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7 ways to add character to builder-grade homes!

Character. It’s in the eye of the beholder. To one person it can present itself in squeaky floorboards or chippy paint. For others it might be leaded glass or built-in shelves. One thing we may agree on, however, is that most builder-grade homes lack character. They can be new-to-you, relatively clean, and an inspiring (or intimidating) blank canvas but what happens when you love character, but buy a home without it?

You add some!

Here are SEVEN ways you can add character to your builder-grade home. The ideas vary on the scale of easy DIY to hiring out, as well as lower to higher cost.

1. Paint: walls, ceilings, cabinets, doors, furniture...

Paint is THE NUMBER ONE way you can transform your home quickly and on a budget. Painting dark wood immediately lightens and brightens a space whereas orange-y, oak-y woods immediately date a space, but not in a character-building way. Newer homes may already come with more modern white cabinets, but do they come with dark blue lower cabinets? Paint ‘em. Inherited or thrifted furniture pieces can be a mood dampener to a space and be a remeinder of you sitting in stuffy Aunt Mildred’s sitting room decades ago minding your ps and qs listening to adult conversation when all you really wanted was to go outside and play. Stuffy furniture? Paint it. Check out my furniture class where you learn to chalk paint furniture. I’ll even teach you how to determine if stuffy Aunt Mildred’s credenza is a good pick for the paint. Not quite convinced painting furniture is the way to go? Check out this amazing 1980s transformation here for inspiration.

DIY: easy.

Cost: not-too-shabby

2. Window treatments: woven blinds and curtains.

Builder grade homes generally come without window treatments, but if you’re lucky they might come with cheap plastic blinds. Swap them out for woven blinds to add warmth, depth and texture (yup…I’m like a broken record on auto-repeat). Adding a layer of curtains continues dressing a window, and therefore your room, the same way a necklace and heels might dress your outfit for a hot date. The character, or nuance, is in the details.

DIY: easy.

Cost: not-too-shabby – geez, sister, you have expensive taste!

3. Changing out the hardware: cabinet knobs and drawer pulls.

Look at the cabinets. Now think about where else you’ve seen the same drawer pulls and cabinet knobs. Your neighbor’s house. Your neighbor’s neighbor’s house. Your neighbor’s neighbor’s neighbor’s house. You get the picture. Everyone has them. Trying on something new for size, even if it’s not bespoke hardware, can immediately set your home apart from your neighbor’s.

Bonus: changing door knobs and bathroom fixtures can have the same effect.

DIY: easy.

Cost: not-too-shabby – geez, sister, you have expensive taste!

4. Changing out the light fixtures.

Ugh…light fixtures. Why builder grade light fixtures are placed in new homes, I’ll never know. Actually I take that back…I do know. They’re inexpensive for the builder, but a stylistic pain in the rear for the new homeowner. Choosing something with your aesthetic can instantly add character and charm in a way that was drastically missing with its original counterpart. Learn to do it yourself or hire out.

Bonus: It’ll be less expensive for you to have several lights changed with one electrician appointment than it would be to have one changed at a time.

DIY: moderate, but fair warning. READ all the directions and turn off the power before starting. Cost: not-too-shabby – geez, sister, you have expensive taste!

5. Wall treatments: board and batten, planking, beadboard

Adding wall treatments like board and batten, planking and bead board can add visual interest, depth and texture to a room in a way that paint can’t. Add paint to the wall treatment and you’re in business – remember paint can change everything!

DIY: moderate.

Cost: not-too-shabby – perfection is the only goal and the BEST materials are the only thing I’m buying.

6. Changing out the millwork: baseboards and framed windows

Want to really make a character building statement? Gulp...change your baseboards and the framing around your windows. One way you can tell the age of a home is by looking at the style of baseboards and window casings. There are so many styles of each to choose from, from narrow to wide, plain to detailed. You choose you, but choosing a change will drastically add character.

DIY: difficult.

Cost: if you do it all at once you may be eating Ramen for dinner for a while.

7. Built-ins: seating nooks, bookshelves, desks, etc.

The next level. The piece de resistance. The magnum opus. The holy-smokes this looks A.MAZ.ING! Built-ins. Window seats, bookshelves, bunkbeds, lockers, desks, the list can be as long as your imagination. Built-ins, when done well, add interest in a way that a Wayfair bookcase just can’t no matter how well you style it. Visual interest is one thing, but built-ins up the cozy factor dramatically.

Bonus: buy a pre-fab bookcase and add framing and baseboards so it can give the appearance of having a custom built-in without the expense of having a custom built-in.

DIY: difficult.

Cost: are you shooting for the moon? The cost to launch a rocket is astronomical (I crack myself up!).

Character is in the eye of the beholder. Adding some may lead to more, but fair's like dominoes. Once you get started, you might get hooked. The good news? Getting hooked leads to change and change, when it leads to character, is a good thing! Have fun, be inspired and tag me on IG @figandfarm because I want to see!

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