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Home Design Details That Add Distinction

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Home Design Details That Add Distinction

Drawn from winners of the 2020 Best in American Living Awards, these design details can inspire home builders with fresh new ways to differentiate their homes in a competitive market

By Stacey Freed April 30, 2021
Clerestory windows with a fireplace in the home's great room
This band of clerestory windows tops the expansive glass doors surrounding a steel-wrapped fireplace that anchors the great room in this BALA winner. |  Photo: Mark Boisclair Photography

Home builders often walk the fine line between delivering homes that satisfy consumer demand for something different (or even unique) and homes that also are familiar and timeless.

Today's consumers increasingly follow Instagram influencers, watch how-to home design shows, read magazines, and scour Houzz.com, among other sources, to find new inspiration ... but also to validate what they already like. The push-pull of that modern dynamic creates a kind of zeitgeist—or, in housing lingo, a trend.

Here, we present four current trends with examples pulled from winners of the 2020 Best in American Living Awards (BALA) to inspire and influence your next project.

Trend 1: Blue Hues and Color Palettes

In December 2019, Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of Pantone’s Color Institute, told AdPro, “Blue, from an emotional, psychological standpoint, has always represented a certain amount of calm and dependability. It’s a color that you can rely on.”

And that's how a trend is born. From backsplash tile to bedroom paint and beyond, blue is infiltrating and, to some degree, defining today's color palette in residential design.

Modern farmhouse with blue hues in kitchen and living spaces


Everything ties together in this modern farmhouse, from the kitchen's light-blue backsplash tile and blue-toned cabinetry to the art elements, furniture accessories, and tchotchkes. |  Photo: Joshua Caldwell

Project: Sterling Grove-The Smithfield  Location: Surprise, Ariz.  Architect: KTGY Architecture + Planning  Builder: Toll Brothers  Interiors: Design Line Interiors  Market: 55+  Size: 1,529 square feet

Craftsman-style home with blue hues in the kitchen


Water views inspired the blue palette in this Craftsman-style home. Backsplash tile along with various blue hues chosen for walls in the kitchen, bathrooms, hallways, and bedrooms create a cohesive, calming ambiance. |  Photo: Ashley Avila Photography

Calming blue for porch and kitchen


The blue wood ceiling of the home's screened porch is echoed in the blue-gray stone of the two-sided fireplace, which brings the color indoors. |  Photo: Ashley Avila Photography

Project: Bayou Low Country  Location: Saugatuck, Mich.  Architect: 42 North-Architecture + Design  Builder: Cnossen Construction  Interiors: Whit and Willow  Market: Custom  Size: 1,870 square feet

Blue hues in the kitchen look fresh


The kitchen’s large, dark blue island base helps center the space as the heart of this farmhouse home. Patterned backsplash tile adds visual interest and movement to the kitchen’s clean lines. |  Photo: David Patterson Photography

Project: Solstice  Location: Littleton, Colo.  Designer: DTJ Design  Builder: Shea Homes  Interiors: HRI Design  Market: Move-up  Size: 3,538 square feet


Trend 2: Designs With Clerestory Windows 

Originally a feature in Romanesque or Gothic church naves, clerestory windows—a high section of wall containing windows above eye level—tick all of the boxes for what consumers want in contemporary homes: they bring in natural light that, because of their placement, is ambient and can help keep a home cooler in summer and warmer in winter; if operable, the windows also allow for air circulation; and their height provides privacy while preserving eye-level wall space for furnishings, artwork, or books.

Clerestory windows are a particular favorite for designers of mid-century modern houses and are a great choice for smaller homes that may not be able to pull off large glazed areas. But while clerestories are growing in popularity, they’re still used infrequently enough to make them feel like a special and unique design feature. 

Clerestory window in the bedroom for light and a glimpse of nature


The modern farmhouse–style home is on a narrow (0.23 acres) lot in a newly constructed pocket neighborhood. The clerestory windows in this small bedroom offer privacy and allow residents to place furniture without worrying they’ll block incoming natural light. |  Photo: Tim Burleson/The Frontier Group

Project: Town Walk-Alderney  Location: Weaverville, N.C.  Builder/Designer: Red Tree Builders  Market: Move-up  Size: 2,306 square feet

Clerestory windows in the living room of a modern home


Clerestory windows make an appearance in nearly every room of this custom home, optimizing the forested hillsides of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and adding another layer of interest to the home’s modern design. | Photo: Mark Herboth Photography

Project: Solomon Circle  Location: Hendersonville, N.C.  Builder/Designer: BlueStone Construction  Market: Custom  Size: 2,260 square feet

Clerestory windows used in a covered patio


Clerestories aren't just for the main house. For this home’s covered patio, the windows provide unique modern accents as well as visual interest, ambient light, and access to great views. |  Photo: Manolo Langis/Lango Works

Project: Bay Front  Location: Newport Beach, Calif. Architect: Brandon Architects  Builder: Patterson Custom Homes  Interiors: Tru Studio  Market: Custom  Size: 5,042 square feet

