America's Top Models

Although varied in size, scope and approach, the winners of this year’s Contractor of the Year (CotY) Awards share one quality: Each offers a vast improvement to an existing structure.

Indeed, this year’s crop of national CotY award winners – honored by the Des Plaines, IL-based National Association of Remodeling Industry (NARI) – faced a wide range of design challenges, such as a now breath-taking kitchen that needed to function seamlessly for its physically challenged owner, or the master bath that needed to be made smaller so that the clients could comfortably manage the space.

Much like in years’ past, it is the contractor’s ability to tap into the most-detailed needs of the client that enabled this year’s class of 25 winners to stand out.

Chaden Halfhill, CR, CGR, and president of Des Moines, IA-based Silent Rivers Design Build, explains: “What set our [project] apart from the norm was how intimately we worked with the client throughout the design and construction process.”

Halfhill, whose recent kitchen remodel earned his firm top honors in the “Residential Kitchen Over $100,000” category adds: “[Therefore, we knew that] maintaining the fabric of the house was an important [part of the project.]”

Michael Anschel, whose firm – Otogawa-Anschel Design Build, LLC in Minneapolis, MN – earned a CotY award for the “Residential Bath $30,000 to $60,000” category, adds that this approach also helps design professionals gain insight into current kitchen and bath design trends.

“The big trend in bathroom design is the demand for a larger walk-in shower that also has a steam generator,” he offers.

Other categories represented at this year’s CotY Awards were “Residential Bath Over $60,000,” “Residential Kitchen Over $100,000” and “Home Theater and Media Rooms,” among others, the association noted.

To be considered for this year’s CotY Awards, entrants needed to be a NARI member in good standing, and were judged on various criteria, including problem solving, functionality, aesthetics, craftsmanship, innovations, degree of difficulty and entry presentation, the association further added.

On this and the following five pages, Kitchen & Bath Design News showcases some of the national winners of this year’s Contractor of the Year (CotY) Awards competition.

Residential Bath Under $30,000
Designer Captures French Victorian Look and Earns National Honors

These are the sentiments of Vance Dato, president and designer for D&D Remodel Design in Irving, TX, who was recently asked to recapture the high-end, 1920s French Victorian look of a client’s master bath. It was this precise approach that earned Dato national honors in the “Bath Under $30,000” category of this year’s CotY Awards.

“When the client gives me free reign, I’m able to do all of the architecture and designing to the period of the home,” he says.

Dato used Kohler’s Memoir Suite as the basis for the design, and combined the products with basket weave, 1/4"x1/4" marble flooring, he notes.

“The client also picked out a couple of mosaic bands that we installed in the shower,” he says, adding that the look was accented by glass blocks.

But, the process was not cut-and-dry.

“Somebody had tried to remodel this bathroom back in the 1960s, but the results were [terrible],” he points out.

He adds: “They had the tub supply line and the commode right beside each other. You actually had to lean over the commode to do anything!”

He continues: “After we took that apart, you could tell that there was a shower in there. Rearranging everything made things so much more functional.”

To add light, Dato used recessed can lighting on the wall and integrated the sconces with medicine wall cabinets.

Storage also played a big role in the design, he suggests. “[The previous bath had] minimal storage, until we developed the (2'x3') closet with eight adjustable shelves. The client can now store his personal hygiene items,” he explains.

Completing the look is a Memoir holder rack from Kohler, with a towel rack placed below.

Residential Bath $30,000 to $60,000
Reduced-Sized Bathroom Creates Big Design Possibilities for Designer

Simply stated, bigger is not always better. Just ask Michael Anschel, who was recently faced with an unusual design request.

“Being asked to make a bathroom smaller is not something that happens very often,” says Anschel, who is owner/designer for Otogawa-Anschel Design Build, LLC in Minneapolis, MN. As Anschel relates, the clients felt that the original, 150-square-foot master bathroom was too large for two people and was neither comfortable nor attractive.

But, since the firm had worked with the clients before, Anschel believed that he had a good sense of their stylistic needs and that he would capture every design detail.

