Visionary Design: Best of the Best Design Awards

The winning projects in the 2005 Best of the Best Design Awards feature more than just original use of space, innovative choice of materials and construction savvy.

September 30, 2005



2005 Best of the Best Judges

2005 Best of the Best National Winners

2005 Best of the Best Regional Winners


The winning projects in the 2005 Best of the Best Design Awards feature more than just original use of space, innovative choice of materials and construction savvy. Every remodel exhibits an extraordinary sense of vision that allowed the architect, designer or remodeler to fulfill the homeowners' desires and needs with creative, useful and detailed kitchens, baths, additions and more.

With customer satisfaction as the foundation, the entries were judged on five basic criteria: visual appeal, value for the price, quality, functionality, and how well projects overcame challenges.

"The winning entries, or a majority of them, stayed true to the architectural style they were designed in — whether it was Modern, Craftsman or Cottage," said Michael Menn of Design + Construction Concepts.

Whole-house remodels made up a notable section of the Midwest entries while the South saw a bulk of additions. Kitchens swept nationally at 40 percent of all entries.

Just seven national winners emerged from the 100 total entries, and each one displayed a visionary design sense, innovation and detail that earned it the Best of the Best title.

Some overall design trends we saw in this year's entries: curved walls and moldings; kitchens that mixed cabinet heights, door styles, colors and finishes; sumptuous showers in ever-larger bathrooms; and dramatic lighting effects in every room of the house.

Silent Rivers built the sliding steel table with sturdy cantilevers that serves as the base of the island, which has an "expandable" countertop. The island houses the kitchen appliances as well as a television that faces a small living area.  Photo by Bob Shimer

Rethinking Downtown Living


• WHOLE HOUSE $251,000 TO $500,000

Remodeler: Silent Rivers Inc., Urbandale, Iowa

Architect: Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck Architecture, Des Moines

The detailing, the use of space, the raw originality — the judges couldn't get enough of this loft. "In terms of creativity, this is definitely 750 square feet of jam-packed visual excitement," said judge Michael Menn.

Created in 2000 through the conversion of an 81-year-old warehouse into condos, this long, narrow urban loft needed an overhaul to create separate living, cooking and sleeping spaces. The footprint couldn't expand out, so that meant thinking up instead.

Inspired by the agricultural fields of Iowa, the architect designed a two-story "corncrib." The structure houses a powder room, condensed pantry area and furnace room on the first floor. On the south side, Silent Rivers built an island and wall cabinet to define the kitchen. On the north side of the crib, built-in shelves and a computer desk sit opposite the laundry room and a small amount of storage.

An open staircase alongside the corncrib leads to a mezzanine with a steel grate floor that spans the northern third of the loft. This new upper level includes a sleeping loft built into the crib, a full bath and a closet.

Silent Rivers built the corncrib by fastening 14-foot milled stud panels to an internal structure made of fire-rated steel, then attaching prefabricated MDF panels.

"We used LVL engineered wood product for stability to make the studs, then erected the panels around, creating a stable context for all the trim," says Chaden Halfhill, president of Silent Rivers.

Marine-grade, ¾-inch plywood "barn boards" served as trim. Each board is 6 inches wide, dyed with aniline and then finished.


Appliances: Jenn-Air. Countertop: Silestone. Home System: Lutron. Fixtures: Kohler. HVAC: Lennox. Lighting: Halo. Paint: Benjamin Moore.

A new sunroom and stable deck stand on simple but elegant piers at the first floor. Above, the arched window pattern mirrors the arched trim.  Photo by Joh Janzen

Grand-Scale Production the Old-Fashioned Way



Remodeler and architect: Stebnitz Builders Inc., Delavan, Wis.

The owners of this 30-year-old lakeside getaway brought Stebnitz Builders a picnic basket full of problems, including an incomplete set of renovation plans, a house with neighbors less than 15 feet away on both sides, and a boat house that also needed remodeling — located 150 feet away at the end of a staircase descending 50 feet. Not to mention the task of updating the look from 1970s neo-Tudor to cozy Nantucket, while adding all the amenities and comforts the homeowners enjoy at their primary residence.

After scratching the half-done plans, Stebnitz Builders drew a new set that called for 1,600 square feet of additional second-floor space, a rearranged first floor with a new sunroom and rebuilt deck, and a finished walkout basement that included a mechanical and storage room, new exercise area, kitchenette, bar area and bathroom.

