THE BEST CUSTOM HOME WORKS ON every level. It fits an owner's lifestyle, belongs on its site, and proclaims itself unique.

The owners of this Napa Valley retreat wanted a quiet getaway just for themselves—entertaining weekend guests wasn't high on their agenda. Neither was having the kind of space that most folks affluent enough to have a second home demand. This little jewel is just 996 square feet, a large room with a half-hidden sleeping alcove at one end.

Simple materials—stained-cedar, board-and-batten siding, stained concrete floors, limestone and zinc countertops—reflect the rustic, vineyard surroundings. The house looks as if it's been nestled in this spot for ages. Proof positive that luxury doesn't have to mean slick materials, complicated plans, or even great size.

David Duncan Livingston

Award: Best custom home—under 4,500 square feet; Builder: R.H. Hess Development, Napa, Calif.; Architect: Dahlin Group Architecture Planning, San Ramon, Calif.