If you feel stuck in a bland builder-grade home never fear, today I am going to share with you 30 ways to add old charm to a builder-grade home. Bonus, I'm going to give you tips on how to do it on a small budget!
- Homes Today Are Built Fast and Cheap And Are Short on the Character and Craftsmanship of Yesteryear
- 01 Wall Treatments
- Watch on YouTube
- 02 Replace Fixtures
- 03 Cabinets
- 04 Trim or Molding
- 05 Open Shelving
- 06 Farmhouse Sink
- 07 Butcher Block Countertops
- 08 Vintage & Antique Doors
- 09 Faux Wood Beams
- 10 Ceiling Medallion
- 11 Sliding Doors
- 12 Furniture
- 13 Antique and Vintage Decor
- 14 Light Switch Plates, Outlet Covers, & Doorknobs
- 15 The Art on the Walls
- 16 Frames
- 17 Hardware
- 18 Faux Fireplace or Mantel
- 19 Rugs
- 20 Architectural Interest
- 21 Reclaimed Barnwood
- 22 Functional Decor
- 23 Peg Rail
- 24 Antique Mirrors
- 25 Curtains and Drapes
- 26 Mix and Match furniture
- 27 Paint Your Walls
- 28 Built-In Cabinets or Shelves
- 29 Tin Ceiling Tiles
- 30 Focal Wall
Homes Today Are Built Fast and Cheap And Are Short on the Character and Craftsmanship of Yesteryear
I'm in the same boat you are, friend. 10 years ago my husband and I purchased our first home in a small subdivision in rural Missouri. It was the prettiest house on the block, but still builder-grade.
I've spent the last ten years trying to problem solve and figure out some easy ways I can put character into each room, layer by layer, without going completely broke.
There are so many gorgeous elements you can add, obviously, I've made a pretty long list. But one of the most important aspects is to realize it's about taking your time to curate an entire vintage charm room from scratch.
A great example is my recent dining room renovation (still ongoing). I just recently built all-new farmhouse-style trim and then did a complete paint job in a single day. Painting a room in a day is hard (pictured above), but not when you follow these 7 great prep tips.
So, let's get started right away. Here are 29 great ways to add old charm to a builder-grade home.
01 Wall Treatments
Check out these six unique ways you can completely change the character of a room by simply adding a wall treatment, or two, or all six if you want to. Consequently, this is my favorite way to upgrade my own home.
Bringing the charm of an old home to a new house really comes from the architectural details and craftsmanship that went into each home when designed and built. To get the feel of an old home you have to build up those layers with interest and detail.
Bead board became very popular in the early 1900s, better known as the victorian era. It was most often used in the beginning as a ceiling for porches. Then in some parts of the country, it became popular as wainscoting since it was used on the lower half of walls.
Historically, beadboard was a basic, slightly decorative service finish that was common by the 1880s and remained in use well into the 1930s in rural areas. Its popular use in most buildings was as a full or partial wallcovering in kitchens, back halls, stores, and schoolrooms, but it also appeared widely on porch ceilings and eave soffits (also known as planciers) where it attained something of a featured presence.Oldhouseonline.com
Luckily for all of us who desire to add old charm to a builder-grade home, beadboard is actually an extremely simple way to make a huge difference! Bonus, it's actually a pretty affordable way, even in today's maxed-out wood market.
It's typically found in the trim area of the hardware store. It's typically in a 4-foot by 8-foot wood paneling option.
Shiplap was not intended to actually be seen because it is typically behind other wall coverings in old homes. But thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines, mostly Joanna tearing down walls, it has gained popularity.
I know I have a fascination with it. There's this innate desire to see something in its raw and deconstructed form. Getting to the heart of the originality of the structure of a home.
Such a simple and great way to add so much character with one single application. And it's one of the first things I tackled as a focal point in my living room.
For interior walls, shiplap was the standard base behind a classic wallpaper install before drywall came on the home building scene. A shiplap wall would be covered with cheesecloth or muslin to cover the seams and give the wallpaper enough grip to adhere correctly.PlankandMill.com
But thankfully it doesn't have to be original to bring old home charm to builder-grade. There are several tutorials out there to easily add it to your walls inexpensively using pre-sanded plywood. Here are a few to get you started!
