5 Ways to Give a New House Architectural Charm

By Chris Gardner | Updated May 20, 2020 9:07 AM

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Interior Architectural Details to Add Charm - Old House Exterior

Photo: raleighdurham.about.com

Most homes built in the U.S. these days are done by developers. Which can be great: contractor-built homes are energy efficient, contain the latest features and technologies, and look brand new! But, depending on your taste, that brand-new look can be awesome… or totally bland.

So if you want all the benefits of contemporary living but prefer an old-home feel, check out these tips on adding some architectural details to give a new house lots of character.


1. Install (Lots of) Architectural Molding 

Interior Architectural Details - Ceiling Coffers

Photo: Greenside Design Build, LLC

Built-in decorative features are an almost guaranteed escape from “model home syndrome.” Crown molding, ceiling coffers, baseboards, chair rails, transoms, cornice molding, wainscoting and recessed panels all impart new drywall with loads of vintage charm. Note: The earlier you install molding in a new house the better, as walls and floors are likely to become less square over time.


2. Change Up Your Cabinet Pulls 

Interior Architectural Details - Cabinet Pulls

Photo: Cabinet Cottage

You know what they didn’t have in the days of antique houses? Brushed aluminum and acrylic. So you know what you should replace in your house? The same! In your kitchen and bathroom, consider using glass knobs, which came to popularity in the early 1900s (when metal was in short supply due to the Great Depression and World Wars). To echo the look throughout your home, do the same with your door knobs, desk drawer handles, and dresser pulls.


3. Address Your Staircase

Interior Architectural Details - Newel Post

Photo: Gast Architects

Most new houses are modeled after Colonial-era homes, with the staircase front-and-center and the various rooms stemming off a main hall. Consider replacing the handrails and newel post with more elegant woodwork. Check local salvage yards, classified ads, and online sites to snag pieces that will make an impression. And if you really want to go for it, rip up your wall-to-wall carpeting and install a stair runner for a signature antique look.


4. Upgrade Your Light Switch and Outlet Plates

Interior Architectural Details - Outlet Plate

Photo: My Knobs

For very little time and money, you can easily upgrade all your switch plates and outlet covers. Look for nickel and brass finishes to stay era-appropriate. You can check antique shops if you’re a purist, but there are plenty of reproduction pieces that’ll do just fine.


5. Switch Up Your Lights

Interior Architectural Details - Period Lighting

Photo: Free House Interior Design Ideas

Nothing screams contractor-built home like contractor-grade lighting. Though energy-smart and inexpensive, such fixtures make everything look as generic as can be. Neutrality is the goal when you’re trying to entice buyers, not when you want to create a beautiful space. Look for antiques like chandeliers—but old wiring can be problematic, so consider reproductions. Wall sconces especially will evoke the era you’re after.


For more on adding old-house charm, consider:

10 Great Looks in Tin Ceiling Tiles
Bob Vila’s Guide to Historic Paint Colors