Variety, the return of wood and an infusion of colour were the dominant themes as Ottawa’s housing industry came together to celebrate design excellence at the 2023 Housing Design Awards.
Organized by the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) and emceed by comedian James Cunningham of TV’s Eat Street, a record 725 attendees gathered at The Westin Ottawa on Nov. 4 in the association’s most anticipated evening of the year.
It was a special edition of the gala this year as GOHBA marked 40 years of the awards program, adopting a “timeless, classic theme, with homage paid to our association’s — and our awards program’s — long history,” awards committee chair Linda Oliveri Blanchard said ahead of the event.
“The very first gala was held in 1983 in the basement meeting room of the old Talisman Hotel on Carling Avenue. Oh, how times have changed!”
This year’s event handed out trophies in 56 categories ranging from kitchens and bathrooms to production and custom homes, renovations, green innovation, design details and more. In all, there were 216 finalists from a record 340 entries.
“In addition to the record number of entries, the quality of entries continued to reach new levels, as designers, builders and renovators keep striving to raise the bar even further than they already have,” said Oliveri Blanchard.
Entries were judged by 12 industry experts from across the country, who each had certain categories to evaluate in blind judging.
“There was a lot of lovely variety in the entries,” said returning judge Marie Soprovich of Edmonton’s Aquarian Renovations.
Added another returning judge, Julian Hanoun of Oak & Tenon in Vaughan, Ont.: “It was nice to see that people are stepping outside of their comfort zone and you’re starting to see a lot more of that uniqueness in colours and materials.”
And Joel Tanner of Hamilton’s smpl Design Studio felt the entries showed “that there’s a lot of great builders and designers out there that are pushing the trends in the industry.”
The night’s big winner was the design firm West of Main, which scooped up an impressive nine trophies, including one of the coveted prestige categories — designer of the year. It was the second time West of Main has won that category, which was a crowded one this year, attracting eight entries.
“I think we wanted to go in with a bang this year,” said West of Main co-founder Sascha Lafleur after the event. “Hopefully, we’ve made a lasting impression of we’re here in Ottawa and we’re hoping to inspire and attract some amazing collaborators, too.”
Added lead designer Josée Sigouin: “We are always trying to push the limits and do things that are different from everyone else.”
The company shared four of its wins with Art & Stone Group on a single project — dubbed Project New House Old Charm — winning for its kitchen, primary ensuite, primary bedroom (any room in the house) and exterior living space. The kitchen also won a provincial trophy earlier this fall. And West of Main shared three trophies with frequent collaborator eQ Homes for two of its models at the Provence development in Orléans.
“Project New House Old Charm is absolutely stunning, so we aren’t surprised that it won so many awards,” chief operating officer Alexandra Corriveau of Art & Stone, which built the home, said after the event. “West of Main did a fabulous job designing it.”
Other prestige category winners included Tamarack Homes, named production builder of the year, RND Construction, which won custom builder of the year for the second year in a row, and Lagois Design-Build-Renovate claiming renovator of the year, an award the veteran firm last won in 2018.
“It is an honour,” said Lagois president Jacob Kirst after the event. “This recognition is a testament to our commitment to excellence in the renovation industry, and we are incredibly proud to have been selected amongst our peers for this honour.”
RND founder Roy Nandram was similarly pleased. “We are thrilled and honoured to be named custom builder of the year, reaffirming our commitment to excellence in custom home building and our dedication to providing great value to our clients.”
And Tamarack president Chris Taggart said that winning production builder of the year, “with its comprehensive evaluation criteria, recognizes the hard work and dedication that go into creating exceptional homes. It encourages builders to continually strive for excellence in design, craftsmanship, customer service and overall professionalism.
“Winning this award is a source of pride, and it serves as motivation to continue delivering top-quality homes to our customers. It’s also a validation of our commitment to innovation, design and customer satisfaction.”
Another coveted prize, the All Things Home People’s Choice Award, went to Eastboro Designs and Parliament Millwork for a renovation that offers “a fresh perspective for this traditional working farm,” complete with hidden walk-in pantry and an “interior greenhouse concept,” they said in their entry submission. The award was voted on by the public over seven rounds this fall, with almost 6,000 voting.
“I was overwhelmed by the whole thing,” says Eastboro’s Deirdre Jorssen. “It’s such a big honour.”
