Editor’s Note: Less Is More

If I could pick an overarching theme for our 2023 Residential Design Architecture Award winners, I would call it the “Less Is More” year. Nearly every winner set out to curate the outdoor space and curtail the bloat of indoor program. Our Project of the Year, The Perch by Nicole Blair, AIA, is just 660 square feet and squeezed into a seemingly impossible tent of setback restrictions. The building hovers dramatically above a duo of existing bungalows, with not an inch to spare anywhere. Why the high-wire act? To preserve the owners’ beloved backyard garden. 

Next up among our winners is DNA Alpine by CCY, a 2,000-square-foot mountain home, bermed into a hill on a 70-acre property. The architects and the clients applied all their discipline to fight the typical program inflation. The clients accepted a tiny sleeping loft for extra guests, instead of more expansive guest quarters, among the belt-tightening. As a result, they preserved ancient view corridors and every single spruce tree on the site.

Certainly, they demonstrated admirable restraint, but they were not alone. Verde Creek Ranch by Lake | Flato is just a touch over 3,000 square feet, yet it shelters an extended family of siblings on more than 2,000 acres. Most of the structure is open connective tissue linking shared spaces with small private zones. 

Indeed, one phrase our jury kept uttering was, “It’s more pavilion than house.” It’s obvious our winners thought holistically about how to deploy every element of the building in service to the site—often making more “outside than inside.” It’s a strategy that paid great dividends during the worst of the COVID pandemic.  

Important outdoor spaces were mined on projects of mere fractions of an acre, too. A rowhouse in D.C. acquired a tiny “Middle Garden” by Colleen Healey Architecture that transformed its tight little rooms into a light-filled oasis of indoor-outdoor living. And a more expansive teardown on a precipitous site in Seattle by GO’C fit a prolific vegetable garden on the roof, along with a full solar array—oh, and a backyard pool with panoramic views. Although the house is one of our larger ones at more than 5,000 square feet, its efficient floor plan brings together a blended family of eight.

One of my personal favorites, Palm House II, an infill house in Venice, California, by kevin daly Architects, adds onto an adjacent property to accommodate a growing multigenerational family. The program priority? Preserve and expand space for outdoor congregation. Kevin and his team designed the new building to form a shared courtyard with the older building, and carved out multiple private outdoor areas shielded by screens, trees, and other sleights of hand. 

Less indoor space means more outdoors to enjoy on every one of these winning projects, and the real winners are the lucky clients. That is as it should be.