If there is one thing I LOVE in design, it’s character. True story: I once chose not to buy a very lovely house that checked all the boxes simply because it was too perfect and lacked quirks and charm. My town has so many beautiful carefully preserved historic homes and buildings and I love to admire them. Unfortunately, we can’t all live in old homes with architectural details and stories the walls could tell. So, if you are building a house or living in a newer home that needs a touch more personality, I have some ideas for you. And many of these will make your home more appealing to buyers which means they will increase the value of your home!
Both sets of my children’s grandparents live within 5 minutes of our house. We wanted them to grow up with deep roots, family values, and a village of love and support. There was no better place to do that than right here. My husband, Cody, and I completed construction of our home in October of 2019. I have a Master’s degree in Architecture and designed this house for my family. We did the general contracting and some of the work ourselves. It was a labor of love, and we poured our blood, sweat, and tears into it. Even though our house is newly built, I wanted to make sure it looked classic and full of character. It was important to me to include architectural elements that would add texture, and warmth, and reference the local historic vernacular.
All the photos in this article are of my own new construction home (2019) which is the Century Oak Farmhouse Floor Plan available on the website HERE.
Firstly, this is not about changing a home’s inherent style. There are architectural elements that tell us what style a home is. They are part of its “bones” and are built into the shape. If you can look at your house and can say, it’s Craftsman, Victorian, or Mid-century Modern, etc. then your house has an architectural style. Character is probably already built-in and defined for your home. If you have a home with this kind of intrinsic style, don’t try to change it to a different style. However, many other homes lack these cues and are blank slates with plenty of flexibility to take your ideas and run! Many new-builds and most builder-grade tract homes fall into this latter category. If your home is builder basic, lacking inherent character, or if you’re building a new home, the following are some simple ways you can achieve that custom look with little to no demo, and add that missing charm to your house.
I firmly believe that wall treatments give a home timeless character and beauty. Even in a mostly white home, the texture created by these wall treatments renders so much interest. Board-and-batten, planking, shiplap, panel molding, plaster, and beadboard are some of my favorites. They all have historical uses which is why adding them, even in more modern applications, contributes to the overall atmosphere in the home. This is definitely something that increases your home’s value.
Many homes these days are built without door and window casing, and even without baseboards. If you’re going for a clean, modern look, that works in your favor. However, if you want to add more historic detail, some well-designed door and window trim will give that extra touch. Observe the casings around doors and windows of historic homes you love for inspiration.
A simple hardware change can make a big difference. Glass or crystal doorknobs are eye-catching, sparkling, and send us back in time whenever we open a door. They are a distinctive nod to homes and buildings of the past and are a beautiful way to add character to a home. Additionally, turn latches and other vintage hardware on cabinets are an inexpensive and easy switch that is sure to enhance your home’s appeal.
Shop Vintage inspired hardware in this post:
Comfy blankets, area rugs, window treatments and throw pillows can add texture and warmth to your home. Cozy blankets layered on a fluffy bed and draped over the arm of a chair make a space feel welcoming. Conversely, a room full of hard surfaces can feel cold and uninviting.
To me, nothing screams builder grade more than a big ol’ slab mirror in the bathroom. A big wall-to-wall mirror is great for making a room appear larger and reflecting light, but not great for conveying historic charm. The ability to make and transport large glass is a relatively recent development, so choosing smaller, framed mirrors in your bathrooms is an opportunity to give these spaces a decorative style. If you are building, you can ask to provide your own mirrors instead of having the builder install wall-to-wall ones. If you already have them and want to replace them, call a professional as they can be dangerous to remove yourself.
My very favorite thing to add to any home is built-ins. They definitely raise the value of your home. Old homes often have charming built-in nooks and crannies that are so often missing in builder-grade homes. They add so much character, individuality, and function. An important piece of advice for planning a built-in is to think about how you use the space. Function comes first when planning a built-in, and character is the welcome perk. Some ideas for built-ins include bookcases, a mudroom bench with cubbies, or a hutch where you can display and enjoy your favorite heirloom china.
You can bring a piece of history into your home by incorporating reclaimed wood. There are several local sources for reclaimed wood salvaged from old barns all over the country. It’s sad to see these structures disappearing from our landscape, but they can live on and be remembered as part of our homes. These pieces ooze American history, and the texture, color and durability are unmatched. Reclaimed wood is perfect for mantels, shelves, and ceiling beams. Be sure to share the story of the wood every time someone compliments you on it, and they will. In our home, the reclaimed wood beams and columns are Hemlock Pine from a barn built in the 1800’s, and our outdoor fireplace mantel is from a threshing floor where they separated grain.
Changing out bland light fixtures for some that are beautiful antiques, or even updated versions inspired by fixtures of the past, is a great way to add character. Our wagon wheel fixture in the living room is a nod to the candle-lit versions of the past. They were often used in churches and were lit by lowering with a rope and pully.
Whether building new or looking to add a unique touch to an existing home, architectural salvage can be a great source. Old doors, leaded glass windows, distinctive lighting, corbels, old mantels, and more, can all be found at architectural salvage stores. As a designer, I’d prefer to see these incorporated into your home functionally, rather than decoratively. For example, if you fall in love with some chippy paint French doors, use them to replace your box store ones. The pantry door is a great place to use a beautiful well-worn door salvaged from an old home.
When I looked across the street from my car, through the opened doors of the Architectural Salvage store and saw this leaded glass window, I squealed and ran in to stake my claim. It now has a home above my foyer, letting in light and adding character.
It’s tempting to want to rush and have every room perfectly furnished to complete your vision. However, half the fun is the thrill of the hunt. Take your time and allow your spaces to evolve. Search your attic, barn, local consignment, and resale shops for treasures. Use items that have meaning or that remind you of something you love, like a family member or a favorite vacation. Meaningful items slowly collected over time will bring you joy and make the home feel uniquely yours. Maybe you and your spouse work together to build or refinish a piece of furniture. Or perhaps repurpose an heirloom antique dresser from your grandmother as a bathroom vanity. I’ve taken so much joy in adding objects to our home that tell a story of some kind. Not only do they become interesting conversation pieces, but more importantly they add a sense of depth and sentimentality to our daily lives.
Distressed finishes, patina, wabi-sabi, and the occasional unexpected kitschy item all add comfort and unique personality to a space. Quirks make life interesting. I love quirks in people and in homes. It’s what makes them unique, fascinating, and approachable. Perfection in a home may make people feel like they can’t touch anything, or afraid to relax or get comfortable. Maybe your table has a scratch from the time your son tried to breakdance on it, and a paint spot from your daughter’s art project. Those imperfections are just charming reminders of a life well-lived. Find joy and contentment in the reminder of the storied past these blemishes signify. My one word of caution is that this should not apply to too many parts of your home. There should be a balance, as with anything, to ensure your home still feels maintained and cared for.
“True story: I once chose not to buy a very lovely house that checked all the boxes simply because it was too perfect and lacked quirks and charm.”
Charm is all about the heart and soul of a space. Your home can be perfect-looking inside and out, but if it’s not filled with love and shared with friends and family, then it’s just all stuff. Dolly Parton says,” Everything means nothin’ if you’ve got no one.” Fill your home with the things that truly matter like friends, family, love, and laughter. The best things in life cost nothing.
I hope you have found these ideas for ways to add charm to your home with little or no demo inspiring.
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