Behind the scenes with a Top Shelf Design Awards judge
By Tim Coleman, Douglas Coleman Home Solutions
March 9, 2020 | 11:25 am CDT
Tim Coleman, Douglas Coleman Home Solutions
I tried…I really tried to do this at work.  Interruptions from the installers about a job, a customer calls to ask questions about their design, an order from a supplier is going to be late…I can’t concentrate!!
It is now a calm Sunday morning in my home office. I am armed with a cup of coffee, pad of paper, and two computer screens…I am ready.
Opening up Outlook I search for Michaelle Bradford’s email, and I print out my ballot, 50 points for Design and 50 points for Function.  
Opening up the 2020 Judges Folder, I see folders for each of the categories.  I take a moment to think about two things, the name, “The Top Shelf Award,” and the publication that honors designers, “Closets & Organized Storage.”  Reflecting on my life in this industry, I think back to what I have shared with my clients over the years: ”This business is a passion gone wild.”  With that in mind, I decide to value Function over Form.  
I open the first entry of the day and read the description that is written by the designer. The purpose of the description is to share with the Judge the problem, the process, and the solution. This description is the only way to understand the before and after, and then try to understand if the solution solved their problem(s).
I read each of the entry’s descriptions, some are several paragraphs, and some are just one sentence.  Then I look at each of the photos. The best stories are concise. They move fluidly from problem to solution. They cover everything from a budget challenge to a customer that changes their mind over and over again. How each entrant chose to handle challenge helps me to understand the value they provided for The Top Shelf Design Award.
I do my best to work thoughtfully and methodically thru each category as I grade the entries. Professional photos that are propped and well-lit are greatly appreciated as they help me to see and understand the many little details.  I zoom in and out of the photos to search for “the little things” that range from the quality of the fabrication to installation. I am eager to find photos with the drawers or doors open, so I can see inside. It can be frustrating when there are too few photos because it robs me of the opportunity to “be there” in the space. I would highly suggest to all entrants that they submit at least six photos as a minimum.
As I take a quick break for lunch, I reflect on how lucky I am to be in this industry that enables me to help people solve problems around their home.  Those achievements that seem like small victories can remove exhausting stress and bring health and happiness to our clients.  
I move on to a new entry feeling enormous gratitude for computers and spell check. Most entrants who spend so much time on entry details, taking photos, and writing descriptions seem to care enough to use spell check and, most likely, a backup proofreader. The ones that don’t are obvious. 
Entries over the years have done a wonderful job of introducing new products that the manufacturers have designed and developed just for our industry. Again, I greatly appreciate learning about those things and that scores points in my book. Designs are getting smarter and better. Is it because excellent magazines like this share ideas and knowledge? Is it because of the training via the ACSP or YouTube? Is it that we are an evolving industry and attracting more educated designers? 
I reach my last entry to judge. My ballot is complete, and I scan and send it Michaelle.  
I sit back and realize that being a Judge makes me a better designer. I realize how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to see some of the best designs in the country, and to learn about solutions to problems that I get to share with my clients. I grow from each experience into something better and I thank all of you for being a part of that evolution! 

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