Real-life remodels: Tips and trends from this year's Design Awards

October 5, 2011

If there’s one theme that runs through this year’s Professional Remodeler Design Awards, presented this month, it’s practical.

After years of seeing over-the-top remodels that, frankly, didn’t always make a lot of sense (does anyone really need a $250,000 bathroom?), it’s a refreshing change.

During the last dozen years that I’ve been judging and covering industry awards, I always felt a little uncomfortable with the image we were putting forward with the winners. After all, even during the boom, it was only a small portion of remodelers that were doing the big, flashy projects.

This trend toward needs-based also is positive in another way: It’s a more sustainable market. During the boom, the growth in remodeling was being driven by an incredibly small portion of homeowners. That’s a dangerous way to build any industry.
Here are four trends that emerged from this year’s awards:

  • Smaller projects are big, so to speak — This is no surprise considering what’s going on in the industry. Just one example: The Kitchens over $100,000 category, once the most interesting and competitive category, had only a handful of entries, none of which wowed the judges. (Although we did still get a $175,000 bathroom — complete with chandelier.)
  • Green fading? — Where was the green? We had a handful of great green projects that the judges recognized, but the trend of touting the green in every project seems to have passed. Our reader surveys have shown a decreasing willingness by homeowners to embrace any green features that add cost and this seems to further enforce that. The question in my mind is is this because green is going away, or because what we used to consider green is just becoming a part of the normal way of doing business, as advocates have long predicted? My guess it’s a little of both, with energy efficiency, low- and no-VOC paints and improved insulation now part of everyday life. The extreme green, though, still seems to be of interest to only a small group of homeowners.
  • Basements finished — Finished basements had been a growing category throughout the last decade, but this year we received just a few entries. It seems homeowners are instead choosing to spend their money on more needs-based remodels like kitchens and baths.
  • The entry is as important as the project — Year after year, I see remodelers shoot themselves in the foot by submitting great projects with subpar photos or sparse descriptions. As one judge wrote in his comments this year: “Nice-looking project, but you didn’t tell me enough about what you did.”

We also asked the judges for their opinions on trends, as well as for tips on putting together a winning project. Go to to see their thoughts and advice.

Jonathan Sweet is the editor in chief of Professional Remodeler, an award-winning trade publication for remodelers and home improvement contractors. He started his career covering homes and small businesses at a daily newspaper and has spent more than a decade writing for several construction trade publications including Qualified Remodeler, Construction Pro and Concrete Contractor+Jonathan Sweet


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