Like Jorssen, Parliament Millwork’s Chris McClelland was both delighted and astonished at winning the award. Not one to bury his feelings, he grabbed Jorssen in a bearhug on the way to the stage, lifting her high off her feet and whooping in delight. “It was the last award of the night, and we didn’t expect it.”
Other notable wins
Along with West of Main and Art & Stone, several other companies claimed four or more wins — Minto Communities, Tanya Collins Design, 25:8 Architecture + Urban Design, Nathan Kyle Studio and Shean Architects — and several more won at least two trophies.
Continuing a trend of recent years, Minto and Tanya Collins scooped up five trophies for the 2022 dream home in the CHEO Dream of a Lifetime lottery. The home won its production home category (for the sixth year in a row), its kitchen category, its bathroom category (third year in a row), best home office and green production home of the year. Three of the awards were also shared with Irpinia Kitchens.
“The design was absolutely beautiful — timeless, different, unique — it was not cookie-cutter,” said judge Rachel Neil of Birchview Design in Peterborough. “To me it ticked all boxes because it was also strikingly beautiful.”
“To be recognized with multiple awards for Le Rêve means a lot,” said Anthony Minchella, vice-president of marketing and sales for Minto Communities Ottawa. “It’s not only a floor plan inspired by our hugely popular Quinton floor plan, but also a home that does so much to support the CHEO Foundation as the 2022 Minto Dream Home, and a project that so many team members here at Minto support.”
He added that winning green production home of the year “is a true testament to our values at Minto and how we are continuing to push the envelope on sustainable design and green building innovation in the communities we build.”
The home’s interior designer, Tanya Collins, was “pleasantly surprised” to win for the ensuite because of the “fierce competition in the production bathroom category.” The kitchen was less of a surprise since it had already been named a finalist at the national level.
And, she said, “it feels good knowing that we were still chosen by industry experts in blind judging even for best home office, which is outside the production category. It is testament to our passion for interior design and seeing through a stylish vision for charity projects like the CHEO Dream of a Lifetime lottery.”
25:8 Architecture captured three of the renovation categories, all for projects that included an addition — one of which was inspired by a bird taking flight. That project also won the exterior details category.
“Super, super unique – really standout,” said Tanner.
Similarly, Nathan Kyle Studio scooped up three of the custom kitchen categories, two contemporary and one traditional, with projects that particularly impressed judge Corey Corvo of Oak & Tenon. “They just did a really good job with the design,” he said.
2023 Housing Design Awards winners
Here’s a look at the winning projects, broken down into six groups.
Production homes & condos
The production or tract homes entered are typically builder model homes and included townhomes, singles and condos.
Some builders “focused really highly on the performance of the home and that is very rare to see in a lot of production building,” noted judge Will Gonell of Gonell Homes in Toronto. “I think that beauty, in a lot of cases, cannot be separated from performance.”
Custom home entries range from compact urban infills to rural estate new builds and everything in between. There were 24 finalists in six categories.
Kitchens & bathrooms
Traditionally among the most popular categories to enter, there were 129 kitchen and bath entries this year and 72 finalists.
“There were a lot of really nice entries,” said Corvo. “I was impressed with quite a few of them.”
With the exception of basement renovations, these categories are determined by price ranges. There were 22 finalists in five categories this year.
“There wasn’t necessarily a consistent flavour amongst the entries; there was massive variety. That’s what’s nice to see,” said Tanner.
This group of categories looks at some of the finer details of a project, from housing details and rooms other than kitchens and bathrooms to exterior spaces, exterior details and projects outside the Ottawa coverage area.
This year, there were eight categories, including the category with the most entries this year with 18 — any room in the house — followed closely by housing details with 14.
“Homes have very much over the last decade become more than just a home,” incorporating more than the traditional spaces that have gained traction, said Tanner in explaining why we’re seeing so many entries in some of these categories. “We’re building interesting homes.”
Innovation and special achievement
The innovation categories recognize green and sustainable building. “Yes, the focus is sustainability, but it’s livability as well,” said the only local judge, Chris Hewett, who teaches architectural technology at Algonquin College.
The special achievement categories, meanwhile, are considered the prestige awards, recognizing general excellence in the category combined with how well the recipient has fared in other categories.