Inviting new homes, clever renovations, sophisticated kitchens and bathrooms, unexpected housing details: In a year that could have seen reduced interest thanks to the upheaval and distraction of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ottawa designers, builders and renovators found a way to carry on, finishing enough projects to enter 250 of them in the 2021 Housing Design Awards.
That was on par with the 258 entries in 2020, when projects comprised mostly pre-pandemic efforts.
“I was certain the participation would decline,” says Linda Oliveri Blanchard, who chairs the awards committee. “I had accepted the idea that entering projects to win awards would be the last thing on builders’ and renovators’ minds. Boy, did they prove me wrong.”
This year’s entries were whittled down to 181 finalists in 52 categories and winners were announced Nov. 19 at a video premiere hosted by the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA).
Although GOHBA had hoped to return to an in-person gala this year for the annual awards presentation, that was not possible thanks to the long lead-up time needed to plan the event, combined with pandemic protocols that were in flux earlier this year. The awards gala is typically a formal dinner celebration attended by several hundred.
Instead, finalists and design enthusiasts watched the virtual 2021 Housing Design Awards, which was emceed for the fourth year in a row by comedian and TV host James Cunningham.
This year’s winners — in categories ranging from production and custom homes to renovations, kitchens and bathrooms, housing details and green innovations — were a mix of industry veterans and newcomers, with several companies winning four or more trophies each.
“I was very impressed with all the entries,” says judge Mike Carruthers of land development firm Ladco Company in Winnipeg. “It’s pretty obvious that the quality of construction in Ottawa is top rate.”
Topping the winners list were Claridge Homes and Amsted Design-Build, with six wins each. Amsted was named renovator of the year for a record-setting ninth time, while Claridge won in both production and custom home categories.
“I am so dang proud of this team! One of the things that makes this award so special is that it incorporates everything that makes us who we are,” says Amsted marketing and HR manager Stephanie Fahey. “And to add ‘nine-time’ to the title? Well, that’s just awesome!”
And when it came to winning six trophies, “I was so excited to share the news with our team because almost every winning project was developed, designed and built by different people,” she says. “There wasn’t just one standout, everyone’s work was recognized.“
For Claridge, the diversity of its wins is “Claridge Homes in a nutshell,” says vice-president Shawn Malhotra, who was proud to see the company win six awards. “We are a very diversified company overall… We really are attacking all sorts of markets in Ottawa right now.”
Other big winners:
- Art & Stone Group: Claimed five trophies for projects ranging from custom homes to a powder room and named custom builder of the year. “We are so humbled to have won such great categories,” says president and owner Andrew Decristoforo. “To be against the best builders in the city and win is extremely rewarding.”
- Minto Communities: Winning in every category it entered, Minto was named production builder of the year, along with taking three awards (shared with Tanya Collins Design and Laurysen Kitchens) for the 2020 dream home in the CHEO Dream of a Lifetime lottery.
“It’s great to be recognized in a year like this where there’s been so many challenges and it’s a true testament to the team, for all that everybody’s put into it,” says Brent Strachan, president of Minto Communities Ottawa. On the dream home he added, “It is a great model. The unfortunate part is that with the pandemic not many people got to actually walk through it.”
- Rosaline J. Hill Architect: Won four awards, including designer of the year. “This is pretty big for us,” says owner and principal Rosaline Hill, noting that it was the first time the 10-year-old company had been able to enter such a variety of projects. “It seemed like a good opportunity to say, ‘What do you think? This is the range that we’re doing,’” in entering for designer of the year.
- Four wins apiece for industry veterans Roca Homes, Hobin Architecture, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets and Urban Quarry.
- BEX Interiors and Urban Quarry: Won the All Things Home People’s Choice Award, the only award determined by the public. More than 4,400 voted through seven rounds of voting this fall to determine the winner. The winning project was a renovation that thoughtfully updated the kitchen in an 1856 home. It also won its kitchen category.
