Custom Builder Design Challenge Winners Offer Imaginative Plans for Lake House

Entrants in the 2008 Custom Builder Design Challenge got creative with plans to design a lakefront vacation home.

September 01, 2008
The Judges

Although the clients for the 2008 Custom Builder Design Challenge are fictional, their housing needs are grounded in real-world demographics and lifestyles. The couple, in their 60s, has seen their children grow up and leave the nest. They're gradually cutting back their working hours in anticipation of retirement. A few years ago, they bought a wooded piece of property on a lake, where they plan to build a home that will accommodate regular visits from children and grandchildren. Eventually, the lake home will become their primary residence.

Because the clients are still employed, they require shared office space as well as hobby space. They enjoy cooking and entertaining — outdoors whenever possible — and own a boat. “Rainy day” play space for the grandchildren is desirable.

That's the client profile. We also supplied the following criteria:

  • The lot is 150 feet wide by 60 feet deep (the long side of the lot has lake frontage). The rear of the home must face west, toward the water.
  • The back of the lot has a 20-degree slope, allowing for a walkout lower level.
  • The living area cannot exceed 2,400 square feet, including two stories plus the finished walkout level.
  • A garage is optional and not included in the living area. In the absence of a garage, the plan must include two parking spaces off the street.

Entrants were also asked to indicate the sustainable elements of their designs. To minimize disturbance to the site, the house footprint could not exceed 1,600 square feet.

Entries were evaluated on the basis of quality and originality; cost efficiency; sustainability; the livability of the floor plan; and how well the design met the requirements of the specified client. Four winners were selected: first, second and third place and the top student design. They are unique expressions of a lakeside retreat, with ample space to relax, enjoy sunsets and views, and entertain family and friends, without squandering land or other resources.

The first place winner receives complimentary admittance to the Professional Builder Benchmark and Avid Leadership Conference. See more renderings at

First Place

Designer: Taco Schmid 
Project Manager, 
Carlson Homes Scottsdale, Ariz.

Taco Schmid calls his sleek, modern design the Meerhuis, which is Dutch for lake house. But “Meer” can also mean “more,” and that's what you get with this home — especially with all of its sustainable features, which include:

  • Exterior fieldstone from a local quarry
  • A living green roof
  • Water harvesting
  • Solar collection, maximized by the site's orientation, for electricity and hot water
  • Growth screens (natural vegetation with shrubbery at the base and a screen or trellis for new growth to climb) to help cool the home and maintain privacy

The observation level has a grated floor and several operable windows. In the summer, hot air rises through the grating in the floor and escapes through the windows on the observation level, while open windows on the lower level draw in cooler air.

The homeowners enter through a mudroom adjacent to the kitchen and hearth room. The more formal main entrance presents visitors with a view of the lake beyond the covered main terrace, as well as a sightline into the hearth room. On the other side of the home's central core are the powder room, elevator corridor and master suite. The hearth room and master bedroom each have doors opening to the terrace.

The lower level has a bunk room for the grandchildren, a separate bedroom for their parents and a full bathroom. On the lake side, the home opens to a loggia with an outdoor fireplace and a cabana with an outdoor shower.

The observation level has a terrace for watching sunsets over the water. The homeowners also utilize this level as a combined study and hobby space. A built-in coffee bar and refrigerator save trips downstairs to the kitchen while they're engrossed in work or a project.

The judges praised Schmid's design for taking full advantage of outdoor entertainment opportunities, particularly the ability to open both public and private living spaces to the terrace and loggia. Thanks to the elevator and main-floor master suite, the home will easily adapt to the clients' future needs.

Second Place

Designer: Rhett M. Osko 
Architectural Design Supervisor,
Classic Homes Colorado Springs, Colo.

Rhett M. Osko's lake house resembles a rambling, rustic cabin. The design takes full advantage of the 150-foot lot width, creating exciting arrival views of the boat dock and water. “Wonderful entrance experience,” commented one of the judges.

Osko imagined a couple in their mid-60s, Mr. and Mrs. Sanchez, as the homeowners. After losing their existing lakefront home to flooding, the couple decides to rebuild on the same spot. The new home must accommodate family gatherings as well as provide space for them to enjoy the peaceful setting. They agree with their designer and builder on sustainable practices that will ensure the home's longevity in the face of rising energy costs.

On the main level, the master suite and home office are pulled away from public spaces via a view corridor. Osko separated the dining room, kitchen and great room from the private spaces with this central corridor. An accomplished cook, Mrs. Sanchez ordered a kitchen fitted with state-of-the-art appliances, plenty of countertop space and an oversized cooking island. The kitchen and dining room are suffused with daylight from the east-facing roof above. Photovoltaic panels on the west-facing roof draw energy from the sun.

A large stone fireplace anchors one end of the great room. On another wall, two-story glass frames panoramic lake views.