Faux Brick Panels
There are several ways to get this look in your home. If you have brick, even ugly brick, consider yourself fortunate! But for the rest of us here are a couple of options to get that look on a small budget with a DIY.
I'm excited to try the first option on a large wall in my daughter's bedroom. I want my children's rooms to have a home feel, too.
Use it as a backsplash, a focal wall, or even use it to create a faux fireplace. The possibilities are endless! Get that old house feel without actually having an older home.
Board and Batten
The board and batten look has become very popular for interior uses and other applications, as well. The look has been applied to ceilings, wainscoting, accent walls, and even privacy fences and furniture. Once considered simply an inexpensive method of cladding a structure, board and batten has become a go-to design style to create distinctive appearances.TheSpruce.com
Even if you have a fresh on-the-lot new build board and batten is just a quick trip to the hardware store, like home depot, away from making your space feel charming.
There are plenty of examples of what board and batten could be. If you have smooth walls you're just a few 1x4s away from a gorgeous stylish room. Check out these easy tutorials:
Traditional wainscoting is decorative wood panelling along the lower wall that protects the wall from scuffs. The height of traditional wainscoting is usually 36 to 42 inches. The chair rail goes at the top and baseboard is at the bottomRoyalWoodShop.com
What I truly love above wainscotting is it doesn't even have to be a huge feature wall to make an impact. Doing it in a small space is one of the easiest ways to give it definition.
Wainscoting is a prime example of how to add old charm to a builder-grade home. It is the epitome of skilled craftsmanship. There are definitely simpler styles that would be a fun weekend project to complete. Here are a few examples:
I am envious of every person who has the ability to put wallpaper on their walls. Since I love the victorian era and wallpaper was huge during that time period. However, I have textured walls. Therefore if I put up wallpaper it would look like acne on my wall.
I will never stop dreaming! So, I often ooh and ahh at the gorgeous wallpapered walls in my Instagram feed.
The best news is that you can use it in literally every room of your newer home. Do it in an entire room. Put it in your living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, master bedroom, etc. You could even do a half wall above trim pieces.
Here are a few easy DIY tutorials to help you use wallpaper to add old charm to a builder-grade home.
Watch on YouTube
02 Replace Fixtures
Believe it or not, you don't have to spend a fortune replacing fixtures. There are some amazing options on Amazon or even Menards. What I typically do to start looking is to decide on the style of fixture and then search for economical options that look similar on Amazon.
Ceiling Fixtures, Lamps, Sconces, Pendant Lights, Even Outdoor!
For economical electric bills (helping with A/C in the summer months) we chose to replace ceiling fans in all the rooms instead of adding more decorative lighting. But I'm dreaming of some gorgeous victorian style chandeliers in my someday farmhouse.
The previous owners of our home didn't do us any favors in this department either. So, these upgraded ceiling fan fixtures definitely are a few steps up!
Regardless of your natural light, vintage lighting fixtures or faux-vintage really add that old-world charm with ease.
Bathroom, Powder Room, And Kitchen
This is such an easy thing to replace. I was a complete novice when I installed my first faucet in my master bathroom and lights in my hallway, so I guarantee you can do it too. Look up a quick YouTube Tutorial and you're golden.
We've also replaced sinks, toilets, and showerheads. They're all pretty straightforward and a breeze. You can even replace the toilet paper holder if you're dedicated.
So all that's left is to decide which one! Which metal do you prefer? I lean towards Antique Brass, Bronze, or Copper, myself.
Painted, Stained, Natural Wood
Just a little paint, not a lot of money, and you've got an effective way to transform those cookie cutter homes.
It can be a fast, inexpensive, and unintrusive way of updating any kind of cabinetry. You can paint any kind of cabinet, built-in or freestanding, to add old charm to a builder-grade home.
In fact, freestanding cabinetry is more true to a victorian style as their kitchens were created to be movable to suit evolving needs of the kitchen.
I chose to paint my kitchen cabinets using a homemade chalk paint recipe and finished it with a clear coat. They've been painted, cleaned, and pretty much abused by my five children for the last 4 years and still look like I did it yesterday.