The results earned the firm the national CotY award for the “Residential Bath $30,000 to $60,000” category.

He explains: “By taking the excess space from the [now 85-square-foot] bathroom, their small bedroom closet could become much larger and more functional.”

He continues: “Working around the existing stool [toilet] location and two existing windows – so as to avoid additional costs – we created the angled walls of the steam shower so that it could accommodate two people, but not pinch flow to the rest of the room.”

Furthermore, he points out that there is also a small stepped half wall that provides privacy for the stool [toilet], but doesn’t create a distracting cave effect. Anschel notes that he incorporated a variety of high-end products into the design, as well, including a Panasonic ultra-quiet fan, Grohe faucets, a Delta shower valve, the Bolero 12" round undermount sinks from Kohler Co. and toilet from Kohler Co.’s Memoirs Suite Collection.

Custom cabinetry by Otogawa-Anschel Design Build (and built by Stevens Cabinets) was enhanced by a remnant of granite on the vanity, extending past the vanity and becoming a shelf and beauty station. Remnant granite was also used for the seat in the steam shower,” he describes. “The edges were hand-drawn and cut to complement the organic nature of the stone, while also enhancing the flow of the room.”

He continues: “With seven structured faces – each containing a different set-up of drawers and doors – we created a structure that flows with the rest of the home.” Accenting the look are knobs and towel bars from Anne at Home, light fixtures from Bessa, tile flooring from The Tile Shop, glass tile shower accents from Oceanside Glass and Casa Dolce Casa tile on the shower walls.

“This master bath is now spa-like, and the clients love to spend time in it. It’s warm and comfortable, functional, and appropriate to their home,” he concludes.

Residential Bath Over $60,000
Firm Earns National Honors With Dramatic, European-Styled Bath

Ask Thomas Buckborough the key to a successful bath design, and he will tell you “the difference is in the details.”

After all, a keen focus on the details of this bath design earned Buckborough, CKD, CR, president and design director for Thomas Buckborough & Associates, in Concord, MA, top honors in the “Residential Bath Over $60,000” category of this year’s CotY awards.

He offers: “The clients were looking for a dramatic, contemporary refuge with sleek, Euro-style detailing.” To show the client how materials mix together, Buckborough built a ¾" scale interior model of the bathroom space, he notes.

“We had materials to switch in and out of the model. It was very cool,” he says.

The bath features glass tile by Oceanside Glass, “cut” faucets and accessories by Boffi, a Porcher L’expression toilet and showerhead, and a valve and handshower by Lacava. He adds: “The suite is entered through a short hall that’s separated from the bath by art glass partitions with a door and a sculptural storage block.”

Buckborough perforated the flooring with accents of the yellow marble counter material, while the walls were accented with bronze squiggle tiles.

The mahogany vanity features aluminum legs and patina bronze vessel sinks, while the soaking tub is set in its own alcove with glass block and a curved soffit for lighting. The layers of lighting are set by a Lutron lighting control system, he adds.

“The attention to detailing and materials really created a stunning retreat,” he concludes.

Residential Kitchen $30,000 to $60,000
Designer Combines Best of All Worlds in Striking Remodeled Kitchen

Needing to integrate a variety of functions into a client’s remodeled kitchen, Ali Smith, designer for Kresge Contracting, Inc. in Columbus, OH, simply combined the best of all worlds.

She explains: “The homeowner wanted designated areas for food preparation and home administration, as well as increased workspace, increased storage and increased routes to the kitchen so that the kitchen was integrated with the surrounding areas.”

She continues: “Our goal was to integrate the kitchen with the unused dining room and provide a clean design that expressed the clients taste and personality. The result was an upgrade that [gave the impression that the house] was brand new.”

Indeed, it was these results that earned Smith top honors in the “Residential Kitchen $30,000 to $60,000” category of this year’s CotY Awards.

To that end, Smith opened up the kitchen and seldom-used dining and living room to integrate the two rooms.

