Each year, NARI’s Contractor of the Year (CotY) Awards showcase some of the best designs and most innovative solutions in remodeling. Though many of the winning projects for 2021 were already in the works before the pandemic hit, it’s impossible not to look at home design differently this year as functionality and custom touches take center stage.
Though enhanced aesthetics remain important, the industry’s focus has shifted to the value that a renovation will add to the homeowner’s everyday life. How much natural light will this window let in while they work from home? Could this space hold socially distant gatherings? Can the homeowner age in place here if nursing homes aren’t an option?
From a reworked kitchen with a challenging footprint to a budget-friendly bathroom that blew the client’s expectations out of the water, Pro Remodeler is highlighting five standout CotY regional winners that successfully married form and function under challenging circumstances.
See the 2020 CotY Award winners here!
Elegant Kitchen Emerges From Floor to Ceiling Constraints
Firm: Kitchen Design Concepts
Location: Carrollton, Texas
Residential Kitchen $30,000 to $60,000 / Regional, National Winner
Every remodeling project has its limitations, but the challenges for this gourmet kitchen transformation truly were considerable.
At just 121 square feet, the footprint was compact. Its location in a high-rise building meant that remodeler Kitchen Design Concepts of Carrollton, Texas, had to create a design (and reno schedule) that accommodated the 1981 building’s existing plumbing, flooring, and fire suppression systems. And the client, a dedicated home chef, wanted as much counter space as possible for cooking and food prep.
To accomplish all this, designer Rebecca Sutton, CKBD, started by opening up the space. A dropped ceiling was removed, replaced by a flush ceiling and recessed LED can lights. A wall between the kitchen and the living room was partially removed, connecting the two spaces and highlighting the 19th-floor views of the Dallas skyline.
Visually, the designer chose a tuxedo look, with slab door melamine cabinets in silver elm on top and black-painted maple Shaker cabinets on the bottom. Paneled undercounter appliances such as a dishwasher and two refrigerator/freezer units continue the sleek look while maximizing counter space. Roll-out LeMans units provide essential storage on either side of the induction range. In the bar area, a free-floating waterfall countertop with room for two chairs leaves space for entertaining or pasta-making. A clever cabinet-matching channel conceals the required electrical on the peninsula and even provides a hidden outlet on a cabinet’s skyline-facing side.
Custom Touches Extend Transitional Style for Repeat Customer
Firm: DiFabion Remodeling
Location: Indian Trail, N.C.
Residential Interior Under $100,000 / Regional, National Winner
After renovating this suburban Charlotte, N.C., home’s kitchen and building a laundry and mudroom addition, DiFabion Remodeling was given a new charge with this project: Bring it all together.
In contrast to the transitional style of the newly remodeled areas, the rest of the home’s first floor—a collection of three rooms totaling about 900 square feet—was compartmentalized and underutilized, according to Michael DiFabion, the firm’s general manager. But no longer.
During the three-month project, the Indian Trail, N.C.-based firm removed a wall between the sitting room and living room, introducing more daylight to the space and joining the two areas. Because that wall was load-bearing, the remodeler added structural beams, building a custom coffered ceiling to conceal the dropped beams.
That was just one of several custom touches in this project. DiFabion Remodeling craftsmen built the maple floating built-in bookshelves, the three-sided, dry-stacked natural stone fireplace, shiplap wall, and the custom paneled accent wall in the formal dining room.
The first floor’s connection to the rest of the house was not overlooked in the renovations. The new living area now flows into the renovated kitchen, and new iron balusters and black stair railings transform a traditional staircase into a contemporary one.
Moving Stair Tower Adds Light, Saves Space
Firm: Liv Companies, LLC
Location: Burr Ridge, Ill.
Residential Addition Over $250,000 / Regional, National Winner
At the very start of addition’s planning, LivCo hit a major design challenge: a staircase smack dab in the middle of the already cramped home of a growing family.
