Details of Award Winning Homes

After reviewing hundreds of entrants for the 2005 Best in American Living Awards, this year's judges discussed a number trends that emerged both regionally and around the country, including baby boomers' affinity for second homes as well as an occasional occurrence of lime green.

January 01, 2006

After reviewing hundreds of entrants for the 2005 Best in American Living Awards, this year's judges discussed a number trends that emerged both regionally and around the country, including baby boomers' affinity for second homes as well as an occasional occurrence of lime green. Several previously hyped trends were notably absent from the pack, such as energy efficient and green building products.

For judge Tony Crasi, president of The Crasi Company, a residential design/build firm based in Akron, Ohio, it was more the lack of discernable trends that caught his attention. "Nothing jumped out at me," he said. "Maybe things have been too good, and no one has pushed the envelope."

Fellow judge Chip Pierson, principal and general manager of Dahlin Group Architecture Planning in San Ramon, Calif., agreed, "No trend is sweeping the country. It's not like the Northeast is suddenly doing Haciendas."

Here we've mapped out some of the more marked trends, as well as take-away tips for custom builders across the country.

Indoor/outdoor living

While the concept of indoor/outdoor living was first architecturally realized in the 20th century by Frank Lloyd Wright, it's certainly been around since humans lived in caves. Today's well-designed homes treat open-air spaces as livable rooms, not just as part of the yard. There are many ways you can integrate the interior and exterior spaces:

  • Build the main floor at the same level inside and out so home owners can walk between the two without effort and not feel a division, says judge Mike Kephart, president of Kephart, a Denver-based architecture and community planning firm. This may require raising the exterior surface a few feet, but the effect will be worth it.
  • Allow exterior materials to extend into the interior like Wright did, notes Kephart. Instead of a poured-concrete patio, opt for interior/exterior materials such as tile, stone, wood, slate, iron and brick so floors and walls can literally extend from inside to out. While these materials can be pricey, homeowners are looking for this type of interest to add to their homes.
  • Relate the indoor and outdoor spaces to each other with glass doors that slide out of view or, as Crasi noted, a sunroom with operable windows.
  • Design outdoor spaces at the blueprint stage, using the home's walls and their orientation to the lot's sun, shade, and wind patterns to create microclimates. A patio that is warmed by the morning sun yet shady and breezy during the hottest part of the day will get more use than one that's at the elements' mercy.
  • Equip outdoor spaces with outlets, electricity, and even gas for heaters, fans, lighting, water fountains and kitchen amenities.

Creating courtyards

The BALA judges found the use of courtyards — and often multiple outdoor areas — was growing more strongly in areas other than in the Southwest. Rather than just a single courtyard, today's trend is homes with as many as three outdoor areas. Offer outdoor living to your clients with these ideas:

  • Replace decks and lawns that need tending with private, easy-maintenance patios, recommends judge Georganne Derick, president of Merchandising East and MS Interior Design in Ellicott City, Md.
  • Give a house a breath of fresh air by positioning second living rooms and kitchens outside in the courtyard. "[These] are becoming more common in many temperate climates around the country," says Derick. In Northern locales, heat lamps and fireplaces extend the feasibility of the external spaces beyond the warmest months.
  • Beware of floor plans that are only positioned to accommodate the courtyard rather than the overall living space.
  • Keep one side of the courtyard open for snow removal in cold climes, as well as position the courtyard so snow does not blow in, Crasi advises.

Defining spaces

Home sizes are returning to a more human scale, with less emphasis on wide open spaces and more on distinct rooms, such as the traditional formal living and dining rooms. "You're no longer seeing the homes where you walk in and see right through to the back," says Crasi. Instead, he recommends controlling the view with focal points and interesting vistas, so it unfolds and evolves. Here are other suggestions on how to bring houses back down to size:

  • Offer quaint, cozier entries, Crasi suggests. Derick agrees, asking builders to consider an intimate one-story portico entry, through a gate, archway or courtyard, or a porch to welcome people to the front door. "The two-story Gone-with-the-Wind Tara entry columns are gone," declares Derick. "This may be driven by rising energy prices or by the baby boomer buyers who have lived with these status features and know the real pitfalls of such grand spaces."
  • Reserve the large open spaces for the hearth room. "This can help a 3,000-square-foot house feel like a 5,000-square-foot one," says Crasi.
  • Design for daily life. One judge was alarmed at the dearth of computer space as well as places to "drop your junk." He said, "If we had homes without indoor plumbing, we'd go, what the heck is this? Many homes are not accommodating the day-to-day lifestyle issues that all families have."

