There will always be a place for the luxury estate overlooking a majestic hillside, or a beautiful stretch of coastline. But houses, on the whole, are getting smaller, more economical, more energy-efficient, and more urban as builders gingerly emerge from the recession and get their backhoes rumbling again. 

This movement toward modesty (in both size and consumption) was evident in the 2010 Gold Nugget Awards, the winners of which were announced Thursday during a ceremony at PCBC in San Francisco. Projects designed for small lots and small budgets got high marks from the judges, as did more than a few green-minded ventures. 

Below we highlight a few prominent trends from this year’s competition. Watch for more winner profiles in the August issue of BUILDER. For a complete rundown of the 2010 winners, visit

Belmaison at Gale Ranch, Plan 2
San Ramon, Calif.

Trend to watch: A contemporary floor plan wrapped in traditional architecture.

Courtesy Shapell Homes

From the outside, this 2,713-square-foot home reads as a nice slice of Americana with its traditional façade, welcome front porch, wide shutters, and bay window. But there’s a surprise inside. A secluded courtyard tucked into the lap of this plan makes this home a far cry from your conventional colonial box with dark, cramped rooms. The courtyard floods the interiors with natural light and allows the main entertainment zone on the ground floor--an open kitchen, dining, and great room--to spill onto the private patio.

Praising the floor plan for its efficient and clever use of a narrow, 4,200-square-foot lot (it even includes a three-car garage in back, one wall of which helps to form the courtyard space), the judges gave this house high marks as a handsome, hard-working home that could be replicated in many markets around the country at a reasonable cost. – Jenny Sullivan

Awards: Home of the Year; Grand, best single-family detached home on a small lot (3,200 to 4,500 square feet)
Builder: Shapell Homes
Architect: Robert Hidey Architects

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Francisco, CA, Los Angeles, CA.