If there is one thing I LOVE in interior design, it’s character. You can fill an empty space with tons of cool stuff, but if the space doesn’t have any character, it’s still just a bunch of stuff. But we can’t all live in historic homes with architectural details and stories to tell… So what do we do? My sweet (and oh-so-talented) friend Nina from Nina Hendrick Design Co. is here today to tell you how to add character to a builder-grade home. And bonus, folks, this will not only add beauty to your space but value to your home. Welcome, Nina!
Hey there! I’m so honored to be visiting my dear friend Rachel’s blog today while she enjoys snuggling that precious new baby girl. My name is Nina from Nina Hendrick Design Co. I live in New England with my husband Mack, our three children, and our golden retriever Lucy. On my blog and Instagram, I share snippets of our life in New England from entertaining, to organizing, to decorating and renovating our 1980s colonial.
Our 1980s Colonial is what I’m going to talk to you about today. When we moved in, we knew we had a big project ahead of us, and in some ways we still do. There were a lot of dated wall treatments (gold sponge paint swirls, anyone?) and peeling wallpaper. All of the trim, as well as the floors and cabinets, was orange wood. Although it was hard to see past all of those things (and we’ve spoken to many people since who passed on the house because of them!), we saw the truly great bones of the house and had a clear vision for what it could be. You can see the before photos of the house here for perspective (and the photos are honestly more forgiving than the reality). I’ve had so many people ask me “How on earth did you look at that house and have a vision?”. Part of the answer is that it’s what I do- designing spaces in my head is just something I’ve always had a knack for. However, there are also some tried-and-true strategies for updating a home that anyone can apply if they are aware of them!
1. Nix the orange wood and dated paint
The power of paint is incredible, and we saw it first hand in hearing the stories of people who wouldn’t take on the house we ended up buying. It’s a relatively inexpensive and easy fix, especially if you do it yourself. I may be wrong here, but I don’t believe the orange wood of the 70s, 80s, and 90s will be coming back into style anytime soon. If it does, I’m sufficiently confident that I won’t be wishing for it in my space anyway. The first big step we made when we moved into our builder-grade home was modernizing the first floor with white trim and painted cabinets. Now, I know some people have strong feelings about white, and I’m not trying to tell you it’s the only way. You can certainly experiment with color! Gray or dark trim and colored cabinets are also very beautiful. Customize the advice to your taste and style. No matter which colors you choose, updating the trim, walls, and cabinets will give you a “blank slate” that can open your eyes wider to the potential for other projects.
2. Look for the potential for built-ins
My very favorite thing to add to any home are built-ins. Old homes often have charming built-in nooks and crannies that are so often missing in builder-grade homes. So far we’ve added built-ins to our mudroom, breakfast nook, and pantry. They are by far my favorite features in the entire house. An important piece of advice for planning a built-in is to think about how you actually use the space. We transformed our awkward laundry closet to a mudroom because we had coats and backpacks piled in our hallway. We had a beautiful bay window in our breakfast nook that was just begging for a bench (and we gained some bonus storage out of it!). As far as our pantry goes, I have always dreamed of having a beautiful and organized pantry. I sketched out a plan with sections for the things we use most and my husband Mack built it. Because I planned it with our organizing systems in mind, it’s still organized and functional five years later! The character in that particular project came from the country-style jars and baskets that served the function of storing items. All-in-all, function comes first when planning a built-in, and character is the welcome result.
3. Coordinate the flooring
Simplifying the flooring can make a huge impact in a builder-grade home. Some builder-grade homes (including ours) seem to have a hodge-podge of materials, often what was the least expensive for the contractor at the time. We started with eight different types of flooring on our first floor. We have now narrowed that down to two types- tile in the mudroom and powder room, and then dark hickory hardwoods throughout the rest. I know flooring can be expensive, and we tackled the project by purchasing the hardwood during a sale and doing the installation ourselves room-by-room as time permitted. While we are just starting on the upstairs, we have a similar plan. Our master bedroom has engineered hardwood and then we narrowed the carpet in the rest of the bedrooms from a few different types down to just one. We haven’t tackled any of the upstairs bathrooms yet, but my plan is to do coordinating tile.
4. Consider Wall Treatments
Some people would disagree with this and say that it automatically dates a home, but I firmly believe that wall treatments add timeless character and beauty. Board-and-batten, planking, and beadboard are some of my favorite wall treatments. We have used all three in our home with plans for more. In our dining room, we decided we didn’t want to do planking for the whole room, so we did one wall and a half-wall treatment for the rest. It was something I hadn’t seen before, but the result paid off! I absolutely love the variation.
5. Bring in meaningful decor and furniture
Now that you have a lovely blank slate well established, it’s time for the decor. For a while, I struggled with wanting to rush and have every room perfectly furnished yesterday. Now, I’m finding that seeking out items that have meaning or that I truly love means a lot more and adds to the overall character of our home. Whether it’s a kitchen island that my husband and I built together and found the perfect piece of marble for on Craigslist, his grandfather’s drafting table, or a cubby organizer from a Boston general store in the 1800s, I’ve taken so much joy in adding things to our home that tell a story of some kind. Not only do they become perfect conversation pieces when we entertain, but more importantly they add a sense of depth and comfort to our daily lives.
Bonus tip: Take your Time and Enjoy It
I’m also speaking to myself when I write this extra advice. We have lived in our home now for five years. It has changed drastically during that time, and there’s still a lot more to do. However, it doesn’t have to be done tomorrow and I’ve seen the evidence firsthand that taking things slowly can be beneficial. I’ve found as we’ve lived in our space and our family has grown and changed that we have different needs. My project plans adjust accordingly, and it has lead to a natural evolution in our home and projects. I’ve yet to regret a project, so I believe that taking the time to think about them and plan them out for how our family is actually living has helped in the long run, even though it sometimes feels frustrating to move slowly.
I hope that this advice inspired you to tackle some changes or even take on a builder-grade home! I can promise you that the dramatic results are more than rewarding. Thank you so much for joining me today, and a huge thank you to sweet Rachel for inviting me to stop by. Please feel free to visit me or subscribe to my newsletter to see more!