You don't have to paint your cabinets. If you have beautiful solid wood cabinets there are even options to stain them using Gel Stain. Or go a little extra and strip them down to natural wood and coat them with a clear coat like Minwax Polycrylic.
04 Trim or Molding
Windows, Doors, Crown Molding, Baseboards, Chair Rail, Picture Frame Molding, and Picture Rail Trim
I can lop these altogether quite nicely simply because typically speaking, they're traditionally used together in the architecture of a room. However, you can pick and choose which one you want to add.
Recently I updated the trim in my dining room by building my own farmhouse-style trim and doing it budget-friendly by using Cheap Wood. I also took the time to add a simple chair rail trim around two walls of the room to add old charm to a builder-grade home dining room.
05 Open Shelving
Whether your dream kitchen is Minimalist, Modern, Farmhouse, or Rustic, open-shelving brings that old charm to a builder-grade home kitchen. But they definitely don't have to stay in the kitchen.
For me, the vision of an old general store or apothecary is what comes to mind when I dream of my perfect kitchen. And naturally, it wouldn't be complete without a butler's pantry.
When I ripped out my upper cabinets to put in open shelving in my own kitchen I couldn't believe what a big difference it made. A boxed-in dark kitchen suddenly felt bigger and less basic builder grade.
06 Farmhouse Sink
They have the power to turn a boring builder-grade kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, or even mudroom and turn it into something stylish.
If you want to make a huge impact with a single purchase, this is a great place to look.
07 Butcher Block Countertops
I'm not sure you can get much more of a return investment on a little money for character than adding in wooden elements like butch block countertops.
I say little money because as far as replacing countertops is concerned, butcher block is actually on the lower end of the spectrum. Especially in comparison to natural stone options like quartz or marble.
Historic homes often had butcher block countertops, so they are truly the aesthetic of vintage charm. If you already have natural stone, you could even add in a small kitchen island with a butcher block top.
08 Vintage & Antique Doors
Paint Builder-Grade Options or Replace with Vintage & Antique Doors
So many options come to mind when I think of adding a little character to plain jane doors in builder-grade homes. You can start with interior doors or exterior doors. I haven't forgotten that curb appeal option!
If you're on a tight budget your best option would be to paint for a huge impact. But if you're in the position to even replace one at a time, that would be my choice.
Upgrading your Bedroom, Bathroom, and even your pantry door is an easy fix. With a little bit of work, you can even adjust the fit of older doors if you're handy with power tools!
It's a really great option to add architectural interest to your entire home.
09 Faux Wood Beams
Doorways and Ceilings
It doesn't have to be the real thing, though if you can get your hands on the real thing by all means use it. Whether you have high ceilings or low ceilings doesn't matter either.
Pine & Prospect actually had her husband cut their beams in half to install them on their low kitchen ceilings.
And I've seen faux wood beams installed in an amazing tutorial by Hangin' With the Huges on YouTube.
10 Ceiling Medallion
The epitome of high living, if you ask me. I have loved ceiling medallions ever since I discovered they were a thing.
They are ornate, delicate, feminine, and simply breathtaking. You look up to ceilings in modern homes and they're blank, empty, and forgetful.
Ceiling medallions weren't exclusive to Victorian homes — they appeared in U.S. homes as early as the 1700s, before falling out of fashion in the early 20th century — but they peaked in popularity during the mid- to late-19th century. And they were most common in the parlors of wealthy homeowners.The Fascinating Reason Why Ceiling Medallions Exist - Apartmenttherapy.com
My dream is to someday look at my forever home and see beauty everywhere. Not just select spaces. Craftsmanship takes time to add, especially if you're doing it all by hand yourself. But it is so worth all the work and the time will pass anyway!
11 Sliding Doors
Barn Style, Antique Doors, Pocket Doors
Sliding doors don't have to only be rustic with a barn door! And I'm loving that we can include antique and vintage doors in our homes without having to learn how to rehang and install a door. Or try to make it fit a current door frame.
You can simply purchase the barn door hardware and use a vintage or antique door in its place.
And I'd just like to say if I ever get my dream victorian farmhouse and it happens to have pocket doors I will probably dance. Because pocket doors are the quintessential vintage charm in the door department, in my opinion.
