Clear trends emerge from studying the winners of the 40th annual Gold Nugget Awards, which recognize the best in Western architecture. For example, increasingly sophisticated floor plans, many of them incorporating multiple courtyards, blur the boundaries between indoor and outdoor living spaces. Not only do the courtyards seem to expand living space, but they provide wonderful sight lines, particularly on narrow lots where views are limited.

The winners reflect a deepening trend toward rustic architecture. Whether it's Hill Country design in Texas or Mission-style in California, indigenous architecture rules the day. Never have the winners been more responsive to local settings in their use of materials and details and more romantic as a result.

As always, the creative bar keeps rising. Check out the contemporary infill custom home in Santa Barbara, Calif., that somehow managed to meet local historic preservation committee requirements. Study a prototypical live/work project in Ladera Ranch, Calif.

The winners were decided in April by nine industry experts, builders, architects, marketing professionals, and one BUILDER magazine editor, who gathered in Anaheim, Calif., for three long days of judging. Divided into three groups, judges analyzed entries in 46 categories before coming together as a group to vote for the winners.

Gold Nugget Awards
Part I
Part II
Part III

Cortiles at Verrazzano, Residence Two, San Diego

Home of the Year; Best Single-Family Detached Home-2,601 to 3,000 square feet

The tight floor plan and minimal lines of this San Diego production home moved one judge to an almost Zen-like utterance. "Perfection," the judge said, "is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

Except inspiration perhaps. The judges admired the way this 2,682-square-foot home mixed rustic details, shallow roof pitches, hips, and gables to produce a classically detailed Italian villa with a modern twist. The front elevation, simple yet powerful, reminded judges of the homes they grew up in.

Home of the Year
Eric Figge Photography Home of the Year

Inside is a different story. The "front door" opens to an open-air living room that blurs the boundaries between indoor and outdoor space. Complete with a fireplace, the outdoor room takes full advantage of the gentle San Diego climate. Inside the home, carefully positioned living spaces, plotted to open views through corridors and capture natural light, create a spacious feel.

Nearly all 29 of the homes released in the first phase of this project sold quickly after the grand opening.

Builder: Shea Homes, San Diego; Architect: JBZ Architecture + Planning, Newport Beach, Calif.;

Private Residence, Santa Barbara, Calif.

Best Custom Home--under 4,000 square feet

Six years. That's how long it took to get this 3,700-square-foot custom home permitted and built in Santa Barbara's Pueblo Viejo historic district, notorious for its stringent design guidelines. And only one of those years was spent building this exquisitely detailed, very custom home.

Best Custom Home
Peter Malinowski Best Custom Home

Many of its exterior elements borrow from the city's architectural fabric--white stucco, iron, stone-clad colonnade, and a tile roof. The sticking point was the incorporation of other modern forms found in Viennese secession architecture of the 20th century.

At 2,950 square feet, the lot for this three-story home is smaller than the house. Yet, inside, the house feels spacious. A 26-foot-long vaulted gallery leads visitors to an oval story-and-a-half library. A visiting artist's studio and living space occupies the first floor, with the main living and dining areas on the second. Live/work spaces and a roof garden cap the third floor, with views to the city, mountains, and the ocean.

Best Custom Home
Peter Malinowski Best Custom Home

Builder: Berkus Construction, Santa Barbara, Calif.; Architect: B3 Architects, a Berkus Design Studio, Santa Barbara

Agave Court, Austin, Texas

Detached Residential Project of the Year (tie); Best Single-Family Detached Home--3,301 to 3,600 square feet (The Fontana); Best Single-Family Detached Home--3,601 to 4,000 square feet (The Mirador)

What makes these homes such strong examples of Texas Hill Country vernacular? The judges admired how native stone and stucco were combined with the juxtaposition of simple building forms to produce deeply rustic architecture.

The upscale project, Agave Court, received an award for the design of its neighborhood as well as its homes. The homes are organized around small cul-de-sacs, which make for great neighborhoods, one judge said.

The Fontana plan revolves around center and side courtyards, which allow the master bedroom to be moved to the back of the house, preserving a view over the pool to the grass beyond. In the Mirador, a loggia provides a friendly transition between the motor court and an entry gallery. The judges noted a strong continuity of indoor and outdoor detailing in both plans.

Builder/Developer: Sereno Homes, Austin, Texas; Architect: BBG Architects, Santa Ana Heights, Calif.; Land planner: Overland Partners, San Antonio


Learn more about markets featured in this article: Austin, TX, San Diego, CA, Santa Barbara, CA.