2022 Master Design Awards: Insightful Instruction from the Judges

The judges of our 44th annual Master Design Awards took on an onerous task: Review and score hundreds of project entries across 22 categories.

by Kyle Clapham

They completed their demanding assignment over the course of two days, presenting gold, silver, bronze—and sometimes honorable mention—awards within each group (one category has just a gold winner, and another has only gold and silver winners). The judging board this year included (from left to right):

  • Paul Criner, VP sales and design, Criner Remodeling, Newport News, Va.
  • Jeff Grantham, owner, Grantham Building and Remodeling, Petoskey, Mich.
  • Kayleen McCabe, TV host/contractor, DIY Network, Denver, Colo.
  • Michael Klein, CEO, The Airoom Companies, Lincolnwood, Ill.
  • Lisa Pickell, president, Orren Pickell Building Group, Wilmette, Ill.
  • Michael Anschel, principal, OA Design+Build+Architecture, Minneapolis, Minn.

We caught up with some of the judges after they finished their scoring to ask what they thought about the design competition.

What were the top trends in the winning designs?

Klein: Attention to details, current design, thinking-out solutions and complexity in the project.

Pickell: Attention to detail will never go out of style. The winning designs had influences from several aesthetics, but all were thoughtfully executed.

Criner: The top trends that I saw were very high attention to detail and more focus on an overall design style or concept. Whether it be mid-century modern, craftsman style or just maintaining the style of a 1920s home. I believe that this further adherence to a particular style or design ethos will become more prevalent. It feels like the average consumer has watched enough HGTV at this point to know that it’s not just making it look nice, but making it say something and have definition.

Anschel: The use of color, texture, line, light and an awareness of scale, flow, emotion and rhythm were consistent trends in the winning designs. Slat walls, pulled from Japanese architecture, are very much coming into vogue. We saw a number of winners juxtapose warm natural wood tones with crisp painted surfaces in what is a very appealing trend.

What constitutes a great winning presentation?

Klein: Easy scroll-through photos of before and after, side by side, and highlighted plans of affected areas. Quick-to-the-point captions without a lot of fluff.

Pickell: Helping the judges tell the story of these customs spaces, not just though before and after, but walking us though the details of the transformation.

Criner: A great winning presentation is short, has great professional photography and exemplifies great design work and attention to detail. A great design poorly executed will never win.

Anschel: A great entry makes it easy for the judges to quickly understand the project. Words are kept to a minimum, and pictures are neither voluminous nor overly sparse. The photography is professional, and the before and after images are synced as best as possible to clearly show the transformation. Drawings are complete and show both intentionality as well as fill in any gaps in understanding what existed and what the change consisted of.

What exactly did the non-winning entries lack? 

Pickell: Oftentimes it was just that last “turn of the wheel.” There were so many great examples of the revised spaces being so much stronger/better than before, but how all the new elements fit together is key. How does the ceiling details interact with the cabinetry, which relates to the patterns in the tile? There are lots of great ideas, but they need to relate/speak to each other in a cohesive manner.

Criner: Non-winning entries suffered a multitude of errors from poor design in some cases to poor execution in others. While some were nice projects that were well designed, it’s a tough competition, and there was another project that was just a bit better.

Anschel: Entries that were rejected had poor photography, too many photos, too few photos and laborious project descriptions. The work itself was unremarkable, pedestrian, lacking in creativity or poorly conceived. There were entries that were competent but unremarkable. In some categories where we had over 40 entries in a given category, the difference between winning and not was razor thin, and a difficult decision weighing the merits of each project in detail.

What are the benefits for companies who submit? 

Klein: Feeling good about your work, and other colleagues appreciating the work.

Pickell: Having your work recognized by an independent third party of experts is priceless when it comes to PR and building trust in your brand.

Criner: Having submitted in previous years, I can say that there is an inherent value in having some of the top minds in our field review your project. Whether you win or lose, there is solid feedback for entries on what was done well and what was done not so well.

Anschel: Fame, glory and a seat in Valhalla. Companies who win a Master Design Award have succeeded against fierce competition and should appreciate the accomplishment. With so few MDAs granted, the award is a fantastic marketing tool that sets them apart in their market.

What insights will you take back to your company? 

Pickell: Don’t be afraid to push boundaries and create unique spaces that inspire not only your clients, but rethink what timeless design can do for how people live.

Criner: After judging this competition, I brought back to my company a renewed sense of purpose in quality design and details. We are paying a lot closer attention to our lighting layouts and the finer details. After looking at hundreds of projects, it became apparent to me that these details are the icing on the cake; when done well, it’s perfection!

Anschel: The remodeling community continues to up its game and professionalism. The level of design and architecture work was impressive, as were the construction techniques used. It’s a great reminder for our company to continuously improve and raise the level of our design and construction. I’m personally heartened by what appears to be the dying white-kitchen trend and the shift towards more colorful and textured work. 

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