The new exterior is nearly unrecognizable from the before pictures. The team accomplished the Nantucket look in part by removing the stucco, false half-timbering and strapwork, then replacing it with new fiber-cement siding with a cedar-shake look, complemented by wide trim around the doors and windows. Brick around the foundation was removed to make way for cultured stone. New gridded, double-hung windows and a porthole window also add to the coastal look, as does the beige-and-white color scheme and the decorative gable trim.

Stebnitz Builders enlarged the original "half" upper story toward the street and the lake, creating a full second floor. To unify the addition with the rest of the home, the design incorporates a W-shaped trim accent reminiscent of the old façade. On the street and lakefront elevations, the W sits on an arched piece of trim that mirrors the arch of the top row of new windows.

Because of varying ceiling heights and angles, Stebnitz couldn't use manufactured trusses to build the addition and new roof with its 40-foot-high peak. Neither boom trucks nor cranes could fit between the houses alongside. As a result, the team had to stick build by hand from scaffolding.

With such a tight lot, the team had to carry all materials and equipment to the house by hand. They used a barge on the lake to remove refuse from the boathouse excavation and to bring in materials for the new structure. Silk fences at the edge of the landscaping prevented debris from flowing into the lake.


Carpet: Philadelphia. Doors: Therma-Tru. Faucets: Kohler. Fireplace: Superior. Fixtures: Kohler, Maax. Garage: Overhead Door. House wrap: R. Wrap. HVAC: Bryant. Insulation: Owens Corning. Paint: Sherwin-Williams. Roofing: Elk. Siding: CertainTeed. Sinks: Corian. Tile: Florida Tile. Water Heater: Rheem. Windows: Marvin.

A floating horizontal ceiling plane centers and ties together the counters, range and sinks. Topping the stainless steel island cabinets with granite and using slate-like floor tiles provided natural color and texture, bringing some Old World feel to the modern look.  Photo by John Horner Photography

Inside-Out Beauty


• KITCHEN OVER $101,000

Remodeler and architect: Feinmann Inc., Arlington, Mass.

A pretty face doesn't always mean something beautiful lies inside. In the case of this more than 200-year-old Victorian home, the Old World charm of the façade concealed a kitchen marred by years of ad hoc remodels that had left behind an inefficient floor plan and tacky decor. Small windows and poor lighting topped off the eyesore.

When the homeowners came to Feinmann Inc. seeking the perfect kitchen, they had already selected streamlined, stainless steel Arclinea cabinetry. Feinmann's in-house architect had to design the kitchen around this modern European look while complementing the home's Second Empire Victorian architecture.

"Ultra-modern rooms in 200-year-old houses generally tend to grate against your nerves," said judge Michael Menn. "Normally, the goal of a remodel or an addition is to blend it seamlessly with the rest of the house."

This design managed to reconcile the two opposing architectural styles while giving the clients exactly what they wanted. First, the addition can't be seen from the street, while from the side, a window wall allows the modern kitchen to "peek out" from the Victorian exterior. Material choices also helped to blend the styles: For example, Feinmann incorporated a Corsi wood cabinet to offset the metallic look of the other cabinets.

To accommodate the clients' needs for adequate counter space and professional appliances — one of them is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef — the Feinmann team pushed out the rear and one side of the first floor, providing enough space for a 550-square-foot kitchen and a larger mudroom. The kitchen extends further than the second floor, making skylights a natural option. A row of skylights ends in an 8-foot-high glass door and tops a wall of glass, aesthetically linking a growing garden to the kitchen.

With high Victorian ceilings, the contemporary kitchen had the potential to be large, cold and hollow, but by installing a hovering ceiling, the team kept the room grounded and welcoming. The 8-foot ceiling houses potted and hanging lights and helps tie the home's 10- to 12-foot ceilings into the new kitchen.

Each of the two large islands features a sink, electrical outlets and drawer and cupboard space. At one, a brushed copper exhaust fan hangs over a natural gas cooktop. Two walls house the ovens and refrigerator.


Cabinetry: Arclinea. Flooring: Argent. Lighting: Lilyput. Range: Viking. Refrigerator: Sub-Zero. Sinks: Arclinea. Windows: Pella.

