We have more than one tradition surrounding the 23-year-old Builder's Choice program. But one of my favorites is when we go around the room, after the judging is complete, after the judges have pored over hundreds of the best projects built in the last year, and ask our jury to identify design trends.
What's remarkable is that we unearth new trends every year, a testament to how rapidly residential design is changing. Also, the trends come through so strongly that judges often cite the same ones. Here's a rundown on the top 10 trends that we gleaned from this year's competition.
1. Clean, Honest Design. Less seems to mean more and more these days. Clearly, the best-looking new housing is the least pretentious. That was true whether the judges were looking at a rustic hill country home, a seaside cottage, or an inner-city loft.
2. Up, Up, and Away. Faced with the need to maximize returns, builders are going vertical with three- to four-story units to achieve higher density. More and more single-family homes are showing up with third-floor bonus rooms.
3. Mix and Match Interiors. The trend toward combining different colors, materials, and textures to achieve a "lived-in look" started in the kitchen. Now mixed media is moving to other rooms, as designers mix and match colors, wall treatments, and furniture.
4. The Great Outdoors. It's not enough to merely create great indoor/outdoor relationships. The best projects now include inspired outdoor architecture, with carefully designed trellises, spas, play areas, barbecues, pools, breezeways, and greenhouses.
5. The Family Kitchen. The kitchen isn't just where families entertain; it's where they spend quality time together. We're seeing more kitchens designed for activities--watching TV, doing homework, folding laundry, and cooking more than one meal at a time.
6. The Drop Zone. We're seeing a big return of the mudroom or back entry hall, a transition space where kids can dump backpacks, parents can park briefcases, and everyone can leave shoes.
7. Specialized Work and Storage. In another practical move, more dedicated space is being carved out of the garage for workshops, fishing closets, golf storage, and dog washing. Inside, builders are making more room for laundry, crafts, and gift wrapping.
8. A Moveable Feast. In recognition that eating is no longer confined to the kitchen and dining room, we're seeing wetrooms pop up all over the house. Cabinets, sinks, and mini-refrigerators are showing up in family rooms, master suites, libraries, and basements.
9. Suite Living. On the high end, the master bath suite--sometimes divided into his and hers spaces--is morphing into a mini-spa, complete with massage table, subdued lighting, and plenty of room. A new element of the master-bedroom suite: a suitcase packing area in the closet.
10. Lighting the Way. Much more attention is being paid to lighting, especially to delineate congregating areas. Dining room lighting is getting more sophisticated. And we're finally seeing more effort to coordinate whole-house lighting, too.
Though it didn't make our top 10, another common trait among our winning projects was their relative difficulty to build. Look for the series of Builder Tips highlighting construction challenges in our coverage. They recognize that there's often a lot more to a successful project than meets the eye.