Clerestory windows with a fireplace in the living space


This band of clerestory windows tops generously sized glass doors that surround a massive steel-wrapped fireplace in the home's great room, which serves to connect the indoor and outdoor living areas. |  Photo: Mark Boisclair Photography

Project: Urban Modern  Location: Paradise Valley, Ariz.  Architect: Drewett Works // Architecture  Builder: Bedbrock Developers  Interiors: Ownby Design  Market: Move-up luxury  Size: 5,625 square feet


Trend 3: For Home Décor, Black Is the New Black

Just as the little black dress is known throughout the fashion world for its versatility and elegance, so too are black elements in the home design realm. The trend for clean lines starts with black, evoking simplicity through lighting and plumbing fixtures, appliances, cabinetry, windows, and decorative wall elements. Every home style from traditional to transitional and modern gets an immediate dramatic boost from black accents. 

Black highlights add drama in this modern kitchen


Black cabinets along with a black range hood, pendant lighting, and wood trim create a crisp, clean feel in this mid-century modern residence, while also adding a level of sophistication and richness to this collection of compact, alley-loaded homes. |  Photo: Eric Lucero Photography

Project: Painted Prairie  Location: Aurora, Colo.  Designer: DTJ Design  Builder: McStain Neighborhoods  Market: Millennial middle-income  Size: 2,151 square feet

Black and white bathroom design


In this bathroom, precise black lines define spaces and highlight architectural shapes, turning something that could be plain into a space with punch. The tile harkens back to—and elevates—classic 1960s black-and-white treatments. |  Photo: Joshua Caldwell Photography

Project: The Calistoga at Sterling Grove-Sonoma Collection  Location: Surprise, Ariz.  Architect: BSB Design  Builder: Toll Brothers  Interiors: Est-Est  Market: Empty Nesters  Size: 2,730 square feet

Wood tones with black provide texture and drama in this kitchen


The kitchen's crisp look is accentuated by the black cabinetry, range hood, appliances, and light pendants, while a distinctive ceiling beam treatment helps define the space, adding depth and dimension. |  Photo: Rachel Kay/Applebox Imaging

Project: Lavish Lake Living  Location: Austin, Texas  Builder/Designer: Sterling Custom Homes  Interiors: Mary DeWalt Design Group  Market: Second move-up/Luxury  Size: 3,541 square feet

Black and white graphic bedroom


In the bedroom of this modern lakeside home, a black Mondrian-like wall element adds texture and visual interest. |  Photo: Rachel Kay/Applebox Imaging

Project: Lavish Lake Living  Location: Austin, Texas  Builder/Designer: Sterling Custom Homes  Interiors: Mary DeWalt Design Group  Market: Second move-up/Luxury  Size: 3,541 square feet


Trend 4: Creative Thinking in Lighting

The advent of LED lighting created new ways for designers to enhance ambiance, add sculptural elements to spaces, and improve the functionality of a variety of rooms. Taken a step further, when LEDs are an art element in and of themselves, they impact the way a fixture looks.

Creative thinking in LED lighting design sees home designers using chandeliers inside and out, employing lighting in the living room as statement pieces, and using wall sconces for additional layering.

Clever lighting in the kitchen looks like a range hood but is not


Lighting as trompe l'oeil. This horizontal LED light fixture hanging from translucent wiring over the bar area in this home adds a touch of  whimsy by tricking the eye into seeing a range hood above the countertop. | Photo: Atanas Kan/StudioM87

Project: Chicago Modern  Location: Chicago  Builder/Designer: United Chicago Builders  Market: Millennial market-rate  Size: 3,000 square feet

Matt black and gold living room


Matte black and gold work well together in this interior. The curving forms of the sculptural fixture that hangs from the living room ceiling offer a fun counterpoint to the solidity and straight lines of the oversize pendants hanging over the kitchen island and the cluster of light bulbs that hang in the dining area. |  Photo: Kerry Kirk Photography

Project: Caruthers  Location: Houston  Builder/Designer: Frankel Building Group  Market: Custom  Size: 6,343 square feet

Black pendant task lighting adds a sculptural feel to the open-plan kitchen/living space


Task lighting need not be boring. In this luxury apartment, a cluster of black pendant lights in various shapes are hung at different lengths above the kitchen island and dining area for a beautiful, sculptural effect, and play off the black-finished drop ceiling in the living room.| Photo: Scott Goodson

Project: Rise & Bolden  Location: Tysons, Va  Developer: Kettler  Builder: Clark Construction  Interiors: Perkins Eastman  Market: Multifamily; Millennial and Empty Nesters  Size: 573 to 1,399 square feet

LED lighting used creatively on stairs, in a home theater, and in a wine room


In this contemporary home, the media room (upper left), staircase, and wine tasting room all benefit from the use of energy- and space-efficient LED lighting, which aids in way-finding while also adding ambiance. | Photo: Roger Davies

Project: Ridge House  Location: Los Angeles  Architect: Landry Design Group  Builder: Peter McCoy Construction  Interiors: The Wiseman Group  Market: Custom  Size: 12,300 square feet


Stacey Freed writes about design from her home in Pittsford, N.Y. and is a frequent contributor to Pro Builder Media.



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