Cream of the Crop


Excellent design takes many forms. In this, the 37th annual Master Design Awards, judges sifted through upwards of 300 entries to reach conclusions about what they deem makes for award-winning design. Concise plans, clean lines, exquisite workmanship, appropriate material choices and timelessness are just a few examples of what made a project truly stand out.

One of the hallmarks of the Master Design Awards is its peer judging. This year’s judges offer some thoughts about overall trends and what made an impression on them.

Paul Winans says clean, simple lines continue to look good. He also notices the abundance of white kitchens, but that doesn’t mean they’re all bad, he notes. Judicious use of strong colors can add a lot to a space. Materially speaking, Winans cautions that using more than three kinds of tile in a bathroom can be too much and using more than two kinds/color of countertops and cabinetry in the kitchen is dangerous to the eye.

Returning judge Michael Menn was surprised by the abundant use of white in bathrooms and kitchens. “Color and/or texture could have been added,” he notes. Conversely, “some good trends were the use of color and texture within the design and done tastefully.”

Judge Anthony Wilder echoes the white trend. “One surprise is that we saw a lot of similar kitchens,” he says. “They tended to be either white or over-styled and, while beautiful, it blurred the lines between those kitchen submissions.”

Patty McDaniel notes the drama of some of the entries. “We are seeing cleaner, more contemporary styling, with a sparing use of natural materials to create drama,” she says. “For example, in kitchens we see white cabinets paired with dramatic stone countertops.”

Geno Benvenuti found the high caliber of design and execution in the top projects made it more challenging to choose clear-cut winners. “White kitchens will always be in vogue. Appliances can easily be hidden; the choices for lighting, countertops, backsplashes and their creative application keeps the look evolving. The trend continues to incorporate the kitchen and all the living spaces into an open floor plan, and this was evident in many of the submissions — removing walls, adding creative window designs, and accessing and incorporating outdoor areas with folding and pocketing glass door systems.”

Wilder continues: “The projects and photography ranged from mundane to surreal. Some projects captured my attention by challenging the predictable in many different ways, taking objects out of context and presenting them in unexpected surroundings, causing me to stop mentally in my tracks — one custom home captured this phenomenon with a window surrounded by glass.

“By exploiting the gullibility of the eye, you can make a modest façade seem larger or more important by incorporating water. The use of water in one particular submission made a spectacular impact on the structure with a wrap-around pool off of an addition. A popular Japanese saying is that “water is the life and blood of the garden.” I believe it can be the life and blood of a structure when used as a reflective element of the architecture. Another stand-out was a detached structure with understated lines and materials that created warmth and texture. Rough-sawn wood, steel cable rails and stairs, and an abundant use of glass gave a transparency to this large structure. I loved the juxtaposition of the contemporary glass and steel with the coarse-sawn woods. It felt like a sanctuary.”

All of the judges agreed that organized, efficient presentation packets and, above all, professional photography, made an entry truly shine.

“The winners were clearly winners and set the bar high for everyone in our industry,” Benvenuti says. Read on to see what peer-to-peer judging has chosen as the best projects.

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