If you live in a non-custom new build or an older tract home, chances are the finishes inside are what’s known as “builder grade”. That is, pretty basic and (sorry) registering pretty low on the style meter. That wall paint, those light fixtures–the builder bought generic stuff in bulk and at discount to complete a number of homes.   What can be done to help personalize cookie cutter homes? I’ve helped lots of clients with this, and here are some of my tips. Check out these three home upgrades that add instant character!

Custom Upgrade #1 – Add a wall treatment

dark wall treatment

Picture frame molding is a quick fix for ho-hum walls, and adds so much textural interest. This look is really trending, and any finish carpenter can do it for you. (You might even want to DIY it!) If you live in an 80’s or 90’s house with this style of paneling, just have it caulked and painted!

By the way, here’s a bonus tip from that client’s room: dark paint.  If you’re looking to move the needle on the style meter, try wrapping a room in a deep, moody paint color.  (If you’re not ready to take the plunge, try just one dark accent wall.)

dark paint dining room

Another wall treatment you might consider is board and batten.  This wood trim accent brought class and personality to my client’s dining room. Combine it with wallpaper, as I did, for a truly custom look.

board and batten wall

Or you might want to try wallpaper alone. It’s a quick way to put your unique stamp on a room and it’s a really easy way to create an accent wall! Don’t worry, the wallpapers popular today are not your grandma’s wallpaper. (My apologies in advance to all you cool grandmas who are totally down with the terrific new wallpaper patterns out there now!)

wallpaper family room

Still shy about wallpaper? A specialized paint pattern like the buffalo check one we created for my sweet client might be your custom answer. It requires only a ruler, level, painter’s tape, and three shades of a paint color. Voila! And when you’re ready to change, it’s simple to paint over it.

accent wall feature wall

One last suggestion for swoon-worthy custom walls.

Shiplap hasn’t gone away, friends.  A shiplap wall and/or ceiling treatment is still a great choice to take your modern farmhouse from blah to ta-DAH!

shiplap walls

Custom Upgrade Tip #2 – Add built-ins

Nothing says custom like built-in cabinets and shelving, and tract homes are notoriously lacking in them.  I love designing ways to add the charm and character of custom carpentry into a home.

custom built in

In the home below, we first had to tear out an old configuration of bookshelves that just weren’t working for the family.  Then we were able to give them this new and much more functional built-in that included tv console and home office/homework nook.

living room built ins

And while you have the carpenter there doing built-ins, check pricing to add crown molding and replace wimpy wood trim around your home for new, more substantial widths. I promise, you’ll love the custom look of taller baseboards, chunkier trim, and a finished ceiling line!

Custom Upgrade Tip #3 – Change out lighting

You don’t have to settle for the light fixtures your builder or the previous owner picked out.  New lighting is an easy and affordable upgrade, the jewelry that makes your home’s look uniquely yours.

Maybe your kitchen pendants are begging to come into the 21st century. I fell hard for these new brass and black ones while redoing my client’s galley kitchen.

kitchen pendants

I hope you’ve declared war on your dated dining room chandelier.  For instant style points, try a beauty like this one we picked.

dining room chandelier

Even a playroom wants some love and attention to its lighting. Kids deserve great style, too!


Dreams will definitely be sweeter when you’ve replaced “boob” ceiling lights in your bedroom. A chandelier? Why not?

bedroom chandelier

Who said you had to have lamps on your bedside table?  My clients loved the suggestion of these fabulous pendants in the owner suite.

bedroom pendants

Want more ideas for customizing your builder-grade home? What about replacing your hardware with handles and knobs that say “MY style”? And don’t overlook the potential of new faucets!

courtney warren home design dallas

Need some help with a vision for customizing your home?  Let’s talk!

I offer a complimentary, no-strings-attached phone call consultation.