A Perfect Match


• ADDITION OVER $100,000

Remodeler and architect: SawHorse Inc., Atlanta

Beautifully distinct gabled dormers lifted this 48-year-old house from the squat ranch with basement it once was to the two-story Cape Cod home it is now.

The judges were impressed with the style decision. "Cape Cod is difficult to design anyway," said Michael Menn. "To make a conscious decision to go from ranch to Cape Cod is very impressive. This is spectacular."

At 2,320 square feet, the existing home could not accommodate the owners' growing family. To get the two children's bedrooms and jack-and-jill baths, playroom and nanny suite they wanted, they opted to add a 1,472-square-foot second level. That required installing a second HVAC system, extending the plumbing up and reworking the electrical system.

With a recessed front entry and small, divided, first-floor rooms, the house also needed some upgrades to provide a more welcoming exterior. On the first floor, SawHorse reduced the full bath to a half, giving some of the square footage to the adjacent master bedroom closet. The rest of the freed-up space went toward making room for the new stairway in the foyer. Bumping out the recessed front door, making it flush with the exterior front wall, also opened up the foyer.

That new front door, combined with the addition of columns and a gable, creates an inviting entrance. An all-brick façade and new roofing also increased curb appeal. Where appropriate, SawHorse maintained existing design elements. For example, the homeowners wanted to keep the round window that had been in the first-floor bath; it ended up becoming part of the new foyer.

"It was a great decision on their part," says project coordinator Chris Lenz.

The company went to great lengths to blend the old with the new, even sending an employee to Alabama to find reclaimed brick that matched the aged exterior of the existing home. Five hurricanes delayed the project, but by tightening the schedule, bringing people in on weekends, and stacking manpower — easier to do on a project so large — SawHorse came out less than a month behind schedule.


Cabinetry: KraftMaid. Carpet: Shaw. Columns: Fypon. Countertops: DuPont Corian, Samsung Staron. Doors: Peachtree. Faucets and fixtures: Kohler, Moen, Price Pfister. Flooring: Armstrong. House wrap: DuPont Tyvek. HVAC: Amana. Insulation: Icynene. Lighting: Halo, Hudson Valley. Locksets: Schlage. Millwork: Georgia Pacific. Paint: Benjamin Moore. Roofing: Elk. Siding: James Hardie. Tile: Rex. Water heater: Rheem. Windows: Jeld-Wen.

A Detailed Blend



Architect: Architectural Resource, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Remodeler: Home Renewal, Dexter, Mich.

As the homeowner told Architectural Resource principal Michael Klement, he didn't want to be remembered as the guy who "screwed up this beautiful old home." The new sunroom, which replaced an existing screened porch, had to blend flawlessly with the interior and exterior of the 200-year-old Italianate structure.

The outside of the existing home was a flat face with no dimension. As a significant projection from the middle of the back wall, the addition could have distracted from the integrity of the original brick façade. The design and construction team looked to the details to marry the 267-square-foot addition to the two-story home.

Home Renewal removed the porch but held off on demo, protecting the home and its inhabitants from the elements by waiting to open up the exterior wall until after building the addition. Formerly a standard 3-foot doorway, the opening from the kitchen to the sunroom now boasts a 7-foot wide set of French doors. Because the exterior wall was masonry veneer, the team installed steel beams and columns behind the ceiling plane and a new header in the doorway. Architectural Resource designed the opening around existing kitchen elements to keep construction from extending into the main home.

Replicating the home's existing archedtop, double-hung windows for the sunroom would have increased costs over budget. Instead, the architect, contractor and homeowner decided on rectangular double-hung windows under arched cedar molding that echoed the arched windows.

"That gave us a contemporary interpretation of the historical precedent in a cost-effective manner," says Klement.

For the paneling beneath the sunroom windows, the team mimicked the step-down paneled design used under a bay window on the opposite side of the house. The owners selected the green and cream trim colors and the team tied the house together with these hues, repainting the existing trim.

The team measured the existing scrolled brackets under the eaves, replicating them on a smaller scale appropriate for the addition. To mimic the existing foundation and anchor the new conservatory to the house, Home Renewal installed 4-inch stone veneer around the new 12-inch concrete block foundation.


Doors and windows: Marvin. Lighting: Halo. Roofing: Tamko.

Downstairs Cabin Retreat



Remodeler and designer: Forward Designers & Builders, Ann Arbor, Mich.