Of course, there are always options like french doors as well. My entire builder-grade home is open concept and I kind of hate it. So, I enclosed my dining room and installed french doors. Best. Decision. Ever.
A boring square entry to a beautiful enclosed (while still remaining open with 24 small glass window panes) dining room.
Painting, Distressing, Stripping, Refinishing, or Replacing Modern Furniture with Antique & Vintage Furniture
The options for adding charm to your home using furniture are literally endless. You can take ugly outdated furniture and turn it into something beautiful with paint, stripping a bad paint job, or completely refinishing it.
Or if your furniture is beautiful, but just missing that one small element you can sometimes simply switch out the hardware.
My favorite way to use furniture to add vintage charm to my builder-grade home is to actually buy old furniture. You can see one small example of how I take thrifted vintage furniture, repair and refinish it, and use it in my home.
There's this latest trend of stripping furniture finishes with oven cleaner (pictured above). You can totally drastically change the look of your home with this process if you don't mind the work!
Anyone can do it. Check out these posts.
13 Antique and Vintage Decor
Repurposing primitive items for new purposes, etc.
Another big favorite of mine is repurposing vintage things or antiques that maybe have lost their purpose in the modern world.
There were such unique inventions in history, innovations in their time, now completely overlooked. It makes me sad to find things that only serve as decor anymore, but at least in that, we can still appreciate it.
So it is my mission to try to find a way to bring those things I find back to life.
Last year I repurposed an old Eastlake mirror frame and turned it into a laundry dry rack for the wall next to my laundry closet. My laundry is literally a closet, but the wall next to it makes a perfect home for it. Maybe I'll write a post on it someday.
14 Light Switch Plates, Outlet Covers, & Doorknobs
One of the most overlooked areas of the house if you ask me. I would know because they're literally the first thing I notice in a renovated room. Mostly because they're literally always left out of the renovation process.
This is unfortunate because details do matter. In fact, sometimes the small things make the biggest impact.
I recently found one solitary switch plate at a flea market and I was over the moon to pay $3 for it. And it totally transformed the wall I installed it on. Try it, I dare you!
15 The Art on the Walls
Vintage Illustrations, Botanical Prints, Bird Prints, Paintings, Fine Art Prints
This is something to put consideration into. What you choose to put on limited wall space should really reflect your style, taste, and even color scheme.
However, there is simply no need to spend a fortune on prints from your box stores like Hobby Lobby, Home Goods, Michaels, Target, Tj Maxx, or the like.
There are literally millions of free downloadable public domain art prints available at the tip of your finger. However, if you're not up to digging a bit (you do need to know artists' names in most cases) you can also pretty inexpensively purchase some on Amazon.
I have a few personal favorites in the art department, but one real favorite is the bird prints by John J. Audubon. They're public domain and with a quick resizing in Canva can be printed to fit any size frame.
Frames themselves can bring so much to a blank space. The style, coloring, and varying sizes will add dimension and old charm to builder-grade home walls. But don't forget you can go a little extra by even paying attention to how you hang them.
One great example is installing simple picture rail trim as mentioned above. This is traditionally how fine art was hung on walls. And it could definitely help eliminate a million holes in your walls.
So, if you're looking for a way to be period-accurate this is an option. Or even wanting different ways to add character than literally, everyone is doing, this is an inexpensive way to accomplish that.
After all, part of what makes antique and vintage things charming is they're no longer something you see in a modern home. Bonus, I find them all the time in thrift stores, so they don't have to break the bank.
Furniture and Cabinetry
This was honestly probably the first place I started. Because it is one of the least expensive ways to completely change the era feel of your home.
If you can't completely rip out your cabinets you can add old charm to a builder-grade home by simply replacing or installing new cabinet hardware.
There's a good reason why companies are starting to manufacture faux antique knobs and drawer pulls. Historically craftsmanship was considered in every single detail of a piece of furniture or home.
They took pride in paying attention to every detail and making it ornate. So, if we take that mindset in curating our home we will achieve that beautifully crafted feel.
18 Faux Fireplace or Mantel
Build it Yourself, or Purchase an Old Mantel and Install it On Your Wall
There is absolutely nothing cozier than imagining yourself sitting next to a beautiful fireplace and a warm fire crackling. A beautiful way to add old charm to a builder-grade home in anyone's book.