According to Smith, the kitchen also required incorporating a variety of high-end products into the design. Among the products she selected were an 18-gauge undermount sink from Blanco; a chrome faucet from Delta’s Michael Graves Collection, a Jenn-Air dual-fuel downdraft range and a dishwasher, and stainless steel refrigerator from KitchenAid. Complementing these products are Venetian gold granite with a standard pencil edge, as well as Medallion cabinetry and hardware from Top Knobs.

To add a casual feel to the space, Smith chose dual finishes for the cabinetry – a creamy white paint with a glaze and a medium-toned stain.

“This was done to provide relief from the monotony that can occur when a kitchen has too much of one color, or in this case, a stain color,” she describes.

Furthermore, Smith also had the wall between the kitchen and dining room removed – simultaneously integrating and opening up the space.

“It was a load-bearing wall, but to get the island that the homeowner wanted, it needed to be removed,” she notes. She continues: “We replaced the wall with two 1-3/4"x14" LVL beams that were supported on both ends by three jacks. A 24"x24"x12" deep, concrete-pier footing was installed with a steel post [that served to] support the triple jack in the center of the home.”

This caused some unique design challenges, Smith adds. “[As a result] we had to reroute a heat stack that was in the wall. We ran it under the floor, across the kitchen and up the wall to the right of the desk area – extending the soffit above the bay window to accommodate the run.”

To that end, the island was split into two levels, so when a person is sitting at the island, they are not at the level of the cooktop. This provided some aesthetic and functional value, as well.

“When the family is sitting at the table, any pots and pans associated with making the meal are conveniently hidden from view,” she says.

Smith notes that, since the kitchen was opened into the existing formal dining room, the dinette area was no longer needed.

Therefore, to accommodate the client’s administration needs, a desk was designed to follow the angles of the existing bay window, while it also offered a filing cabinet and a hole in the custom-made, Wenge wood countertop to permanently house the client’s laptop.

According to Smith, the previous incarnation of the kitchen had insufficient lighting, requiring her to update the space with recessed can lighting.

In order to achieve a layered lighting effect, she put in undercabinet lighting as well as placed two pendants over the island to create an intimate feel. She also notes that by removing the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, natural light shines through the picture window on the side of the house.

Smith suggests that storage was a key consideration as well.

“The original kitchen had multiple countertops that, because of their small size, were unused and became dead spaces,” she explains. “The counter space was also broken up by the pantry, and the shelves of the pantry were too deep to keep inventory or easily access the contents.”

To remedy this, Smith integrated stacked cabinets that allow the homeowners to keep infrequently used items in the kitchen, but out of the way.

“The new design provides longer runs of counterspace that were made possible by shifting appliance placement. For instance, there is a run that is 45" to the right of the sink and placed conveniently to the left of the refrigerator,” she points out.

The large, drawer base to the left of the refrigerator stores pots and pans, which “is [very beneficial] because the full height of the area is utilized, but pots and pans are still accessible,” she continues.

Capping off the design, Smith notes, are lighting from Murray Feiss and Thomas Lighting, as well as engineered hardwood flooring in Amendoim.

Residential Kitchen $60,000 to $100,000
Designer Converts Small, 1940s Kitchen into a National Award Winner

As many kitchen and bath designers know, reconfiguring a kitchen project so that it integrates seamlessly with other portions of the home can be like a jigsaw puzzle. But, it can also be quite satisfying when the pieces fit.

Such was the case for Kent Eberle, CR, CKBR of Sacramento, CA-based Eberle Remodeling, who was asked to renovate this previously undersized kitchen.

He offers: “The old home, built in the 1940s, consisted of small spaces and a small lot, so enlarging the space was not feasible. Plus, a second story was added above the kitchen several years prior, therefore eliminating the possibility of higher ceilings or skylights.”

However, Eberle was not only able to overcome these space constraints, but was also able to create the desired country aesthetics needed, thus earning his firm top honors in the “Residential Kitchen $60,000 to $100,000” category.

