And The Winner Is: Takeaways From the Winners of the 2015 Best in American Living Awards

The outside of a large, beautiful house showing the walking steps, green grass and a couple of trees.

Rio Estancia, a home located in the Texas Hill Country in Boerne, Texas, was named the Home of the Year, in the 2015 Best in American Living Awards competition. The home is designed in the fashion of the South American Estancia tradition of pavilion living. Photo Courtesy of the Best in American Living awards program.

Every year the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recognizes design excellence and innovation in new homes with the Best in American Living Awards (BALA).

This year, top honors went to a single-family home, Rio Estancia
, located in the Texas Hill Country in Boerne, Texas. (The team behind the Home of the Year includes Craig McMahon Architect, Inc., builder Studio Industrielle, interior designer Anna Meyers Interiors and land planner Rialto Studio.) Taking a cue from the South American Estancia tradition of pavilion living, the home’s inventive design features four different zones, or pavilions, grouped around a central courtyard.

Giving equal attention to private and public spaces, this layout also makes use of its dramatic setting: 350 acres along the Guadalupe River. “The home feels as though it has been an integral part of the landscape from the beginning of time. Beautifully designed, rugged yet luxurious, this home brings the outside indoors,” said BALA Chairman Stephen Moore, senior partner at BSB Design in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Rio Estancia was one of 93 properties that came away with a BALA at the recent International Builders Show (IBS), held jointly with the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show in Las Vegas in January.

Stellar, one-of-a-kind homes might capture attention, but the biggest takeaways from these awards are the changes in architecture and design that the winners bring to light, showcasing innovative features that will play out in homes over the next several years. This year, the overall trend continues to be a move toward simplification of design and the greater use of natural materials.

Rio Estancia’s layout underscores the importance of the connection between indoor and outdoor spaces. Outdoor living might not be a new trend, but increasingly the interaction between the indoors and outdoors is central to both floor plans and to the way homes work.

And it’s not limited to warm climates. “More than a patio in back of the house, now it’s a design space that is important to the house. No matter where you live, in the city or country, outdoor living has become integral to the day-to-day life in a home,” explains BALA judge Dan O’Malley, of M/I Homes in Naperville, Ill.

Look for more integration of inside and outside with larger windows, disappearing glass walls, courtyards, roof decks and more transitional spaces.

Another way this trend plays out can be seen in pools. No longer relegated to a distant place in the yard, they continue to move closer to interiors, becoming as much a design element as a place to play.

White on white continues to dominate kitchen design, but this classic look has become more refined with layered tones and increased attention to detail. Industrial textures are being introduced, but only in muted or white options. Kitchen islands are another trend that continues to expand — literally, with more than one island becoming the norm — even in production homes — as kitchens become a center for entertaining. The configuration usually includes one island devoted to food prep, with the second used for whatever a family desires. Often this replaces the formal dining room, as was the case with 
The New American Home, a concept house featured at IBS. New configurations cited by BALA judges included two islands placed side by side. 

Details Matter

Across the board, more attention is being paid to details as streamlined spaces call attention to finishes and small details such as how a handrail meets a stair. Textures, including ceramic and stone, are used to highlight or call attention to a space. The execution is well thought out, often making classic details a catalyst that brings together major parts of a simple space.

Modern design is taking on a softer, more organic edge as natural materials are paired with industrial materials such as steel and glass. A great example can be seen in the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., kitchen described as a “modern classic” that captured the platinum “Kitchen of the Year” award. (The team behind this kitchen includes Smith & Moore Architects, builder, Couture Lifestyle Homes, interior designer Paul Hartogh of Wetherlys Interiors and developer Couture Lifestyle Homes.)

In this home, European walnut wood paneling on a feature wall extends across a section of the ceiling, defines the space and softens the look of linen-white gloss lacquer cabinets. Interestingly, the integrated refrigerator/freezer is finished in ivory faux-leather and framed in European walnut, so it appears to be a modern furniture piece. 

Also scoring high with architects and designers in the annual competition are places to escape everyday life, often dubbed getaway rooms. “Homes are being designed with relaxation in mind,” said Moore and relaxation spaces whether it’s a room with a view, a game room or even a garage space turned into a stage and performing area are becoming popular.

Wine rooms and bars are no longer just for avid collectors with deep pockets. Instead, wine is finding its way into many homes, often beautifully filling spaces that would otherwise go to waste. Examples from BALA judges include wine displays, and even bars, in spaces under stairs. “Wet bar nooks are adding to the overall encouragement of relaxing and enjoying time at home,” BALA judges explained. 

Just when we thought they were passé, a whole new generation of free-standing sculptural tubs in a range of materials is bringing new pizzazz to bathrooms, becoming the centerpiece.

On the other hand, grand foyers might be on the way to becoming has beens. “Entries are still well designed but the amount of space allocated to the entrance is shrinking. Large pivoting doors are making a grand statement, but open immediately into the main living space of the home,” BALA judges noted. 

Another shift can be seen in the move away from car-centric design. Instead, garages might be rear- or side-loaded features or have designer doors, making them focal and statement pieces.

Features getting more attention in community designs are sidewalks, bike paths and community gathering spaces.

Camilla McLaughlin is an award-winning writer specializing in house and home. Her work has appeared in leading online and print publications, such as Yahoo! Real Estate, Unique Homes magazine and Realtor Magazine. She has also freelanced for the Associated Press.

Related Articles

Sign up for the Home of the Week

New Home 101
New eBook Available

Expert Advice on Buying & Building a New Home

The eBook will be delivered to your inbox. We will not share your email address.