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How To Add Character To A Builder Grade Home

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There’s nothing more boring than an empty home with builder grade finishes. And trust me, I know from experience cause that’s exactly what we moved into 3 years ago! Our new construction home was devoid of any character or personality whatsoever.

Watch the video instead!

Truthfully, our home is still a long way from feeling done and totally personalized! There are a lot of areas that I still feel are a total snooze fest! And even though it takes a long time to get a home feeling really ‘you’, fortunately, you can take comfort in the fact that there are a lot of things you can do to counter the boring! So in this post I’m going to share some quick easy and affordable things you can do to your home to make it a little bit less blah and a little more WHOA!

But what exactly does builder grade mean? Builder grade typically refers to standard, mass-produced finishes commonly used by contractors when building or renovating homes. Builder grade is the opposite of custom. Of course we all know that custom means moolah 💰, and builder grade materials are usually chosen for their cost-effectiveness rather than for their uniqueness. As a result, homes with builder grade finishes usually lack character and feel generic and bland.

So when we say we want to get rid of the builder grade look, what we mean by that is that we want our home to look more personalized and custom (and sometimes, as a result it ends up looking more expensive – nice bonus!).

Let’s dive in and learn how to add character to a builder grade home!

1. give your ceiling some love

To give your home a way more personalized appearance, you could look to enhancing your ceiling. Now you may be thinking , “But who looks at the ceiling anyways?” Well, you’d be surprised at just how much of a difference a jazzed up ceiling can make to the overall feel of a room.

There are tons of ways to customize a boring, white, builder grade ceiling.

The simplest way is to just paint the ceiling in a different color from the walls to create a visual contrast. If you paint your ceiling dark, it usually has the effect of lowering your ceiling. And if you paint it lighter, your ceiling can appear to be taller.

You could also paint your ceiling the same color as your walls so that you’re carrying color all the way up onto the ceiling and creating a cohesive look.

Another option is to add crown molding or some kind of decorative trim if you don’t have any.

You could also install faux beams too add architectural interest, warmth and character to your space.

Or you could buy some shiplap and shiplap your ceiling to add texture.

Another awesome ceiling element that is cheap to buy and easy to install and that will really transform the feel of your room, is a ceiling medallion.

A ceiling medallion is basically a round, ornate plate that sits right where your light fixture meets the ceiling. A ceiling medallion instantly ups your ceiling and light fixture game. They’re super easy to install and can make a big difference in how upscale and polished your space looks.

Check out these cute and affordable ceiling medallions:

2. add molding To Flat, Boring Doors

If you’re a regular around here then you know that I talk about the benefits of adding molding all the time – it really is the secret ingredient to not only giving a room a ton more character, but also making it look more expensive and polished.

Beyond adding molding to your walls, you should also consider adding it to your boring, flat hollow core doors! For example here you can see how the talented Valeria from Rebecca & Genevieve did this on her doors here:

The end result is stunning and will make your home feel more luxurious and custom. Your doors will look 10x more expensive with this tiny addition, without actually having to spend hundreds on new, fancy doors.

3. build up your existing crown molding & baseboards

Having molding is great, but even molding can look bland and underwhelming at times, so that’s why I LOVE this trick. If you want to make your existing molding look a lot more grand, then build up what’s already there. This works on crown molding and on baseboards.

If you want to build up your existing crown, you can just add a piece of trim on the wall below and then paint everything the same color to fake a larger crown. You can see how Betsy from happilyeverafter does this in her home here:

You can use the exact same technique to build up your existing baseboards as well.

Another method of building up your baseboards is to stack piece of molding on top, or use multiple pieces to create a layered look. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time in my office, where the builders installed a standard flat stock 4.5″ mdf baseboard, which I feel is a little puny for a room with 11′ ceilings.

4. create an accent wall

add character to a builder grade home by adding a textural accent wall

Many cheaply built builder grade homes often come with large, empty stretches of walls – adding features like built-ins is really expensive! And those large stretches of empty walls can definitely be a bit booooring 🥱. That’s where an accent wall comes in! An accent wall introduces a burst of visual interest and can give your space a focal point.