To that end, Eberle used a combination of stainless steel appliances as well as brass and copper “De Dion” fixtures from Herbau, complemented with granite countertops in Azur Mahogany and a full bullnose edge treatment.

The firm also selected painted-grade cabinetry with raised panel doors to better satisfy the client’s desire for multiple colored cabinets and a homey feel.

“Two painted cabinet colors and the knotty alder cabinets were beautifully blended to provide an unfitted, country style-look,” he describes.

Conversely, Eberle notes that beadboard paneling was utilized to accentuate the country feel of the kitchen and continued to flow with the adjacent areas in the dining room. “The granite slab countertops and the farm-style kitchen sink serve to enhance the country feel of the kitchen as well,” he points out.

But, before he could accomplish this, he had to overcome some pressing concerns.

“There were many unexpected and expensive dry rot repairs, as well as illegal framing [issues]. We also needed to make updates of antiquated plumbing and electrical and mechanical repairs, which ultimately added substantially to project costs,” he explains.

For Eberle, his design solution required reconfiguring the existing chopped up spaces in the home – which included the kitchen, laundry area, bedroom /office area, and closet – to create a seamless, integrated feel to the entire home.

“The existing floorplan was reconfigured [with the sole purpose] of increasing functionality,” he adds.

To that end, not only was the existing bedroom/office area separated from the kitchen (with all bedrooms relocated upstairs), but a new laundry area was developed in the existing closet space, and the kitchen and dining room opening was relocated for easier access to both areas.

According to Eberle, it was also important for natural light to flow into the kitchen, primarily as a means to bring the client’s lush backyard “into” the space and to generate more light at night.

Therefore, wood-clad windows and doors were designed for the back of the house, to allow for natural light and to create more exposure to the client’s garden.

Eberle also incorporated recessed can lights, pendant lighting and hockey puck lighting to provide dramatic and improved illumination at night, he adds.

Residential Kitchen Over $100,000
Team Efforts Result in a Unique Design Connection with Kitchen Remodel

In kitchen and bath design terms, making a connection quite often requires a team effort.

This was certainly the case for this dramatic kitchen remodel, which was the result of a collaborative effort between designers Chaden Halfhill and Carl Rogers, both of Silent Rivers Design Build, based in Des Moines, IA.

In fact, Halfhill adds that the pair also received critical help from design team members Loren Starr, Tom Terry, Tom Bloxham, Jason Anderson and Rob Vandemark, as well as worked closely with the client throughout the design and construction process.

According to Halfhill, the goal was to establish a central core for the client to prep, cook, clean and entertain, while keeping the kitchen visually connected and accessible from all directions.

“[The client] needed to maintain clear views of her children, and wanted the kitchen to function as the center of the home,” he says. “A prerequisite was to maintain the architectural flavor of the home, especially retaining the brick floor and the cedar ceiling.”

To accomplish this, the design team expanded the refrigeration cabinet to include a closet next to the freezer, which allowed for needed storage – while also maintaining the custom-paneled repetition established by the side-by-side freezer/refrigerator combination.

“This third unit provides storage for coats, while the repeating Sub-Zero grill plate allows ventilation for the concealed audio booster equipment,” he says.

But, the project was not without its challenges.

“When we removed all of the wall surfaces of the existing kitchen, we discovered that the original framing had failed in several locations. Improperly installed support beams and headers had allowed certain areas to sag as much as ¾". So, we restored [as needed],” he says.

He notes that the steel posts added a one-of-a-kind element for the project, as well.

“The steel posts helped generate a visual detail, but their existence was critical to the structure of the house,” he says. “We needed to support the floor and roof loads above, yet minimize obstructions for the cook.”

He continues: “Entry to the kitchen from the front door aligns with the large cooking island, piquing interest and inviting one to enter the kitchen. Walking through a wall of cabinets, this entry is demarcated by cantilevered shelves and a suggested metal ‘arch’ above.”

The team also incorporated hand-made, rusted steel panels to better define the space.

