April 6, 2009

What to do with a cookie cutter?

I live in Arizona, land of suburbia and cookie cutter homes. Don't get me wrong there are lots of things I love about where I live but my least favorite part is the lack of charming details in newer homes. So how does one go about making their home look like it's more than just the builder special? I posed this question to some of the design blog gods and goddesses and they gave me their top 3 fixes for adding character to a newer home.
Eddie Ross
1.) Add molding on the walls, crown and baseboards it sets the tone of the room.
2.) Adding texture to new hardwood floors, also stains and waxes
3.) Decorating with flea market finds is always a great way to add charm.
Lauren from Pure Style Home
1) Add architectural details: you can add moldings, bead board ceilings and or walls, chair rails, wainscoting, switch out plain doors for historical ones, ditch your carpet for style-appropriate hardwood or tile, add panes to windows, etc... research whatever style it is you're going after & figure out what you can do to your home architecturally to get it there.
2) Switch out your hardware: LIGHTING-LIGHTING-LIGHTING!!! Switching out builder's grade lighting with special chandeliers & light fixtures is an easy way to inject your personality (& the feeling of age if necessary!!) into your home. The same also applies to plumbing fixtures & even your door knobs if you want to go that far.
3) Don't buy all new: Shop flea markets, antique stores & garage sales. If your furnishings and/or accessories have a sense of age about them, so will your home. Make it feel is if it has been designed & collected over time.
Seleta Hayes from Simply Seleta
Tricks for adding character in a newer home: [I've gone from most to least expensive]
1) If you can swing it, adding special architectural features such as molding or horizontal boarding instantly brings in character. Even finding an architectural piece of molding and hanging it above a fireplace or on a long wall above a sofa can be stunning. An inexpensive trick I did in my first child's nursery was adding a chair rail with large squares above and smaller squares below the rail. The squares were made of inexpensive picture molding trim. The supplies and labor only cost $200 and I had the carpenter help me measure it all out in advance. With a classic paint color and crisp white trim, the nursery went from drab to charming all while offering the character of an older home. To this day, it's still one of my favorite rooms I've ever designed.
2) If molding is out of the question, then adding one beautiful antique piece of furniture can bring both texture and personality into a room that really makes an impact. That's exactly what I did with my favorite antique from Scott's in Atlanta. It's an old green chest from Hungary coated with layers and layers of paint and markings that make it very imperfect. But it's those imperfections that add so much visual interest in a newly built space.
3) A collection of antique plates or prints hanging on a wall can make an instant statement. It doesn't have to be an expensive collection, it can even be things found at flea markets or borrowed from a favorite Aunt or grandmother. Whatever grouping you do decide to display, be sure that it is similar in theme, subject or shape. This way the grouping has continuity and reads as one large piece or focal point. Otherwise, it can end up looking "knick-knacky" which is never good. Pair the grouping with a modern chest or lamp and suddenly you have that contrast which makes for such an interesting interior. I always find it charming to see a vintage collection in a brand new house.
Erika McPherson-Powell from Urban Grace Interiors
1.) Make the big open spaces feel smaller. New construction is known for the "open floor plan" which is often hard to decorate. Use area rugs to better define spaces.
2.) Add mouldings, sometimes builders of big box track homes skimp on the details (crown moulding, trim, wainscoting)... If you can afford to add trim details it always adds interest.
3.) Swap out the fixtures/fittings. It's easy for a builder to pick one chandelier and put it in every house. Swap out the "builder lighting" for more customized fixtures that fit your style, even if you find it at Goodwill and spray paint it yourself. It's those little details that add character and bring more of "you" into your home

Joni Webb from Cote de Texas
1.) Windows and doors - Those are two things that new homes really try to get away with saving money today. To make a new home seem older, replace the windows with wood casements, it will add so much style and give it an older feel. And throw out the hollow core doors and replace them with wood doors!!! The house will feel so much more solid.
2.) Moldings - Be sure you have the appropriate moldings, especially over sized or tall baseboards and nice thick crown moldings. Add bead board where ever you can or pine paneling and paint it !!! Stucco the walls. In other words, get rid of as much plain sheet rock as possible. Old houses don't have much sheet rock in them.
3.) NO can lighting at all - Use only lamps, sconces, and chandeliers. No recessed lighting!!! And while we are on ceilings - no textured ceilings. Anywhere!
4.) Make huge rooms smaller, create nooks, add window seats - Try to add charm to the house. Huge rooms are so lifeless and cold and scream McMansion. If you have a huge master bedroom, put up walls and divide the room into a sitting room and a bedroom for instance.
Thank you so much designers for sharing your advice on how to make your home not only more beautiful but also more interesting.