The lower level has a full bathroom and sleeping quarters for visiting children and grandchildren, plus a hobby nook off the deck for Mrs. Sanchez, who crafts pottery in her spare time. There's plenty of storage space on this level, plus a generous size crawl space. To keep the grandchildren entertained on rainy days and conceal toys, games and other clutter, there's a play loft overlooking the great room.

The covered deck on the main level is equipped with an outdoor kitchen. Family and guests can wander from the great room out to a garden terrace between the garage and house. Terraced garden beds near the detached, one-car garage and rip rock at the crawl space control storm runoff on the sloping site. Osko used a terrace wall, raised above the garage to walkway level, for the breezeway overlook because it's more aesthetically pleasing than a view-obstructing guardrail. Landscaping on the terrace also prevents unsightly drainage ruts or crevasses, he says.

The owners can enjoy sunsets over the lake from a private balcony in the master suite. Decks on both levels lead directly to the boat dock.

Fittingly, Mr. and Mrs. Sanchez call the home “Novus Satus” to signify a new beginning in the aftermath of a great loss.

Third Place

Designer: Steve Perry 
Owner, Steve Perry's Design Solutions Springville, Utah

Steve Perry's version of the lake house is located on a mountain at a mid-range elevation, and it's designed for future use as a year-round residence.

The judges liked the home's traditional elevations and exterior amenities, which include a front porch and rear deck with a full outdoor kitchen, see-through gas fireplace and multiple seating areas. A canvas roll-down shade over the pergola on the main-level deck keeps the sitting area off the great room at a comfortable temperature on hot days.

Views extend from the front door to the open public areas at the center of the plan (great room, kitchen and dining room), then to the outdoor “rooms” and lake beyond. There is also a patio on the lower walkout level, and both levels of the home connect to the boat dock.

Sofa beds in the great room and guest bedroom, which also doubles as an office, provide sleeping space for overnight visitors. An elevator carries the homeowners between the main level and second floor, which is devoted entirely to the master suite and a copious amount of attic space that can be used for storage now and living space later. The walkout level includes another guest bedroom, a full bathroom and a recreation/hobby room with a fireplace, sofa bed and game and craft table.

The two-car, attached garage encompasses winter boat storage, recycling bins and space for hobbies or shop projects. The driveway, with its porous pavers, is located on the south side of the home for better snow melt and provides a parking area for guests.

The sustainable features and recommendations for this design, too numerous to list in their entirety, include:

  • High-efficiency HVAC system
  • Heat recovery ventilation system
  • Under-slab radon mitigation system
  • Solar panels on the south-facing roof
  • Insulated windows with gas-filled, Low-E glass (west-facing windows have solar reflective glass to reduce late afternoon heat gain from the sun)
  • Graywater system to conserve water and lower overall sewage effluent
  • Silt fence at berm/lake edge to control storm water runoff

If the clients wish to add storage space without increasing the overall footprint of the home, Perry suggests pouring a concrete slab at the walkout level, underneath the garage. This area, accessed by a small overhead door to the backyard, is ideal for storing snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, golf carts, yard equipment and recreational equipment, as well as general household items. 

Best Student Design

Designers: John Tomaz and David Pereira 
Wentworth Institute of Technology, Boston

John Tomaz and David Pereira oriented their design, “Timeless Solitude,” 37.5 degrees west from north to maximize the amount of natural light penetrating the spaces. The kitchen receives the morning sun; throughout the day, light filters into the living and dining rooms. Bedrooms tucked into the northwest corner of the house are excellent places to enjoy sunsets over the lake. Decks running the full length of the rear elevation offer prime views.

The dining room can extend beyond the confines of its walls into an outdoor dining veranda. On the lower level is a hobby room and office for the homeowners and a playroom for the grandchildren.

The home's open plan is designed to maximize cross-ventilation and air circulation. The 6-foot column grid system creates linear proportional spaces.

Solar roof panels generate electricity and allow the homeowners to sell excess energy back to the grid. The slightly angled roof collects rainwater through pipes in the corner columns that is stored under the ground level with adjacent graywater storage and filtration.

Tomaz and Pereira specified bamboo flooring, recycled carpeting and energy-saving light fixtures throughout the house and recycled plastic tiles for the kitchen and bathrooms.


The Judges

John J. Kern, AIA, ALA, partner and director of Balsamo, Olson & Lewis in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., spent 10 years with the firm before venturing out to become director of architecture for a Top 5 home builder. He returned to Balsamo, Olson & Lewis as a partner in 2002.

David A. Gravel, RLA, is president of Enon Hill Design & Development, a land planning and landscape architecture firm in Wheaton, Ill. Prior to starting Enon Hill, Gravel spent 18 years gathering experience in land-use; municipal and subdivision planning; and landscape design.

Comments on: "Custom Builder Design Challenge Winners Offer Imaginative Plans for Lake House"

May 2015

This Month in Custom Builder


The weather-tight PVC system VersaWrap by Versatex is now available in new sizes.


Three perspectives regarding how to treat entryways and focal points.

Email Subscriptions