He explains: “The panels were inspired by a rusted photo frame that the client had collected, so we explored ways to force and control rust on the metal, [eventually] finding a gun-cleaning solution that created the tones we desired.”

Halfhill also adds that the project took an unexpected twist midway through its construction.

“As we began to reinstall cabinetry and apply interior finishes, the lead artisan for this project decided to change careers!” he says. “We were fortunate that others in the company stepped in to help fulfill the vision of the kitchen.”

Storage was also a concern, as the design team created a hidden pocket door to provide access to a mini-office that controls the intercom system for the house.

Lastly, Halfhill notes that the breakfast bar in the great room provides an area for the client’s children to access drink drawers.

“The visual intent was to link the kitchen and the great room with common cabinetry [and] subtle distinctions,” he concludes.

Residential Universal Design
Kitchen Offers Improved Flexibility for Physically Challenged Client

Asked to renovate a kitchen for a handicapped client, Sean Delauney used his previous experiences to point the way.

Delauney, designer and salesperson for Nash Construction, Inc. in Marshall, VA, explains: “This client developed confidence in our capabilities on a previous project, after which the person hired us to fine-tune their ideas, and complete what would ultimately become a complex renovation.” He continues: “We worked closely with the kitchen cabinet designer and owners to create a cabinet layout that complemented the home [while providing] practicality for complete wheelchair access.”

He notes that the cabinet features included a wall of cabinetry to house a double oven, pantry, built-in china cabinet with buffet counter and desk, and a peninsula on the back side of the sink to house additional cabinets.

It is these efforts that earned Delauney top honors in the “Residential Universal Design,” category for this year’s CotY Awards.

He adds: “We needed to create a kitchen that was functional and wheelchair accessible, and to improve the flow of foot traffic from the entry through the kitchen and living room and into the two bedrooms, new bath and laundry area.” To that end, the sink and cooktop were left open below the counter for [easy] operation from a wheelchair.

The kitchen itself offered design challenges for Delauney.

“The existing home was a collection of additions with no consideration to pre-existing finished floor heights,” he says. “This was especially prominent in the patio area, where we needed to connect three different levels to one for handicap access.” To remedy this, he added a paneled pedestal at the intersection of the dining room, kitchen and foyer to create a blind, which disguised the tapered transition.

Regarding the kitchen island, Delauney says: “The island included a drop-down counter for the client to assist in kitchen duties or plug in his computer.”

Likewise, Delauney added a large tile backsplash behind the gas cooktop and custom wood mantlepiece to conceal the exhaust hood.

“By using superior materials and techniques, such as natural woods, granite, tumbled marble, warm paint colors, radiant floor heat and a tray ceiling with indirect lighting, we created a ‘hub’ filled with warmth and Old World elegance where the family could interact comfortably,” he concludes.

Home Theater & Media Rooms
Designer Raises the Curtain on Dramatic Media Room Design

When clients request a sneak preview of a media room renovation, it is always better for kitchen and bath designers to strive for a blockbuster.

Such was the case with this French Deco-inspired media room, which earned IKB, Inc. in Los Altos, CA, top honors in the “Home Theater & Media Rooms” category for this year’s CotY awards.

Created by senior designer, Katrina Brinkman, the media room features a classic theater feel, complete with Yoda (of Star Wars fame) happily selling tickets in the entranceway ticket booth.

According to Brinkman, a soffit was built to house the projector, screen, front speaker, and window treatment hardware, as well as give added interest and height to the space.

She continues: “Colors were derived from the carpet and a granite slab was installed at the front of the room to create the feeling of a stage.”

To that end, Brinkman also incorporated convex detailing and reeding to the front cabinets to echo the deco details, while a grand window treatment features tassels, bullion and trim to create an authentic movie house appeal.

Another unique aspect of the theater is the velvet fabric that was paper-backed and applied to the wall, and then trimmed out with gimp to finish the edges, she adds.

Completing the classical look of the media room are downlights, which are connected to a programmable system for smooth, even lighting, she concludes.