Best in American Living Awards Showcase Top 2018 Home Designs

By Camilla McLaughlin


The Augusta, a custom home designed by Craig McMahon, was crowned as the 2018 BALA Home of the Year.

Photo: Craig McMahon Architects

The usual recipe for a design forecast combines real world observation with a dash of conjecture, but few barometers indicate what experts see actually occurring among builders, designers and consumers better than the National Association of Home Builders Best in American Living Awards (BALA).

A look at the top properties for any year gives you a good idea of what you can expect to see in new homes and communities. This year, the ongoing shift toward modern architecture continues, but the look today is quite different than the hard-edged white aesthetic most associate with the style. Instead, modern is likely to incorporate familiar forms such as a peaked roof or features that reflect a region’s historical design.

Merging Modern with History

August exterior


Exterior of Augusta. Photo courtesy of Craig McMahon Architects. 

The 2018 BALA Home of the Year, a 3,600-square foot custom home in Boerne, Texas, dubbed the Augusta, balances wood, stone and metal with large expanses of glass in a plan centered around a courtyard. The centerpiece is a large open-air living room that appears almost transparent. Limestone used on the exterior continues inside creating continuity in the design and merging inside and outside. The use of the same stone on interior walls reflects historical building practices in the area, according to the home’s architect, Craig McMahon. The technique was introduced to the region by Prussian immigrants in the late 18th century, which, McMahon says, “is not surprising considering how much stone is in the ground” in the region. Compared to typical local applications at the time, the Prussian technique was also more crafted.

August sitting area


Living area from Augusta. Photo courtesy of Craig McMahon Architects.

BALA judges praised the extensive use of glass in the Augusta and noted how the stone on the walls and floor tie the design together, saying it feels like you’re living outside in every space. McMahon continued the interior stone flooring on an adjacent deck, making an even more seamless transition from inside to outside.

August deck


Exterior of Augusta. Photo courtesy of Craig McMahon Architects.

The four-bedroom, four-and-a-half bathroom home also reflects a trend among winners toward clean, simple lines and details. Warm woods soften the feeling of the Augusta and act as a design element, particularly on the deck’s deep overhang. Although the windows were produced for residential use, dark frames suggest an industrial influence and highlight another new design feature, the blurring of lines between commercial and residential materials.

Regional Aesthetics

Unlike other forecasts, BALA also takes a deep dive into what’s happening with design and architecture locally. New regional aesthetics are on the rise. Whether the location is Arizona, Texas or Michigan, look for more defined styles tied to location, the history and climate.

Ridgecrest exterior


Exterior of Ridgecrest. Photo courtesy of Visbeen Architects.

A good example of a strong regional focus is the platinum winner designed by Visbeen Architects in Michigan. A peaked roof, layered façade and sturdy columns harmonize with the lakefront setting.

Interior Trends


Ridgecrest living room


Living area from Ridgecrest. Photo courtesy of Visbeen Architects.

Open floor plans still dominate interior plans, but individual areas are now more defined through a variety of methods such as a change in materials, the addition of columns or using different ceiling heights. The sense of spaciousness remains, but subtle definitions enhance organization and placement of furnishings. Detailing overall continues to be more refined with simple, clean lines to give spaces a fresh, uncluttered appearance.

Tasteful and luxurious will define baths in 2018 as they become more spa-like, refined and sophisticated—like the hotel baths buyers envision. There is growing demand for standalone tubs and floating vanities, particularly in higher priced homes.

Ridgecrest kitchen 


Kitchen from Ridgecrest. Photo courtesy of Visbeen Architects.

Kitchens are trending a little smaller. BALA judges call it “right sized.” Expect to see fewer double islands. Function is still a prime objective for islands, but many are sized to be proportional with adjoining spaces.

White and grey continue to be the dominant palette, but the overall effect is more than simply a blank canvas. Instead, an overlay of tones and textures creates a clean multilayered look that is calming and inviting. For example, a white kitchen might mix quartz countertops, a similarly toned shiplap ceiling and airy white window coverings.

The biggest take away this year is that homes are increasingly more livable and meaningful.

Said Tom Kopf, NAHB’s 2017 judging chair and 2017 Best in American Living Awards Subcommittee chair: “Great design taps into the emotions that make a house a home.”


Up-and-Coming Home Design Trends
  1. Modern architecture with understandable forms 
  2. Blurred lines between commercial and residential materials 
  3. Clean details 
  4. Opened but defined floor plans 
  5. Metal and wood exterior details 
  6. More developed regional styles 
  7. Whites, grays and charcoal paint colors 
  8. Right-sized kitchens 
  9. Spa like baths 
nlc author image

Camilla McLaughlin is an award-winning writer specializing in house and home. Her work has appeared in leading online and print publications, such as Yahoo! Real Estate, Unique Homes magazine and Realtor magazine. She has also freelanced for the Associated Press.

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