South Point Residence, Berlin, Md.

“The waterfront is the jewel of the project,” says architect Jason Pearce of this Maryland peninsula home. With Assateague Island to the east, and the lights of Ocean City to the north, taking full advantage of the expansive water views was at the top of the design list. So were the classic and charming elements of a Shingle style coastal house: wraparound porches, balconies, and the iconic widow’s walk.

The homeowners wanted a waterside retreat big enough for friends and family to enjoy time together, yet it was crucial that the house not overpower its scenic locale. Site regulations abounded. The home is located in a high-hazard coastal flood zone, with a 100-foot setback from wetland that juts right into the property. The entire ground level of the house had to be drainable breakaway construction. All livable space had to start at least 9 feet above grade, but the structure could rise no higher than 45 feet. With limitations like those, coupled with the need for enough rooms for extended family to visit for good stretches of time, “The easy thing would have been to stack everything on one monstrous mass,” Pearce . To avoid that, graceful forms were key. Sloping shed roofs and recessed balconies help prevent this home from being a hulking box, even though the whole fourth floor is contained within a main 12/12 roof slope. There’s no attic in this house—everything under the roof is living space.

This Shingle style structure is true to coastal style, but it differs from its New England counterparts. Pearce points to the turret (“the pivot point for the house”), which helps capitalize on ocean views, as well as thick white window trim that makes the windows pop, defines the recessing, and makes the gray shingles stand out even more.

Warren Residence, Grand Rapids, Mich.

The challenge is familiar to anyone who does infill. The new home, in an old neighborhood, had to look good next to its neighbors. The tight lot needed to accommodate a house spacious enough so a family of four (two doctors and two kids) wouldn’t feel as if they were living on top of each other. Wayne Visbeen wasn’t the first designer the client had turned to in order to satisfy the family’s requirements. Luckily, he knew what to do. Visbeen opted for a traditional four-square floor plan, which “allowed the house to live large in a controlled footprint.” Detailed roof lines made the house cost efficient without looking that way, says the architect, who adds that the builder was surprised at how simple the home was to build. The revised floor plan nipped 500 square feet off the original. Attention was directed at details that add vintage character (lanterns at the entry), touches that feel luxurious (soapstone counters in the kitchen), features that add privacy (a vestibule in the master suite), and top-of-the-line appliances.

Setting the stairwell in the center of the house makes the home’s interior feel grander than it might otherwise. The stairwell includes a large window that floods the house with light and a landing with bookcases, storage, and a built-in daybed—a handy kids’ hangout and an inviting place to curl up and read.

The house is situated near others built in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, and details such as cedar shingles and brickwork on the facade, corbels flanking the entry, and steeply pitched roof gables ensure that it belongs on the street. The detached garage, steps from the back door (roof lines are 6 feet apart), harks back to the older houses, too. On a tight lot, privacy is a big question, but the home’s larger windows open out onto the backyard while smaller ones face the houses on either side.

English Angel, Cassique, S.C.

  • Awards BALA Home of the Year; Best in South Atlantic Region; Platinum, One-of-a-Kind Custom or Spec Home, 4,001–6,500 square feet 
  • Builder Buffington Homes, John’s Island, S.C. 
  • Architect Wayne Windham, Kiawah Island, S.C. 
  • Interior Designer Kathryn McGowan, Charleston, S.C. Developer Sunnyside Designs, John’s Island

For clients who wanted to build a house that paid homage to late 19th- and early 20th-century Arts & Crafts architecture, Wayne Windham went all the way. Thrust into a style he’d never really explored, Windham gave himself a crash course. He studied up on the most influential architects of the time, including Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Charles Voysey, and Sir Edwin Lutyens. He pored over books on period woodwork, furnishings, and wallpaper. What’s more, Windham hired a builder whose attention to detail was painstaking. “The subs that we used are exquisite,” he says. “They get excited about this stuff.” English Angel is faithful to its roots, down to the last transom window, but with a modern touch and awareness of its southern locale. Its interiors are airy—not a word that usually comes to mind when describing English Arts & Crafts design. There are views all around, and the woodwork—light-toned and warm—is a combination of unstained Douglas fir, oak, and engineered wood, adding to the airy feel. The twin staircases at the entry are impressive, but they’re not just for show. Sited in a golfing community, English Angel is a timeshare house with three identical master suites and three bedrooms, for a total of six bedrooms and six baths.

That mix of faithfulness to the period and right for the site extends to the home’s elevations. The herringbone beadboard trim on the windows, cedar shingles, and stucco are “Arts & Crafts to a T,” says Windham, but the stucco is tabby, a mix of crustacean shells and cement that’s native to South Carolina. For being an impressive feat of craft that’s as beautiful as it is true to its surroundings, the project nabbed the Home of the Year title.

Lincoln Park Home, Chicago

With its chic shops, great restaurants, and beautiful old brownstones, Lincoln Park is one of Chicago’s most sought-after neighborhoods. These historic streets have seen some new construction in recent years, but on the 2200 block of North Dayton, a century had passed since a new house went in. Architect Ken Brinkman set a high bar: an infill home that looked like it was built at the same time as the others, but was the nicest, most beautifully maintained house on the block.

The team studied the homes on the street, photographing each one to analyze detail and proportion. They surveyed early 20th-century row houses in New York, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., for an added sense of proportion. “Too often we’ll see homes that get the details right but are a mishmash,” Brinkman says. While many of Lincoln Park’s elegant old homes are built with white limestone, Brinkman opted for Texas red sandstone, which complements the other houses. A gabled front facade and a hip roof help the house play well with others on the street, while a half-round recessed balcony and detailed windows add historic character. Yet the home’s interior is as modern as its facade is traditional, with a light-filled, open plan. That’s not easy in a city home’s long, narrow layout. Sightlines in the gathering spaces that enable seeing the house wall to wall are a big help.

Building a $4 million infill spec house that hews to the historic character of the street isn’t for the faint of heart. The worst part of the deal was feedback from the real estate brokers. Comments like, “If you’d gone with limestone, I could have sold it in a second,” drove him nuts, and yes, there was hand-wringing. The home was 90 percent finished when it sold to empty-nesters who want a place big enough for all their kids and grandkids, and the owners are thrilled. But the acid test for Brinkman is that often when he’d park across the street and walk to the jobsite, he’d walk right by the house. It blends that well.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Grand Rapids, MI, Chicago, IL.