The problem with this picture is many of us don't actually have a fireplace in our homes. And to add a real fireplace would cost tens of thousands of dollars.
And I don't know about your financial situation, but that's not happening over here.
So, my option is to either build one myself, which is totally doable. Watch Mary from White Cottage Company as she builds one from scratch here. Or, I can purchase a vintage one used and install it on my wall and get all the feels, except the warm fire.
Vintage, Antique, or Faux Vintage & Antique
When you're working on adding old charm to a builder-grade home, don't forget the floors. And by floors I mean, rugs.
If you are fortunate you may be able to find the heavily sought after (in certain crowds) vintage or antique wool rugs on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or even Ebay in your area.
I have yet to find one in my area at all, much less at a price I could afford. So I have to rely on inexpensive faux antique rugs from places like Amazon like this one I just purchased for my dining room.
But let's be honest, I have five children so an inexpensive option is probably the best choice in my season of life. It still does exactly what I need it to do, it adds 1. warmth 2. character, and 3. It is nice to walk on.
20 Architectural Interest
Another prime example of how to add charm to a builder-grade home is in architectural details or salvage.
You can literally have a piece of history in your home even if your home is not historic, which is absolutely fantastic if you ask me.
You can find these scattered in various booths in a local flea market or salvage yard if you have one near you!
I never used to be a history buff until I got into decorating my own home and suddenly I was interested in all of the history. I guess this is where art and history come together and that's something I can get behind.
You can use corbels in doorways or under kitchen islands, or create a small shelf (pictured above). Use your creativity!
21 Reclaimed Barnwood
Natural Wood Tones and Wood from Historic Structures
The idea of an old barn being torn down really does make me sad. But it happens for many reasons including the fact that the structure just isn't viable any longer.
If it has to be torn down at least we can repurpose that gorgeous, aged, patina hardwood. You can use it in literally every place where you would typically use wood.
Countertops, tables, wood beams, backsplash (pictured below), or use it to build something if you're a skilled carpenter or DIYer!
You can even add that old charm to a builder-grade home by using barn wood to create a faux mantel over a faux fireplace.
22 Functional Decor
Let it all hang out! As long as it's all pretty. Since I'm a huge fan of open shelving, I'm also a huge fan of functional decor.
In fact, I prefer functional decor in my home. I haven't a lot of space and so what space I do have needs to be something useful.
Decor is beautiful, but so are vintage pots and pans, dishes, glassware, kitchen towels, and tools. And that's just the kitchen!
You can add charm to a builder-grade home by choosing carefully the functional items you buy. And asking, is this something I'd put out on a shelf? And then if it's a yes, put it in an open place where the world can see and appreciate it.
23 Peg Rail
Function and Charm
Another great example of functional decor is the peg rail! It comes in handy in pretty much every room. Who doesn't need an entire wall of pegs?
I recently added it in my bathroom as hanging space for our towels and in my laundry closet to hang my ironing board, steam mop, etc. They're beautiful and gave me another excuse to add old charm to a builder-grade bathroom with natural wood tones.
Therefore I propose we add a peg rail to every room! Also, it's extremely easy to make them, check out these two great tutorials.
24 Antique Mirrors
Create a Gallery Wall, or Use Them Above a Mantel, as a Focal Piece, etc.
They're a diamond in the rough for me, but when I do find them I find it really difficult to abstain and walk away.
Mirrors are just so versatile. Another great thing about them, besides their beauty, is that they reflect light naturally. So, if you have any issue with natural light in your home add lots of mirrors to spread what you do have all around!
Here are a couple of great examples of ways to add old charm to your builder-grade home using mirrors.
25 Curtains and Drapes
There is a certain something that a beautiful set of curtains or drapes add to a room. Even if you don't technically need them there are a couple of reasons you should think about adding them.
01 They add height to a room and draw your eyes up. So, especially if you have low ceilings install them about 5-6" from the ceiling for best results.
02 If you don't get a lot of natural light white curtains can actually brighten up your space considerably.
03 Adding curtains or drapes add a sense of class, style, and grace to a room. Almost as if a room is not fully dressed without them.
