Copyrighted by Susan Gilmore

A “less is more” philosophy prevails in these recessionary times, and nowhere is this shift more evident than in kitchens and baths. Contemporary spaces continue to gain ground, even in homes that are traditional on the outside, but there’s a difference between streamlined and sterile. The projects that received highest marks from the jurors this year illustrate a deft understanding of that distinction.

Clean, bright white—be it in the form of painted cabinets, marble countertops, or lacquered storage units—seems once again to be the designers’ look of choice. But this time around, it’s more likely to be paired with something warm, such as natural wood, a veiny stone, or oil-rubbed bronze, than with cold stainless steel or chrome. In fact, what made many winners stand out was their artful interplay of warm and cool, light and dark, texture and flat plane.

Another trend worth noting (and this is a biggie) is a clear movement away from the upper cabinets that have conventionally dominated kitchens. Many designers have found clever ways to redistribute storage space and eliminate those bulky masses in order to bring in more light, preserve views, and create a feeling of openness.

And yet, for the second year in a row, the project that received highest honors from the judges was not a kitchen, but a bath—and a traditional one at that. Take one look at this beguiling space, and you’ll see that it’s not so much the style that matters as the execution of it. It’s clean, original, contextual, and balanced.

See all the Watermark Awards winners on our Watermark Awards page.