Two of everything

Forget what you learned in kindergarten — you don't really have to share everything.

"Baby boomers are asking for — and getting — two of everything," says Derick. "Even two homes: one near the grandchildren and one home for that vacation retreat." Here are some suggestions on how you can double the fun for interested clients:

  • Spec two kitchen islands, both with a sink and a dishwasher.
  • Place one laundry room upstairs with the bedrooms, and then a second washer/dryer in the mudroom, so weather weary clothes and dog bath towels don't have to be dragged through the house. "We're even seeing a second set of washer/dryers in the master suite of homes in the 7,000-square-foot range," says Pierson.
  • Propose his 'n' hers offices, a trend that is especially warranted in this age of telecommuting and home-based businesses.
  • Offer dual master bedrooms with separate but smaller bathrooms — "to keep the peace," Derick says.
  • "More effort, design, and expense is going into the second homes, and they are becoming equal to or greater than the primary ones," Pierson says. In some cases, he says, the second residence is being built as the "legacy home," the one that will get passed down jointly to the kids instead of giving the primary home to just one child. These mountain/lake/beach homes are considered more precious because the whole family comes together. They may be more comfortable because they are built with more than one master suite or with several family suites (2 bedrooms connected with a bath).


This two-fold trend speaks to both the revitalization of the nation's cities, as well as the use of exterior materials and commercial materials in residences as part of the popularity of lofts and loft-like spaces. What started with the renovation of New York City warehouses — with large open space, huge windows, and columns — now implies contemporary style, industrial materials such as open ductwork and exposed brick, and tall spaces. Urban infill building is now prevalent in the Midwest, with Chicago, Minneapolis and Denver leading the charge.

Kephart observed this trend as a lifestyle change, "a look toward more urban, less sprawl." Different types of people are looking to live downtown. Both Pierson and Kephart noted that right now it's only young families that are not buying in urban areas.

If you've ever worked on infill projects or are contemplating it, consider the following:

  • Incorporate clean lines and modern architecture, using commercial materials in residential settings. These designs have less ornamentation, less flamboyant detail and more simple, clean detailing.
  • Devote more attention to detail in the smaller, more pricey lots. In fact, the judges felt that because the raw land is so expensive, it makes builders do their due diligence.
  • Don't neglect the exterior, which judges found to be less contemporary than the interiors.
  • Offer unusual commercial-grade materials to clients to inspire their creativity, suggests Derick. Her examples include Lumicor high-performance resin with embedded grasses, leaves or metal patterns for cabinet or door panels, or commercial lighting and flooring materials to add a modern sensibility.

Rethinking communities

One particular trend that doesn't have a quick takeaway is the evolution of the community. Real estate agents are famous for touting "location, location, location," but, as Kephart says, "location is really the community or the network of neighborhoods that have what [people] really need. Cities did a lousy job of preserving community and preventing sprawl."

On the whole, the judges noted that people choose where they live first by the community and then by the house, and that people now are electing to live together in communities linked by interest rather than by age. One said, "birds of a feather flock together, whether they're 60 or 23. If you are into living in the city or suburbs, or like golf, you're going to go wherever the thing that makes you tick is going to be."

Regional Trends

Here's what's going on around the country:

The venerable Northeast still showed a lot of applied trims, such as moldings and use of beadboard in formal spaces. "People are really responding to those materials." The use of stone in Northeast farmhouses and historical homes, as well as on the inside was not apparent in other entries. "There was a formality that you don't see in other markets, as with the crystal chandeliers."

In addition to the urban infills in the Southeast, the judges saw both retirement or pre-retirement second homes. "A lot of people are moving into those areas, and this reflects that." Pierson saw more impressive, luxurious projects coming out of Florida.

The Midwest is losing some of its Craftsman roots in favor for urbanized infill projects, yet the style itself was still strong nationwide.

The Texas McMansions seemed to be fading away, one judge remarked.

It was Tuscan time in the desert Southwest and California, as well as a little of the 1920s and '30s Spanish style.

The Northwest was represented with a few luxury homes in Montana that "used a lot of trees to build," as one judge put it.

Author Information
Jennifer Block Martin is a San Francisco-based writer whose articles have appeared in publications such as Better Homes and Gardens' Special Interest Publications, Sunset magazine, and Women's Day Home Remodeling and Makeovers. In the past, she was a production editor for Professional Builder.

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