Better Your Builder-Grade Home with 12 Old-House Details

In a community of volume homes, where most facades are similar, dare to be different. Unlock the secrets to aesthetic appeal with timeless trends and historic features that can help your home cross the bridge from uniformity to uniqueness. Read on to learn how to use low-cost furniture, fixtures, and architectural finds to transform your copycat home into a high-style original.

Wow 'Em with Wainscoting

Install Wainscoting

The three-dimensional quality of wainscoting adds a finishing touch to plain-Jane painted drywall. This millwork comes in a variety of styles, including raised or flat panel as well as cottage-style beadboard. Wainscoting isn't just for the indoors, either. Board-and-batten was often used on farmhouse exteriors during the Arts and Crafts era, and today provides textural interest to any interior space.

Related: 10 Ways to Reinvent Any Room with Crown Molding

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Trim a Room with Rustic Beams

Add Charm with Wood Beams

Wood beams are a wonderful way to add character to both modern and traditional interiors. Accent the ceiling of a long room by adding evenly spaced beams, or mount a single beam over a doorway for a dramatic take on trim. With real and faux wood beams available at a variety of price points, they're a great way to create character overhead without going overboard.

Related: 14 Ways to Pull Off a Double-Duty Dining Room

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Add an Antique Door

Add an Antique Door

Yesteryear’s door designs bring architectural interest to otherwise ordinary entryways. These days you can still find vintage styles for sale at flea markets and salvage stores. The Dutch door, which is split into independently operating upper and lower sections, was once a practical fixture in farmhouses, letting fresh air inside while keeping animals out. Today, it’s both practical and charming, delightful for use in entryways, kitchens, and playrooms.

Related: DIY Ideas to Steal from 5 Easy Porch Makeovers

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Warm Up with Wood

Accent a Wall with Wood

An alternative to a painted accent wall, wood paneling offers instant warmth and cabin-like coziness, and creates a one-of-a-kind focal point. For a modern look, position the planks horizontally and leave them natural, or opt for whitewash for an informal beachy feel

Related: 9 DIY Ways to Redo Your Wall—Without Paint

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Install an Indoor Slate Floor

Install Slate Flooring

Traditional outdoor flooring options can be brought indoors to stunning effect. Try irregularly shaped slate in the kitchen, mudroom, or bath for a look that complements both vintage and modern interiors. Slate is a time-tested classic for a reason: Its smooth, durable, and moisture-resistant surface makes it ideal for heavy-traffic areas, and it's impervious to most stains when properly sealed.

Related: 10 Kitchen Updates You Can Do in a Day

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Swap Out a Standard Tub

Swap Out a Standard Tub

Soak your cares away in luxury with the nostalgic elegance of a freestanding tub. An elegant claw-foot adds drama that a standard bath just can’t match. This classic style, first manufactured in the United States in the late 19th century, is back in fashion—so take advantage of its timeless appeal to add distinction and value to your home’s interior. 

Related: 14 Retro Home Trends It’s Time to Revisit

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You Can't Go Wrong with a Chesterfield

Choose a Chesterfield Sofa

It’s not every day you buy a new sofa. This living room workhorse is one of your costlier investments, so it’s important to choose a model that's durable enough to live up to daily usage, and stylish enough to stand the test of time. If you had to pick one design that does it all, the tufted Chesterfield is it. This classic piece will always feel current, but never dated.

Related: The 7 Room Layout Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes; photography by Claire Esparros

Say "Oui" to a Louis Philippe Mirror

Put Up a Vintage Mirror

With its classic shape and curved top, this traditional French mirror is a surprisingly apt complement to modern spaces. If you can't afford an actual antique or custom version, you'll find a variety of reproductions available for purchase. Inspired by the 19th-century originals, this hand-carved mirror with beaded detail was designed by Michelle at AM Dolce Vita

Related: 9 Ways to Make a Half Bath Feel Whole

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Put Your Powder Room on a Pedestal

Choose a Classic Pedestal Sink

You can’t go wrong with a white porcelain pedestal sink. Its vintage charm offers unrivaled character that never goes out of style. As long as you don’t need under-counter storage, it's worth considering swapping out your builder-grade basin for a sculptural sink like the substantial fixture shown here. The simple lines and stately appeal of a pedestal will set your powder room apart from the rest.

Related: 10 Smart Storage Tricks for a Tiny Bathroom

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Outshine the Competition with a Crystal Chandelier

Hang a Chandelier

Turn a ho-hum room into a sophisticated space with a crystal chandelier that harks back to the elegance of bygone days. With its twinkling prisms, this refined fixture will enhance a room with reflected light. For a daring twist on the traditional dining room placement, add a smaller version to your kitchen or powder room. It's a chic alternative that’s simply brilliant.

Related: 11 Big Ideas for a Small Dining Room

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Install Tin Tiles

Install Tin Ceiling Tiles

Don’t overlook the ceiling's role in providing visual interest in your home. Pressed-tin panels are available in a variety of patterns and colors, and add a traditional touch to any kitchen. For a lower-cost option, purchase Styrofoam ceiling tiles that offer the same old-fashioned look for less, and still leave a lasting impression.

Related: 9 Simple DIY Ways to Reinvent Your Kitchen Cabinets

As Simple as Black and White

Decorate in Black and White

Black-and-white floor tiles are a classic choice for retro yet elegant kitchen and baths. Anything but boring, this color combination works well in both contemporary and traditional interiors. With a long history of popularity dating back to Victorian times, the enduring appeal of this geometric pattern will give your home the distinction it deserves.

Related: 9 Ways to Make Your Old Bathroom New Again

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Don't Miss!


If you have the money to hire a handyman for every household woe, go ahead. But if you want to hang on to your cash and exercise some self-sufficiency, check out these clever products that solve a million and one little problems around the house. Go now!