By Chris Gardner
Most homes built in the U.S. these days are done by developers, which can be great — contractor-built homes are energy efficient, contain the latest features and technologies, and look brand new! But depending on your taste, that brand-new look can be awesome… or totally bland.
So if you want all the benefits of contemporary living but prefer an old-home feel, check out these tips for adding some architectural details to give a new house lots of character.
1. Install (lots of) architectural molding
Built-in decorative features are an almost guaranteed escape from “model home syndrome.” Crown molding, ceiling coffers, baseboards, chair rails, transoms, cornice molding, wainscoting and recessed panels all impart new drywall with loads of vintage charm. Note: The earlier you install molding in a new house the better, as walls and floors are likely to become less square over time.
2. Change up your cabinet pulls
You know what they didn’t have in the days of antique houses? Brushed aluminum and acrylic. So you know what you should replace in your house? The same! In your kitchen and bathroom, consider using glass knobs, which came to popularity in the early 1900s (when metal was in short supply due to the Great Depression and world wars). To echo the look throughout your home, do the same with your door knobs, desk-drawer handles and dresser pulls.
3. Address your staircase
Most new houses are modeled after colonial-era homes with the staircase front-and-center and the various rooms stemming off a main hall. Consider replacing the handrails and newel post with more elegant woodwork. Check local salvage yards, classified ads and online sites to snag pieces that will make an impression. And if you really want to go for it, rip up your wall-to-wall carpeting and install a stair runner for a signature-antique look.
4. Upgrade your light switch and outlet plates
For very little time and money, you can easily upgrade all your switch plates and outlet covers. Look for nickel and brass finishes to stay era-appropriate. You can check antique shops if you’re a purist, but there are plenty of reproduction pieces that’ll do just fine.
5. Switch up your lights
Nothing screams contractor-built home like contractor-grade lighting. Though energy-smart and inexpensive, such fixtures make everything look as generic as can be. Neutrality is the goal when you’re trying to entice buyers, not when you want to create a beautiful space. Look for antiques like chandeliers — but old wiring can be problematic, so consider reproductions. Wall sconces especially will evoke the era you’re after.
Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at BobVila.com. His video-rich site offers a full range of fresh, authoritative content – practical tips, inspirational ideas, and more than 1,000 videos from Bob Vila television.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.