Qualified Remodeler

2018 Master Design Awards: Expert Network

Meet the judges of the 2018 Master Design Awards and read their thoughts and observations on this year's program.

authors Kyle Clapham 

The judges of the 40th annual Master Design Awards accepted a difficult job: Review and score hundreds of entries across 22 categories. They completed the laborious assignment—presenting gold, silver and bronze awards within each group (gold only for insurance restoration)—and even recognized one submission with a special visionary honor that raises this project above the rest of our winners. The judging board this year included (as shown above from left to right):

David Roberts, founder/owner, Roberts Architects & Construction, Evanston, Illinois

Lisa Sten, general manager/design team manager, Harrell Remodeling, Palo Alto, California

Bill Millholland, executive vice president, Case Design/Remodeling, Washington, D.C.

Matt Millsap, owner, Building Company No. 7, Nashville, Tennessee

Marc Black, owner, Fleming Construction, Urbandale, Iowa

Tanya Donahue, president, RI Kitchen & Bath, Warwick, Rhode Island

We caught up with the judges after they finished their scoring to ask them about what they saw during the design competition. Here are their responses:

What were the top trends in the winning designs?

Sten: Glass railings, shiplap interior wall treatments, black windows, mixing old and new, multifamily living (in all regions), dark exteriors, the “year of the screened porch,” shade/screen combinations for flexibility, illuminated bathroom mirrors (no need for sconces), wood countertops and open staircases.

Millholland: Design played a critical role: creative solutions to problems, organizing circulation patterns, creating more functional space, or just making better use of existing space.

Roberts: Clean and crisp designs, uncluttered spaces, natural light and quality lighting design, and vessel bathtubs.

Black: I was drawn to projects with color amongst the many projects dominated with white, gray and beige tones. A mix of materials was also a trend we saw (woods, glass and metals).

What constitutes a great winning presentation?

Millholland: A winning presentation graphically illustrates the existing condition and what was done to improve it. Before and after photos from the same angle, floor plans to help understand the space, and a concise description of the work all help judges to understand the project and see how the space was improved.

Black: There’s a fine line between providing not enough information and too much. Long narrative stories tend to get overlooked, but a brief description and notes helped a lot. Keep things simple—not overly fancy or cute with formatting.

Millsap: A well-worded, succinct description. Clearly defined challenges. Before and after pictures taken from the same vantage point. Top notch photography that tells the story.

Roberts: A memorable title that connects with the submittal, telling a story (why was this remodeling important to this client), bullet points instead of lengthy narratives, and before and after photos presented side-by-side for quick comprehension.

What exactly did the non-winning entries lack?

Black: From a project standpoint, many of them lacked originality even though they looked like great projects and rooms/houses to live in. Some projects were very “standard” and didn’t seem to have unique design elements that allowed them to stand out.

Roberts: Professional photography—snap shots won’t demonstrate a submittal’s quality, especially in comparison to a similar submittal with professional photos. Spaces that have been fully decorated, furnished, staged, art on the walls—end of construction photos are not the same as fully finished.

Donahue: Not enough information to judge the entry, obvious design flaws in the layout, or the entry was in the wrong category.

Millholland: Aside from aesthetics, non-winning projects often lacked the information to make them award winners. Additions with lots of interior photography, but few exterior photos showing how new tied into existing. Kitchens with great photography, but lacking the drawings required to understand exactly what had changed.

What are the benefits for companies who submit?

Black: They get a chance to be stacked up against other industry professionals—to be able to measure themselves on a national scale. If they win, they’re able to use the award(s) to provide additional credibility to their customers and potential customers for their design capabilities. They also get more notoriety on a national scale to potentially have a project story featured in a publication.

Roberts: Celebrating a remodeling project done well with the client and the entire remodeling team, whether or not the submittal wins.

Millholland: A submission makes the team feel great and builds morale—the business is so proud of the project that it will invest in an awards submission. A carefully developed submission can be used “in the home” as a sales tool, even if the project doesn’t win an award.

What insights will you take back to your company?

Millholland: After being a judge, I’ve gained a new appreciation for how many highly skilled firms there are across the country. We need to continue to focus on being better tomorrow than we are today if we are going to thrive in such a competitive environment.

Black: I’ve taken back a better idea of what types of projects we do that could be worth submitting for an award, along with a better idea of how to create the submission itself.

Donahue: I was inspired by the quality and difficulty of some of the projects. I certainly felt like the focus on the client experience and their needs should be top of mind, and all the other aspects of the project will fall into place.

Millsap: Enter next year. Look for cutting-edge trends to help the client be better than average. Help set them apart from the masses. Steer people away from gray if at all possible.

Click here to see this year’s award-winning projects.

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