Design Interior Design

18 Ways to Make Your New House Look Old

Do you live in a 1980s ranch, but wish it were a stately Colonial or a quirky Victorian? These DIY updates will make your cookie-cutter home look like a charming old dwelling.

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn More ›

Give Your New House a Little Old House Appeal

You’ve just purchased a home that was built in the past 10 to 15 years, and it has everything you need: the perfect location, a good-size lot, big closets, top-of-the-line kitchen appliances, a two-car garage, even a fireplace. It’s missing just one thing: character. Your house looks an awful lot like all the other houses in the neighborhood. While new homes don’t develop personality overnight, a few easy updates can instill in your new place the charm of an older one. Ranging from simple fixes like changing the paint colors to more ambitious projects like adding trim and beadboard, these 18 upgrades will transform your builder-grade home into something special.

Install Crown Molding

In older homes, it’s all about the small details. Take crown molding, for example. Available in widths from simple to extravagant, crown molding provides a finishing touch in any room. Before you do it yourself, check that you’ve got the right tools for the job or hire a pro to help you cut each piece to size and install it properly against the wall.

Mix Up the Furniture

If you want to achieve a layered, lived-in look, then buying all your furniture at a department store in one afternoon won’t cut it. Instead, gradually acquire your pieces over time to achieve the mismatched “some of these pieces are heirlooms, others I’ve acquired on my worldwide travels” vibe. Craft fairs, antiques stores, salvage shops, art exhibits, and even Craigslist will offer unusual pieces that can infuse your home with timeless charm.

10 Rules to Follow When Buying Secondhand Furniture

Paint It

Nothing dates a home like color. Sometimes that’s not ideal (think 1970s olive green). But if you’re trying to evoke a particular period, a change of hue can transport your home back in time. Arts and Crafts, Victorian, and Colonial interiors each call for different colors, and paint companies offer collections to help you mix up the perfect combination.

Build Built-Ins

Not only are built-in shelves and bookcases practical because they turn empty spaces into valuable storage nooks, but they also give a home a stately, custom look. Alter the styling according to your taste. For instance, a built-in lined with beadboard appears farmhouse-rustic, while darker wood tones call to mind a dignified old library.

Change the Ceiling

While tin ceilings rose to popularity in the 1880s, they’re still in vogue today. Whether you add these tiles to your kitchen ceiling or use them to create an eye-catching vintage backsplash, they’re certain to bring in historical charm. RELATED: 9 Ceiling Types You’ll See in Homes

While tin ceilings rose to popularity in the 1880s, they’re still in vogue today. Whether you add these tiles to your kitchen ceiling or use them to create an eye-catching vintage backsplash, they’re certain to bring in historical charm.

9 Ceiling Types You’ll See in Homes

Go for Wainscoting

Wainscoting enhances any plain wall and, for DIYers with good basic home improvement skills, it’s not too difficult to install. If you want to take your old-home quotient up a notch, remember that in older homes the fanciest wainscoting was reserved for the main floors. Save simpler wainscoting designs for the family quarters.

Incorporate Natural Materials

There’s nothing wrong with laminate or vinyl surfaces, but if you want your countertops or floors to appear older—sturdier, even—opt for natural materials. You might consider wood or stone countertops, for example, and ceramic tile or hardwood floors. If you’re decorating to imitate a bygone era, keep in mind that wide-plank wood floors have a more antique look than narrow boards.

All You Need to Know About Slate Floors

Change Up Your Cabinet Pulls

They didn’t have brushed aluminum and acrylic cabinet hardware back in the old days. So you know what you should replace in your house? Any pulls in your home that are made of these newfangled materials. In your kitchen and bathroom, consider using glass knobs, which were popular 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 desk drawer handles, dresser pulls, and closet doors. 

Address Your Staircase

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 do it up right, rip up your wall-to-wall carpeting and install a stair runner for a signature antique look.

Upgrade Your Light Switch and Outlet Plates

Builder’s-grade light switch and outlet plates are plain and lack any bit of visual appeal. Look for nickel and brass finishes to stay era-appropriate. You can check antiques shops if you’re a purist, but there are plenty of reproduction pieces that’ll do just fine.

Switch Up Your Lights

Nothing screams contractor-built home like contractor-grade lighting. Swap out the generic fixtures for something that has more character, like chandeliers or antique lanterns. 

Buyer’s Guide: The Best Online Lighting Stores

Hang Wallpaper

Wallpaper was a popular choice in the early 1900s, but by the millennium it was outdated—and a pain to hang. Luckily, advancements like peel-and-stick application have made wallpaper much easier to put up. Covering blank walls with a fun pattern will make a major difference.

Replace Doors

Swap out your simple exterior doors for ones that have more character, or paint them in shades that evoke an earlier era. You’ll be surprised at what a difference it makes when you switch your drab metal garage doors with warm wood ones, or swap out a lackluster side entrance with an inviting Dutch door.

Close Up the Open Floor Plan

First floors in newer houses tend to be light and airy, while in older homes these family spaces are more likely to be snug and intimate. Although retrofitting interior walls may seem impractical or undesirable, there are plenty of ways to divvy up large spaces. For instance, half walls and built-in cabinets or bookcases are great for creating smaller functional areas. If construction seems too daunting, consider using strategically placed furnishings or a vintage-style folding room screen to define cozier spaces. 

15 Reasons to Think Twice About an Open Floor Plan

Swap Out Flat Interior Doors

A builder’s grade flush interior door gives off a cold, no-frills vibe that positively trumpets “contemporary.” Do a little research into styles that capture the period you’re aiming for and replace those drab doors with more elegant paneled options. As an alternative, you can save some money by applying trim to your flat doors to create a paneled look.

Focus on Fixtures and Fittings

In the kitchen and bathroom, retro-style sinks, faucets, vanities, and bathtubs help foster an old-house aesthetic. Opt for two-handle faucets rather than single-handle styles and classic white ceramic or porcelain sinks instead of stainless. Reliable old-house touches include a claw-foot tub and pedestal sink in the bathroom, and an expansive farmhouse-style sink with an integrated drainboard in the kitchen.

Make the Most of Custom Trim

Interiors of old houses were frequently embellished with custom trim work. Bring the craftsmanship of the past to your own home with details like ceiling medallions, fancy baseboard moldings, and chair rail and picture molding. Carefully chosen and installed trim can add interest and texture to boring surfaces and imbue a room with elegance and a sense of history.

Custom Moldings: Top Tips for Duplicating Interior Trim

Trade Out the Doorknobs

Why settle for basic, functional interior door knobs when there’s such a wealth of period-appropriate styles available, both reproduction and salvaged? Recall the grace of bygone days with crystal or porcelain knobs, or brass knobs with floral patterns, all paired with decorative backplates. Remember: Small details like doorknobs can have an outsize impact.