2021 Master Design Awards: Leading Edge

The 43rd annual Master Design Awards highlight creative solutions in the construction of exceptional projects.

authors Kyle Clapham | September 15, 2021

For each of the past 43 years, Qualified Remodeler has received hundreds of entries to its Master Design Awards from companies across the U.S. This year, we once again accepted some of the best projects in the history of the program, thanks in part to our continued partnerships with the Chrysalis Awards and the NARI Contractor of the Year (CotY) Awards.

After collecting the submissions, we invited six judges to the University Club in Chicago for two days to review the entries and, ultimately, select the projects featured in the following pages. We appreciate all the submissions to our Master Design Awards and ask the judges to score every project and provide written feedback as well. We hope you enjoy reviewing the winners and find inspiration in their extraordinary designs.


Professional Determination

(from left to right, clockwise) Chris Landis, Laura Eagan, Jim Kabel, Jake Goldberg, Robin Burrill and Michael Menn

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

  • Chris Landis, principal, Landis Architects/Builders, Washington, D.C.
  • Laura Eagan, owner, Estrella Cabinetry and Design Center, Goodyear, Ariz.
  • Jim Kabel, president/owner/GM, Next Stage Design + Build, San Jose, Calif.
  • Jake Goldberg, president, Goldberg General Contracting, Inc., GGC, Chicago, Ill.
  • Robin Burrill, CEO and principal designer, Signature Home Services, Inc., Keller, Texas
  • Michael Menn, principal, Michael Menn, Ltd., Northbrook, Ill./Scottsdale, Ariz.

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


What were the top trends in the winning designs?

Landis: COVID fire pits, more landscaping with defined outdoor spaces. Clearly in the higher-end projects, with the social economic group represented we are seeing a continuation of the cocooning phenomenon (Faith Popcorn) with clients primping the crib, luxurious bathrooms and kitchens with finely finished and furnished interiors.

Eagan: What I saw over and over was a huge influx of a Scandinavian vibe. Warm, light tones backdropped with cool metals and whites have certainly landed and will continue to be part of the next phase of interiors, especially in the kitchens and baths. With all interiors, it is a direct reflection of what is happening outside of the home. COVID forced people to embrace their living spaces and also create a calm place to land and spend time with their families.

Kabel: Sheltered outdoor living spaces with more comfort and aesthetic appeal. A gradual move away from the white kitchens and bathrooms (that have been so prevalent for the last 5 to 10 years) with a move toward warm, dark and mid tones with both painted and stained cabinetry. Increased number of modern and contemporary projects with dramatic stairways and great combinations of warm and cool colors in the palette. Smarter uses of lighting to create a layered effect that is more functional and aesthetically pleasing. Exciting use of color and materials to make small commercial projects more inviting, welcoming and warm.

Goldberg: Quality and sophistication in the design and construction execution, creativity and purity of the design.

Burrill: I wasn’t surprised at the number of white-on-white projects; however, I absolutely loved the diversity of projects and styles submitted. Seeing stained cabinetry and color re-enter the home is awesome! Also loved seeing the detail that remodelers are putting into their projects and their work. It shows their pride in what they’re doing and brings respect to our industry. I’m very surprised that storage wasn’t a key factor in presentations, as it is always a request for our clients. I loved seeing the focus on exterior living space but agree that fire pits will be passe very quickly. It was also refreshing to see traditional details making their way back into homes mixed with clean lines, a much more tailored look and not as stuffy as it was. The biggest trend I loved seeing: big, open, bright homes and spaces that let natural light in.

Menn: Non-traditional white kitchens and baths, use of soft wood tones and overcoming an obstacle in either the design or construction phase.


What makes up a great winning presentation?

Eagan: I love side-by-side photos of before and after with simple verbiage using bullet points explaining the differences. Clean, simple and easy to read. 

Kabel: Well-articulated description of the project story; goals and objectives of the remodel; key challenges and how they were overcome. “Before” photos of key spaces from angles that can be repeated in the “after” photos. “During” photos that show the challenges illustrated in the description. Professional “after” photos that are well-lit and nicely staged.

Burrill: Great photography with “before” pictures, staging and a clear understanding of the client objectives and why things were done the way they were done.

Menn: The great presentations told their story concisely using professional photography. Many used story boards where they positioned “before and after” photos on the same page and related them verbally between or around the photos. This storytelling approach made it easier for the judges to comprehend the entire project.


What were the non-winning entries missing?

Eagan: Clear explanations of what the goal was. Not enough verbiage and/or “before” pictures.

Goldberg: Creativity; quality of submissions and photography; poor design and construction execution; lack of sophistication of design; poor functionality; a clear story; concise information; and an accurate representation of the cost of the project.

Burrill: Photography, staging, a clear understanding of the project and “before” pictures.

Menn: Professional photographs, “before and after” photos, “before and after” plans, as well as a compelling story that was short and to the point!


What are the benefits for firms who submit?

Eagan: Great marketing tool! Just like reviews, it helps set your firm apart from the competition. The clients also love when they know their project was an award winner. They are your biggest bragger!

Kabel: Marketing visibility, employee recognition and motivation, and peer company recognition.

Burrill: Recognition not only for the company, but for the employees who worked on the project, recognition for the vendors/manufacturers that you’re using their products, and a way for you to set yourself apart from your competitors.

Menn: For the winners, it is easy: marketing, marketing, marketing. There are all forms of marketing from traditional printed pieces to the other end—the use in social media. 


Which insights will you take back with you?

Eagan: I have never submitted to a national competition, so gaining this exposure was invaluable for me. I have always submitted to local/statewide competitions and have done very well. I am excited to enter nationally.

Kabel: More insight on how to better present our own award entries. And that our design and quality is very competitive and on-par with the top firms in the industry.

Burrill: Funny you should ask. I already talked to the person who does our entries and gave her some key pointers on what we needed to do going forward with our entries. And that we needed to make sure going forward that we entered in busy years and don’t enter in “lean” years!

Menn: I walk away from judging every year with a takeaway. This year that takeaway was kitchens and baths do NOT have to be white, the use of color and soft wood tones and textures are prevalent.


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