Each September our REMODELING Design Awards showcases the best projects from the previous year. Managing the contest is a major undertaking that begins in late winter with a call for entries and culminates with a day of judging in late spring. The goal is both to recognize the very best work of our industry and to inspire our readers to strive for ever-higher standards of performance.

Every year I address the assembled judges, who are either working remodeling contractors or architects (sometimes both), and every year I exhort them to guard against allowing the judging to become a beauty contest. I worry that good projects will get passed over because of some shortcoming in the photography or because the owner's taste in furniture wasn't up to snuff.

And every year I worry in vain because good design looks good, and our judges always know it when they see it.


Yes, they have hundreds of entries to review, but it's remarkable what the trained eye can see at a glance. Just as most remodelers can, in a casual walk-through, size up potential problems with a given site and evaluate their effect on project cost, design professionals know what they are looking for in the awards entries, and they know when they have found it. And, they absolutely know when it's missing.

That doesn't mean that they always agree: It seems that as the selection deadline draws closer, speeches are given, objections are countered, and comparisons are made. Through all of this give-and-take, the photography is never a factor. Instead, the focus of the debate ranges from execution of the program to consistency of design vision to compatibility of details, even to practical considerations — about whether, for example, an elegant stair baluster will wobble when in use. (Our editors take notes throughout the judging, and some of this issue's most instructive reading is in the judges' comments.)

I hope that this year's winning projects inspire pride, regardless of the type or scale of work you do. Even the smallest handyman job deserves good design. These award winners remind us that every remodeling project solves a problem, expands someone's horizon, makes an existing space useful again, or makes it more useful than it has ever been.

Good remodeling design is a measured and appropriate response to the changing needs of a structure's occupants. It fulfills not only those who use the renewed spaces but also those who conceive of them and those who bring them into being.

Sal Alfano
Editorial Director