster + Partners
1000 Sansome St. Suite #240, San Francisco, CA 94111
About Foster + Partners
Sustainable architecture, groundbreaking engineering, and innovative urbanism and industrial design describe Foster + Partners’s contribution to the stunning California landscape. Founded in 1967, the firm grew to be an internationally renowned practice that works from various locations around the world. Its caliber as a professional and influence as a leading figure in the industry allows it to work with the biggest companies in the field, especially for the commercial and retail sectors.
One of the firm’s biggest and most notable projects is for Apple, Inc. and the multinational tech company’s Apple Union Square location. The project, completed in 2016, serves as a prototype center and an urban commercial space that will be an inspiration for future projects across the world. In recent years, the project earned multiple awards of merit from the American Institute of Steel Construction and the SEAONC Excellence in Structural Engineering Awards.
The design for this facility was born through a collaboration with Apple Inc.’s team. The resulting architecture reflects the global brand’s vision of civic generosity, transparency, and openness, through stimulating and welcoming spaces that blur the line between the indoors and the outdoors. Vast glass sliding doors establish a visual and structural connection to the buzzing Union Square, allowing every passerby to get a glimpse of the tech giant’s newest offerings as well as enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere in the facility’s new public plaza. This solemn space features connectivity through a public WiFi and encourages contemplation amidst the busy metropolitan because of its art-filled design around tables and seating.
735 Market St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103
About Handel Architects
Since Handel Architects’s inception in 1994, it has claimed an overwhelming list of awards and accolades from industry organizations and publications across the country. Regional and national AIA chapters, Society of Registered American Architects (SARA) New York, and ENR included many of the firm’s residential and commercial works in their annual rankings. As a firm that advocates for sustainable design practices, Architect’s Newspaper recently named it the winner for the Best of Design Awards, Unbuilt Category. Architectural excellence and thoughtful designs make the company one of the most sought after professionals in the industry, especially for the high-end retail sector.
One of the firm’s works represents its caliber as a designer of quality and aesthetically outstanding spaces. Completed in 2018, the Verve Wine is a San Francisco project that represents a marriage between retail and hospitality. By creating a space that provides domestic sensibility and hospitality and at the same time, caters to the needs of connoisseur and enthusiasts alike, the firm produced a haven where people can sit, sip, and converse. The interior was designed to provide a welcoming environment, basked in bright and warm, well-lit spaces. The new wine shop is meant to serve individuals and large groups, and its layout was designed to focus on community, interaction, and conviviality.
The most featured part of the interior is the center table, a generous and elegant seating where conversations and appreciation for the prized product take place. Wine shelving surrounds the table and above them are high ceilings and exposed beams reminiscent of farmhouse-style kitchens. Painted cabinets, brass fixtures, marble counters, French oak flooring stained in grey, lanterns, and a unifying black and white palette completes the “Old World” theme for this wonderful space.
833 Market St., 7th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103
About Jensen Architects
For more than 25 years, Jensen Architects has been serving the cultural, residential, retail, education, and corporate office sectors through its comprehensive services in architecture. Innovative, creative, and sustainable designs rule the firm’s portfolio and represent its core philosophy of transforming spaces that play a significant role in “shaping a vital, dynamic society.” Dwell, Architizer, Builder, and Interior Design magazines have highlighted many of the firm’s most notable works. Five principal architects, members of the AIA, and experts in sustainability head the firm’s everyday practice. Founded by Mark Jensen, FAIA, the firm’s direction as a design professional has always aimed at “shaping everyday experiences,” and this value can be observed in its commercial and retail practice.
The firm has completed multiple commercial and retail projects across California. One example is the Blue Bottle Coffee in Abbot Kinney Boulevard’s Venice Beach. Despite its spatial restrictions, the firm was able to conceptualize a design that would enhance workflow, encourage openness and transparency, and most importantly, represent the brand’s sense of craft. The result is a modern, sleek, small-footprint coffee house where individuals and groups can acquire and enjoy their favorite blends.
The design’s modern, minimalist simplicity is paired with its imposing uniqueness and its ability to stand out amidst the busy and eye-catching murals and structures that surround it. The use of raw materials and natural elements like wood and exposed brick patterns completes a neutral palette that highlights the star of the show: its homegrown and original coffee blends arranged in custom casework, wood panels, and open-prep space. Indoor and outdoor seating provides an intimate space to enjoy the coffee house’s overall appeal.