Instead of fighting against the home’s original layout, the team decided to shift the staircase to the side and build a modern tower with double winders featuring fiberglass windows to illuminate its interior. To create the illusion of the tower floating, they leveraged the deep sill on the end of the driveway and built a wall out of 2x12s that cantilevers off the foundation. “The stair tower gave us a really poignant design element to the exterior of the house while at the same time allowing a more functional overall floor plan to expand the kitchen,” David Pollard, principal and co-founder, says. “It almost felt like it’s the way the house should have always been.”
Want some outdoor inspiration? Check out this 2020 winner.
With the staircase out of the way, the team was able to expand the kitchen through the back of the home, renovate the second floor, create a covered deck, and add a new primary suite and two remodeled bathrooms, which was crucial as the original floorplan only had a half-bathroom on the second floor. In the kitchen, the designers mixed porcelain herringbone tile flooring with a white reverse bevel backsplash. The dark walnut cabinetry contrasts with the white quartz countertops.
On the exterior, the team played with different elevations, materials, and colors to avoid the dreaded box-attached-to-the-back look of hastily done additions. With a vertical tongue and groove siding, the addition’s main area reads as a solid mass with subtle shadow details while the little return roof across the gable end softens the look—a nod to Chicago bungalows. The covered deck portion features horizontal siding to give the addition depth while an oversized sliding glass door creates an indoor-outdoor connection between the deck and new kitchen.
New Primary Bathroom Acts as a Love Letter
Firm: Euro Design Build
Location: Richardson, Texas
Residential Bath Over $100,000 / Regional, National Winner
This second-story primary bathroom remodel, affectionately and aptly named the “King Arthur Master Bath Retreat,” isn’t just a renovation fit for royalty: It’s a declaration of love.
During a 10-week remodel, Euro Design Build enlarged the main bathroom area, reworked the structural elements, upgraded storage, and added plenty of tech as part of a husband’s sweet surprise for his wife’s 50th birthday gift.
The most commanding features of the remodel are warm gray his-and-her vanity towers with polished nickel sinks. While they ordered soft-close cabinetry from another manufacturer, the team custom-built inserts, organizers, and even a secret compartment for the extensive storage solutions in-house. The center tower of maple plywood cabinets became a hub where the homeowner could use adjustable shelves to store her jewelry, an interior mirror to get ready, shelves for hair products, and handy outlets for her styling tools. “We actually have a secret component in the corner where she has the ability to hide things that she doesn’t want anyone else to see where it is or how to access it,” says Melinda Dzinic, co-founder of Euro Design.
Considering the clients’ future in the home as well as the overall aesthetics, Euro Design decided to install a curbless shower in addition to the cozy fireside clawfoot tub that replaced the old drop-in one. However, the original ceiling beams and floor joists sloped in the wrong direction for the linear drain. To build the must-have zero-threshold curbless shower, the construction team had to adjust and resupport the ceiling beams. They also moved the location of the drain and ran new plumbing through the beams before adding smart tech. The homeowners can program personalized settings that control water speed and pressure through a smart digital thermostatic control system.
Up to Code and Past Expectations
Location: Los Angeles
Residential Bath Under $25,000 / Regional Winner
This bathroom was a complete renovation down to the studs, with walls torn down and out to bring the space up to code and past expectations, but on a tight budget.
The client’s wishlist for Heaven at Hand was a challenging one given the constraints, but it also provided opportunities to be creative and solve problems on the fly. After opening up the space, a new glass shower didn’t fit. When that happened, Heaven at Hand’s crew made room by relocating plumbing that turned out to be so old it needed to be rebuilt completely. The remodeler also built a custom mirror and vanity for the homeowner, who wanted the bathroom to be more modern and offer more storage.
With a new bathtub, black, water-efficient fixtures, and large format tiles on the floor and up the walls, and not to mention the new shower, the modern aesthetic was complete. The custom vanity covered the storage.
“Our favorite thing about this renovation is the fact we did this project for someone who really needed it,” says Lori Sledd, CFO for Heaven at Hand. “The client got more than what she came for. It’s why we do what we do.”
Now that you've seen some award-winning designs, meet the up-and-coming remodelers with our 2021 Class of Forty Under 40 winners.