[All images are newer homes with vintage elements or homes with lots of vintage finds. Images courtesy of House Beautiful, Country Living, Desire to Inspire, Remodelista and Southern Accents]


Cote de Texas said...

Thank you for posting this! I loved reading everyone's comments - how fun this is!!! Great post!

simply seleta said...

Wow, whopper of a post! Great job! I learned a few things from reading this. LOVED it! Thanks for including me [and holy long answer] in the mix.

Paloma {La Dolce Vita} said...

As a fellow suburbanite who feels your pain, I must say that this was an excellent post! Absolutely fabulous round-up and spot on advice. Great job!

Lauren said...

Sarah- such a fun post!! Everyone has such great ideas & thanks so much for including me!!! :)

Luvs2dance said...

Little Sarahies - Thanks so much for sharing...so many cool ideas, that I would have never thought of!!! I gues I have my list of projects outlined - YIPPY. Loved this post!!!

alice said...

Great post!
Cookie cutter homes are just homes waiting to be personalized!

Pittsy said...

I guess I'm a cookie cutter dweller of sorts so I especially appreciate this post. Thank you for rounding up that advice.

amber {daisy chain} said...

what great tips! we live in a sort of cookie cutter home, on a block of all craftsmen style homes built in the last 8 years. we did add some molding, but I think fabric & patterns add all the style you need, they make everything pop.
PS - I've never been to Arizona, but I watched a best-of show on the Food Network last night, and you guys have a brick oven pizza place that looks SO good, I almost want to come visit you just so I can have a slice. Do you know the place? It always has lines down the block (of course I can't remember the name).

Wood Crown Molding said...

Great tips for anyone trying to add a little extra charm to their home. The images above are beautiful and I could definitely see myself coming home and relaxing in an environment like this.

Great post, a lot of useful information.


Pink Wallpaper said...

fun post and great ideas shared by all!

Jana Jaehnig said...

thanks for this post! i'm buying my first home in gilbert and although it has wonderful upgrades and is a beautiful house, it will need some decorating to make it not feel so 'stock'. where would you suggest going locally for reasonably priced furniture (not ikea, but ikea prices)?

amber: you must be talking about pizzeria bianco! it is THE BEST pizza i've ever had (better than patsy's pizza in ny)! definitely worth a trip out here. :)

paula said...

What a fabulous post. I love all the advice. I too live in cookie cutter land and have been obsessed with making it mine. Oh, and I love your blog! Happy Easter!

nkp said...

What fantastic ideas, thanks for sharing these, and I am really smitten with some of the images you chose!

Linda/"Mom" said...

* I just saw this at Joni's... and I'm SO GLAD I came over here! Great blog, Sarah!!! ~~~ will DEFINITELY be a regular reader of yours!!!

I was happily "surprized" to see "my" new/old, long, side piece, like the one you pictured in rustic blue w/ the white mirror n' white chair~~~ Just put it out on the covered part of the patio... looks terriffic, but I have temporarily used a mirror I already had & can't WAIT to find "the right one"! Now the one in the PIC is PERFECT!!! Hmmmm....

ANyhooo, THANKS~ terriffic blog, especially since I, too, live in the desert! Looking forward to reading/seeing more!!!

Best, Linda in the AZ hills*

Sarah's Fab Day said...

Thanks everyone for the sweet comments on this post. It was really a fun one to do.

Room Service ~ Decorating 101 said...

Great post and great advice! Loved it!

Laura [What I Like] said...

What a wonderful post! I couldn't agree more about replacing the hollow doors...makes all the difference in the world, as does new lighting (I now love my very average apartment because I swapped out my horrible kitchen fixture that my landlord had cheaped out on).

Anonymous said...

Love your post. Lighting is THE accessory in any interior, just like a woman with great hairstyle. In my design projects and showroom, I also look for unique exclusive lighting to give that very special touch to a room

Dana said...

Wow! all images look awesome. i liked the all in white furniture and walls alot. The lights and the dining room decor.

nik said...

They aren't "track homes." They're "tract homes." They're built on vast tracts of land.