John Lum Architecture
3246 Seventeenth St, San Francisco, CA 94110
About John Lum Architecture
John Lum Architecture is a boutique firm known for championing sustainable and green design innovations. Since its inception in 1994, it has gathered a portfolio that features thoughtful and creative use of materials, striking designs, and spaces that cater to the lifestyle and individual needs of modern users and inhabitants. All of its residential, commercial, and corporate projects are crafted to answer to site-specific functional and aesthetic requirements. Under the leadership of principal and founder John Lum, AIA, it has delivered more than 800 projects for a diverse range of sectors with varying degrees of complexity and value.
Its success and contributions in shaping the region’s architectural landscape are well documented and highly commended by the industry’s leading magazines and daily publications, including Dwell, Gentry Homes, San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, California Home + Design, and Dezeen. Different AIA regional and national chapters also recognized the firm’s environmental-conscious and transformative practices that have helped enhance the lives of communities and organizations. It has also helped realize the vision and brand identity of many companies from the commercial and retail sector.
Convert, which was rebranded as Aiken in 2018, is one of the retail organizations that relied on the firm’s excellence in architecture and background in sustainable design. Just like the firm, the brand, known for its signature “refined and rugged” modern apparel focuses on the eco-friendly. Commissioned to create a branded environment, JLA introduced locally-sourced materials and handcrafted custom details. One of the highlights of the now defunct space is a cash-wrap clad in distressed burned Cyprus, custom-made to enhance the space’s “refined roughness” vibe. Another design solution that gave the clothier its signature look is the recycled cardboard shelving, which found new life in Aiken’s Palo Alto outpost. Reusing the original display underscores the retailer’s continued commitment to sustainability and the timelessness of JLA’s design solutions.
Lalire March Architects
630 Ninth Ave., Suite #900, New York NY 10036
About Lalire March Architects
Lalire March Architects completes simple and elegant architectures that address the needs of its clients while also acknowledging the realities of a project’s context, politics, timeframe, and budget requirements. Since its founding more than 30 years ago, the firm has been guided by its in-depth knowledge of the latest and emerging technologies in design and construction, as well as understanding how sensible and innovative designs can amplify the functionalities and performance of every work.
The firm’s portfolio showcases different commercial, residential, and corporate projects, some of which were featured by a long list of publications, including California Home & Design and The New York Times. While headquartered in New York, the firm has contributed to San Francisco’s demand for creative and sustainable architectures, especially for the retail industry. One of its biggest design projects in the city is for the luxury department store brand, Barney’s.
For Barney’s flagship store in San Francisco, the firm was tasked to work on the store’s four-floor design and renovation. The scope also included the much-needed expansion of the upscale brand’s existing retail area. A new storefront and sales spaces were added to cater to the growing customers and visitors every day. The highlight of the store that makes it stand out among other retail spaces is a dedicated bar and restaurant. The same brand also commissioned the firm to work on its New York location, a project featured on Wallpaper and Interior Design magazine.
Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects Inc
1022 Natoma Street #3, San Francisco, CA 94103
About Stanley Saitowitz | Natoma Architects Inc
Stanley Saitowitz is an award-winning designer and architect known for his work on the New England Holocaust Memorial. This significant architectural masterpiece earned Saitowitz the Harleston Parker Medal, the highest honor awarded by the Boston Society of Architects and AIA. Notable architectures grace his firm’s portfolio, including the California Museum of Photography, the Tampa Museum of Art, San Francisco’s 8 Octavia, Yerba Buena Lofts, and Beth Sholom Synagogue, among others.
As a designer for the commercial and retail sector, Saitowitz’s firm has completed architecture and interiors that embody his profound understanding of architecture and how these spaces interact with its users. The Optical Center design project was one of the most interesting works that the firm completed for the retail sector. Located in San Francisco, the overall theme of the prescription glasses store creates a “reflective and glassy world”, two characteristics that perfectly represent the brand’s primary offerings: quality spectacles in modern, sleek, fashionable frames. Since the brand has multiple locations and each is set against varying degrees of context, configurations, and careful selection of palette components were considered to deliver site-specific interiors and exteriors.
For this project, the firm and the client opted for a clear, glass storefront design. Familiar optical chart symbols are etched and visually incorporated into the glass walls. The white and grey palette is contrasted against bold, black detailing, black slate floors that extend to the interior’s shelves and to the central, floating benches for seating. These elements complete an overall calming ambiance for visitors and customers alike.
