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). The judging board this year included (from left to right):

  • Mackenzie Gallagher, JOMA Construction, Athens, Ga.
  • Clark Harris, Innovative Design and Construction, Atlanta, Ga.
  • Beth Levine, Beth Levine Architect, Inc., Edwards, Col.
  • Monica Lewis, J.S. Brown & Co., Columbus, Ohio
  • Josh Wiener, SilverLining, Inc., New York, N.Y.
  • Ed Richardson, Clark | Richardson Architects, Austin, Texas

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

Levine: I appreciated two things in particular with respect to the trends: the fact that people really are remodeling, and they’re doing it to complete their house. What I appreciated was the remodels that didn’t just complement the existing layout of the house, but I felt completed it. I was looking back to the one that we chose with the exercise gym below, and then it was more of a meditative, beautiful room on top, and that was only 14 feet wide. But what they did is they used it on the small portion of the site, and it really took the house from being an L outdoor space to a U. And so that’s what I mean by completing the spaces.

Another one was in the outdoor spaces, and that’s where instead of just doing a simple screen porch, they created a beautiful completion of the extension of the house. It had this perfect roof with a little cupola on top that made the whole look of the house fabulous. That’s where people are staying put; they’re investing in their own spaces, and they’re creating the completeness of their own little home. And then with respect to their new spaces, you saw a lot of the exercise rooms, the libraries/offices. I really think that’s a result of the pandemic that people have really figured out a way to make these home offices. Because in terms of the trends of design as following the trends for our society, our society has gone more hybrid in terms of your work environment.

Harris: I think what I really took away from it was just the level of finish and the size and scale of some of these projects; it was super impressive. The other thing that really caught my eye was the finishes. They may have had someone do the countertop and the backsplash and things like that, but they also had them do everything down to the window treatments, the carpeting and the furniture. And you could really tell the difference between some of those projects where it was a turnkey design, and the other ones where it was just an empty room. I think that was one of my biggest takeaways was trying to finish the entire room and give the homeowner the finished product, and just the difference in the appearance that made.

The whole home category is one that’s coming top of mind. And just the amount of money that someone was willing to invest in their home to really make it a special place. It almost gave the impression that they were more focused on their home being a home than an investment where they don’t care what it does to the equity of their home or where they’re going, but they know they’re going to spend a lot of time there, and they want to enjoy it. And it looked to me like they were willing to pay for it and really upgrade to those amazing finishes. I think that’s what really struck me about those jobs. They weren’t just simple, cookie-cutter things. They were highly custom and obviously very high dollar.

Wiener: What I noticed in my judging from jobs all over the nation was that there is a trend towards a more open kitchen with a living area all combined with an island with stools. I think that the kitchen has become a place where the family hangs out. We’re seeing that trend in New York, and then I was seeing that trend a lot in the rest of the country. There’s also a lightness to everything. Everything seems brighter and lighter, more open windows, more views. I think people are taking the outside in more larger fenestrations, larger openings, big sliding doors, windows in the kitchen, even above the backsplashes. So, it seems like everybody’s looking to bring in more light into their homes.

Those are the two big trends that I saw. Obviously, I’m not that familiar with the incredible use of basements for entertainment space and expanding into your basement for multimedia, a golf simulator, wine room. This is something I’m less familiar with being a New Yorker, and a New York contractor, but it’s something I saw tons of. A lot of the additions that I saw had to do with expanding incredibly useless basement spaces into something spectacular. And the winners generally tried to find ways to bring light into the basement by digging out, adding more windows. So, it was like they were trying to combine their indoor and outdoor spaces, in the same way they were throughout the home, even in the cellar, so that it felt connected to the outside world.

Gallagher: The trends were sometimes apparent. There are some definite colors and finishes that stick out, and there were plenty of jobs that were on trend and really embraced that. There were plenty of jobs where it wasn’t so apparent that they were honoring the building or a certain aspect of the design that seemed less related to trends but were still on trend in terms of utility or other features. I was really impressed with all the submissions. I thought there was a lot of consistency across the board in quality. It seems like others in the industry really know exactly what it takes to have award-winning remodels. And that was amazing to feel a connection to those companies knowing that those people who are making the submissions had that sense of pride and accomplishment in their jobs.

And it didn’t necessarily require being on trend to win one of those categories. People could utilize current trends and leverage them to make their space beautiful. Sometimes it seemed like maybe there was a tension between trends and the design and the way that it came out. If it wasn’t fully embraced, if elements or trending designs were just sort of thrown in there, you could sometimes get a sense of that. Or maybe that it was a challenge to overcome throughout the build process. And then you saw sort of a rejection of those common trends, and people really focusing on the personal touch of their home. I think that that’s the new trend that we find maybe coming out of the pandemic or for whatever reason. People are willing to customize their home to a further extent than before with maybe less emphasis on resale or this globally accepted design, and more on what works for them.

Lewis: I feel like the winners that I saw this year were exciting in that there was a lot more exuberance and a lot more color and expression of style than some mainstream projects. I think that’s what made these winners stand out is that they were willing to take some risks, be a little bit bolder, express the personalities of the client, and really work with their taste and some of their thoughts on how they wanted the space to function and perform, but also how they wanted it to look. It’s really easy to play it safe and default to a classic or very popular look because it’s trending right now, and to not take that extra step to be really personalized to the client. If you’re going to invest that much money, I understand the hesitancy of maybe wanting to play it safe; but ultimately, if you’re going to invest that much money and go through a remodeling project, I think you should have something that really makes your heart happy and makes your house sing and gives you all the life and all the joy you were hoping to get out of that space. So, I was really excited with how beautifully that was done in a lot of the winners that we saw.

I think all the judges noticed more color in more expensive parts of the project. So, cabinetry in a color or a bold shower. One of the showers had this beautiful, gorgeous, heavily patterned marble wall treatment. And I think moving away from just all white and all gray. All basic, simple and clean is lovely, but you also want to have some personality in there. I think we really saw that trend pushing forward in a lot of these designs; there was a lot of color, particularly blue and green it seemed, but a lot more color overall.

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