“There was lots of great competition this year. We knew that the project was strong but definitely a pleasant surprise (to win) for sure,” says Becky Powell of BEX interiors. As to why the project resonated with the public, “it’s just got a really classic but modern feel to it,” she adds. “I think it’s something that people can really envision themselves having in their own home.”
What the judges said
The entries were evaluated in blind judging by 11 industry experts from across the country.
“It was a hoot doing this because some of these (entries) definitely could be in a magazine,” says judge Peter De Boer of MP Custom Homes in St. Thomas, Ont. He was particularly impressed with entries in the housing details categories, noting how the use of wood and other natural materials such as brick, both inside and out, were a recurring theme.
“It creates a more peaceful environment,” he says, something we’re craving more, even without COVID.
As a land developer, Carruthers was naturally drawn to how entrants used the space available to them, both inside and out.
“They’ve done a good job of maximizing the living space and flow and function of the houses for the size of lots that they’re building on,” he notes.
Renovator Marie Soprovich, who is founder of award-winning Aquarian Renovations of Edmonton, judged the kitchen and bathroom categories. “It really is refreshing to see the courage of using colour to make things really pop out,” she says.
While there were several white kitchens that won, almost all had an infusion of colour, whether through two-tone cabinetry, a colourful backsplash or an island that stood out. “(It) creates a bit more interest in a kitchen,” she says. “There wasn’t anything outrageously wild and overdone. The simplicity of the kitchen, the clean lines, clean space, the openness of it — it was very minimalistic in a way, yet elegant.”
And returning judge Chris Hewett, an architectural technology professor at Algonquin College and the only local judge, was impressed by the entries in the special achievement categories, which determined the renovator, designer, production builder and custom builder of the year winners.
“We’ve got this wealth of local talent that I think is amazing,” he says.
Here’s a look at the 2021 Housing Design Awards winners
There were 12 kitchen categories from production to custom, new and renovated. This section also had the second most popular category (custom kitchen, 176-250 sq. ft., contemporary), with 11 entries, as well as the All Things Home People’s Choice winner for 2021.
“They were all lovely,” judge Marie Soprovich says of the entries. “They’re for the most part bright and open and they’re places a homeowner would be quite proud to have as a kitchen.”
The five bathroom categories included the most popular category this year (custom bathroom, 101 sq. ft. or more, contemporary), with 12 entries. A bathroom category was also the most popular last year and produced the People’s Choice winner in 2020.
“I like the simple, clean, spacious bathrooms that really are creative in how they use smaller spaces to create a bigger feel,” says judge Marie Soprovich.
Production homes & condos
The tract homes entered are typically builder model homes and included townhomes, singles and condos.
“They’ve done a good job of maximizing the living space and flow and function of the houses for the size of lots that they’re building on,” says judge Mike Carruthers.
These categories ranged from semi-detached urban infill projects to large single-family homes on rural properties. One of the most popular categories this year was for custom urban home, 3,001 sq. ft. or more, contemporary, with 10 entries.
“Great use of space,” judge Mike Carruthers says of the entries.
The renovation categories are divided by project cost, ranging from those under $100,000 to those over $550,000. Interestingly, four of the winners in this section are also projects featured on this year’s Reno Tour.
Design details & green innovation
Another popular section, design details include housing details, exterior details, outdoor living spaces and projects outside the Ottawa area. Also included is the new category of alternative enclosed space.
“The whole housing details section was just beautiful,” says judge Peter De Boer.
Note that there are two winners in this section for which photos were unavailable — housing details and exterior living space, both won by Roca Homes, with Hobin Architecture and 2H Interior Design.
Among the most coveted awards, these recognize designer, renovator and builders of the year, as well as the All Things Home People’s Choice Award, which is the only award voted on by the public.
“It’s very inspiring,” says judge Chris Hewett of reading the question-and-answer submissions in this section, in which entrants explain why they deserve to win and spell out how they handle challenges.
Editor’s note: This article was updated Nov. 30 to include a winner who was initially omitted.