I live in a closely built subdivision so I definitely needed them, but I think I would have them regardless just because of how much they add to my rooms.
26 Mix and Match furniture
Cottage, Farmhouse, Grandmillennial, Eclectic Styles
I had no idea that this was my style until I watched this video by She Holds Dearly where she went into more detail about Grandmillennial style. I don't think I fit the traditional looks of it, but I do tend to mix and match my style with a heavy influence on antique and vintage.
But it's much less feminine and more heavily farmhouse, so perhaps I lean more towards Cottage? Who really knows.
What is your style? Whatever it is, mixing and matching furnishings and decor is a great way to make a cosie feel in your home and add that old charm to a builder-grade home.
This is one of the more fun options to adding that warm charm or unique character we're going for. Simply because you get to be creative and allow your home to grow naturally around your own inclinations and things that you love. Even regardless if they would traditionally go together.
27 Paint Your Walls
Go Bold or Go Neutral
Paint is widely known as the easiest and one of the least expensive options for updating and completely transforming a space.
All by itself, it can be exactly what your home needs to add that old charm to a builder-grade home. Which is pretty awesome.
I recently updated my dining room by adding a bit of dramatic color and I have to say it may become addicting. It totally transformed my dining room space. Originally it was a pretty obnoxious "Big Bird" yellow in the entire room.
I painted it white and lived with it that way for a while. I adore white, I think it really brightens and keeps everything so clean. It also allows your decor to really play a dramatic role.
So whether you want to go bold or go neutral, either one can totally work to add that unique style to your home.
28 Built-In Cabinets or Shelves
If there is one major thing on the top of my list for my dream farmhouse it's original built-ins. But if you can't have an original then building your own is the second-best option!
There is something so wonderful about a beautiful set of built-ins filled with carefully curated treasures from your thrifting adventures, your heritage pieces passed down generations, or even traveling adventures.
I will also likely be one of those with mounds of books stacked up as high as they can go on a shelf. I currently have 6 bookshelves full of books in my downstairs and I have no intention on quitting my collection any time soon!
One of the amazing things about built-ins is they saved space. They were like a closet but had much more style and intrigue. In other words, they added a ton of character, craftsmanship, and charm to the rooms they graced.
If you aren't a builder or DIYer there are other options, like IKEA hacks, or even buying a freestanding piece of furniture and framing it (installing it) onto a wall to make it appear to be a built-in!
29 Tin Ceiling Tiles
Another great way to add old charm to a builder-grade home, not neglecting the ceiling! Think of your ceilings as the 5th wall.
They may be the last place you touch, but they still need to be on your list.
I know I personally haven't even painted my ceilings in this house, but I would absolutely love to be at the place in my renovations so that I could start considering tin ceiling options.
Tin ceilings were introduced to North America as an affordable alternative to the exquisite plasterwork used in European homes. They gained popularity in the late 1800s as Americans sought sophisticated interior design.Wikipedia.com
30 Focal Wall
Paint, Wall Trim Treatments, Wallpaper, Large Art, Gallery Wall, etc.
This could be any number of different wall treatments put together to create something grand and exciting. What I love about the idea of a focal wall is that you aren't having to overwhelm a space with a whole room worth of something.
You simply put a whole lot of something good on one wall and draw the eye immediately to that space. And definitely defines the space.
It also gives you a lot of freedom elsewhere in the room to do other things.
The focal walls in my home are typically defined with textures vs color. So, I chose to do faux shiplap on multiple walls painted with a neutral White Dove by Benjamin Moore vs something louder.
But in my dining room, I took a totally new approach and painted the top half above my chair rail Cyberspace by Sherwin Williams which is a deep dark blue-grey. I love both equally and I think both have their place. Dependent on what else is going on in the room.
Well, I hope you have gained all the inspiration you need to go and dip your home in old charm and turn that builder-grade home into the victorian farmhouse, English cottage, or old granny home of your dreams!
Thank you so much for stopping by!
Hi, I'm Julie! Mother to five beautiful kids, Homeschool Educator, Writer, Handicraft & DIY Enthusiast, Photographer, Thrifter, and Furniture Restorer. Follow along for fun DIY projects creating a handmade home on a budget! Read more about me here→