360 Pine St., 2nd Fl., San Francisco, CA 94104
About Ware Malcomb
Ware Malcomb puts creative, reliable, and client-centered design solutions on top of its priority. Because structures and its users evolve, the firm evolves with them, creating a versatile and enduring practice that has been recognized by the industry’s renowned publications. Engineering News-Record ranked the firm among its Top 15 Architecture/Engineering Firms. Building Design + Construction also included the company in its annual Top 20 Architecture Firms listing. The firm was also one of Interior Design magazine’s Top 25 Interior Design Firms. Since its founding in 1972, its comprehensive design and engineering approach have served a wide array of industries, including the commercial and retail sector.
Orchard Supply Hardware, a home improvement and gardening products retailer, commissioned the firm to work on its 36,000-square foot San Francisco location. Aside from providing the project’s architecture and design services, the firm also headed its civil engineering, fire service planning, grading and drainage planning, ADA accessibility analysis, and ADA site improvement planning.
The result is a hardware store facility that showcases the brand’s signature barn and farmhouse-like architecture incorporated into a big box structure. Its facade embraces an overall warm palette and highlights the brand’s green and white logo installed on its storefront. The building’s interior floor plan showcases an easy-to-shop layout that allows easily accessible pathways, better navigation, and merchandise visibility. The interiors follow the company’s standard rustic, industrial architecture that completes the authentic hardware vibe.
William Duff Architects
1275 Folsom St., San Francisco, CA 94103
About William Duff Architects
Established more than 20 years ago and led by founder and managing principal William S. Duff, Jr., William Duff Architects (WDA) is passionate about serving its clients through the creation of innovative, sustainable architecture delivered through excellent project management. Built as a people-based practice, the firm is proud to be among the region’s “Best Places to Work,” as recognized by the San Francisco Business Times. Community involvement is also a strong focus for the firm. Over the years it has dedicated time and resources to organizations such as LEAP, PAWS, Young Audiences Northern California and Children of Shelters, among others. As an award-winning architect for a diverse set of practice areas including retail, residential, workplace, and hospitality, the company is known for elegant design solutions that respond to their context with an artist’s understanding of when to use restraint or expression.
WDA worked with Isabel Marant to implement their brand in San Francisco’s historic Jackson Square district. The boutique is a tenant in the Hotaling Building – a beautiful Italianate building that survived the city’s 1906 earthquake and fires. The team at WDA worked cohesively with their international client and local officials, successfully navigating the city’s planning codes for a historic landmark. They kept the historic shell and streamlined the interior with a combination of simple, yet highly finished materials such as exposed plywood, concrete millwork, and steel that reflect the neighborhood and the brand’s sophisticated charm.
Projects of the same caliber can be found in the rest of the firm’s notable portfolio of retail clients. DFS North America client commissioned WDA to produce innovative, modern retail spaces for multiple luxury fashion houses at San Francisco International Airport, including Hermès, Burberry, Gucci, and Coach. The firm has also worked with Carolina Herrera and Puma in implementing their International brands in San Francisco, as well as stateside brands such as Estée Lauder and Brilliant Earth.
245 Vallejo St., San Francisco CA 94111
About WZ Architecture
Founder and principal architect Koonshing Wong leads WZ Architecture’s architectural practice. Under Wong’s guidance, the firm’s contributions to the industry gravitate towards the significant roles of innovation, efficiency, and meticulous planning. These factors come together to deliver design solutions that champion sustainability and innovation, tailored to answer to the evolving demands of the modern market.
To do this, the firm combines what construction technologies, imaginative use of materials, and functional planning can offer. Most importantly, the firm is supported by a team of professionals that specializes in residential, commercial, institutional, and neighborhood planning. The company is also a preferred design professional for some of the biggest names in retail. Porsche Design Store, Leica Store, Miu Miu, and multiple locations for Prada in San Francisco, Beverly Hills, and New York, are included in the company’s high-value portfolio.
The firm was also tasked to lead the interior design project for Marmot’s flagship store in San Francisco, a project featured by multiple publications, including Outdoor magazine. To design the outdoor sporting goods and clothing store, the firm took the surrounding context into consideration. Amidst a buzzing street, floor-to-ceiling glass walls and entryway invites passersby and customers to a display of outdoor clothing and products. Inside the store are backlit panels and display cases that feature its best selling apparel. Wall art and decor of the outdoors sets the mood to inspire a lust for adventure and freedom.