The owners of this 8-year-old Colonial home have only to jaunt downstairs to escape to an amenity-filled vacation retreat. With a log-cabin look inspired by Disney World's Wilderness Lodge, the 1,350-square-foot finished basement includes a gathering room with a drop-down movie screen and stone fireplace, a kitchen and wet bar, a full bath with steam room, a game table area, a pool table area, an exercise room and accessible storage.

Forward Designers & Builders continued the upstairs finishes — oak flooring, pale green walls and white molding — down the staircase. As the steps open out at the bottom, the homeowners walk into what looks and feels like a log cabin, thanks to cork flooring, 5/4 pine log siding, cultured stone accents, and a hollow post and beam system that looks structural. New fixed and double-hung windows along the eastern wall flood the room with soft natural light.

"If you had your back to the stairs and were looking out those windows, you'd never know it was a basement," said judge Michael Menn.

Aesthetically, the post and beam system makes a large, open space cozy and casual. To make it look authentic, the team chose 5/4 pine planks that featured natural checking and had the dimensional stability needed for the joinery.

Functionally, the post and beam system serves to hide existing steel beams and pipe columns and disguises varying ceiling heights. In the entertainment area, the ceiling reaches 8½ feet. It then drops 12 inches over the wet bar and dining area. Running a beam along the step makes the change both subtle and attractive.

A sliding log wall conceals existing electrical equipment located next to the gathering room. A swinging door would have intruded visually and spatially. To maximize square footage and ensure enough clearance and access to the electrical panel, the team decided on a sliding wall.

Forward Designers & Builders mounted 1- by 8-inch sawn pine exterior siding onto a frame constructed with metal studs and stock barn door hardware.

"The lightweight steel studs make up the bulk of the door, allowing it to not be so heavy," says company president Jef Forward.

Despite the outdoorsy look, the homeowners wanted to keep the weather outside: In the past, the basement had had some flooding problems. The clients also wanted a softer floor rather than just laying tile or cork directly over the concrete foundation. Meeting both needs, the team put down a ¾-inch plywood subfloor over 1- by 4-inch treated runners and fastened the runners to the concrete with a glue system and Tapcon screws.


Appliances: Bosch, GE. Cabinets: Pinnacle. Carpet: Shaw. Countertops: DuPont Corian. Doors: Wood Harbor. Faucets and fixtures: Delta, Toto. Fireplace: Heat-N-Glo. Home System: Leviton. HVAC: Trane, Steamist. Insulation: Owens Corning. Lighting: Kichler, Sea Gull, Rejuvenation Hardware. Locksets: Rocky Mountain. Paint: Benjamin Moore. Tile: American Olean, Crossville. Water Heater: A.O. Smith. Windows: Andersen.

Exposing Good Bones



Architect: Architectural Resource, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Remodeler: Custom Design/Build, Ann Arbor, Mich.

The key design element of this remodel — the roof rafters — already existed. The contractor just had to pull back the ceiling.

"The magic, the really neat thing about this was that we merely exposed what was already there," says architect Michael Klement, principal of Architectural Resource. He partnered with remodeling firm Custom Design/Build to achieve the homeowners' goals for this 50-year-old ranch: to bring natural light into the center of the home, install a fireplace and make the living room more open.

Klement's design called for extending the roof plane upward to form a triangular gable with large, west-facing windows. Refinishing the rafters brought out a glow from the formerly coarse wood. Track lighting along the rafters illuminates them.

The new fireplace sits slightly off center to organize the seating arrangement and placement of the room. By modifying the walls that flank the fireplace, the team was able to open the stairwell, allowing light into the basement and connecting the living space and the adjacent kitchen.

"For the amount of money they spent and what they accomplished, they did a great job," said judge Mike Nagel. "Very creative."


Fireplace: Majestic. Flooring: Granite Hearth. Roofing: CertainTeed. Windows: Weather Shield.


2005 Best of the Best Judges

Judi Damm, Managing Editor, Professional Remodeler

Michael Menn, AIA, CGR, CAPS, Design + Construction Concepts, Northbrook, Ill.

Michael Morris, Editor in Chief, Professional Remodeler

Michael Nagel, CGR, CAPS, Remodel One Design/Build Construction, Roselle, Ill.

Kimberly Sweet, Editor, Professional Remodeler

Melissa Wilson, CBD, Insignia Kitchen and Bath Design Group, Barrington, Ill.

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