[I’m not talking about doing the accent wall that was big in the early 2000s where they just painted a single wall a solid, bold color that didn’t have any relation to anything else around it – that looks disjointed and unintentional and that’s not the look we’re going for.]

What you CAN do instead, is a wall of beadboard, or board and batten, or a wall of drapery, or a brick wall. Think about how you can add texture, pattern, and interest. These elements bring dimension to flat boring walls and will inject a unique flair into your space. You could also do a wall of cabinetry, or shelving, or a gallery wall.

Will these ideas also look dated in 20 years? Probably!! But we can cross that bridge when we get there 🙂. With lower commitment things like accent walls, in my opinion we can’t worry too much what’s going to be in or out in 20 years – what we’re concerned about doing right now is creating a sense of warmth, depth, and personality that’s always missing from those builder-grade basic finishes.

5. bring in wood

add character to a builder grade home by introducing wood elements to bring in warmth

Part of the reason why I think some homes often feel a bit sterile is because they lack any wood. So adding wood is a fantastic way to counterbalance the coldness of boring, builder-grade homes. Wood helps to add a feeling of history and character to cookie cutter spaces, that can often feel lacking in soul.

If you’re looking for a sure-fire way to add character to a builder grade home, wood furniture will get you the most impact, but even small touches of wood can make a big difference in the overall feel and warmth of your home. You could add a wood mantel, or install wood shelves in your kitchen, or even just use wooden picture frames.

6. Boring doorknobs and light switch plates

a beautiful doorknob will add lots of character to a builder grade home

Beautiful door knobs can be a surprisingly powerful force in adding character to a cookie-cutter or builder grade home. Think of them as the jewelry of your doors! Boring, generic builder-grade knobs feel mass-produced and blend into the background. Upgrading them instantly signals that you’ve put in thought and care.

Doorknobs are highly functional objects we interact with daily, so making them distinctive and pleasing elevates the entire experience of your home. It’s a subtle yet impactful way to tell a story and express your unique style.

The same things goes for light switches and light switch plates. These may seem like small details, but they can make a big difference in the overall aesthetics of your home.

Consider switching out your plain white switches and plates for ones with more decorative designs or interesting materials. You can also cover you light switch plates with wallpaper or just paint them to match your walls, if you are repainting.

7. Replace all the boob lights

Boob lights are the definition of how NOT to add character to a builder grade home 😂. In case you haven’t already put 2 and 2 together and figured out what a boob light is, they’re those generic, round, dome-shaped light fixtures typically found in hallways and bedrooms.

Builders love them because they’re cheap. And while they are very functional and serve their purpose of providing light, they lack any sense of style or personality.

Luckily though, replacing them is an easy fix that can make a huge impact on your home’s overall aesthetic.

If you’re considering making any changes to your home, replacing boob lights or really any generic builder-grade light fixtures devoid of personality, should be a top priority. Upgrading your light fixtures can dramatically alter the aesthetics of your living space, and can really enhance its character and overall appeal.

I actually did a whole video about boob lights; check it out:

Here is a post that features all my favorite boob-light alternatives!

8. Swap out ugly wall vents

Another easy, fun project, that is low cost and low effort but SUPER high impact, is to swap out your ugly plastic white wall vents for something cuter and more decorative.

I don’t know why but so many builder grade homes always place these ugly vents in really visible spots. To make them look a bit less 💩, and add some character to your builder grade home, try swapping out these ugly vents!

We have a few of these bad boys in our home and I’m slowly swapping them out. I’ve only done the one in our bedroom so far. All I did was buy a sheet of decorative metal, cut it to size, framed it with some molding and just stuck it on the wall. My vent didn’t have a filter or anything on it so it was fine to do it this way.

I didn’t document the process because I’m a terrible blogger, but there’s a great tutorial online from someone who did, so I recommend you check that out if you want to try your hand at this simple DIY!

9. remove all cool temperature lightbulbs

When we moved in, every single one of the light bulbs in our new home was 5000k. Now looking back, it’s no wonder I had buyers remorse, it was horrible!

Even all the pot lights, which have a literal switch on them where you can choose what temperature to put the lights to when you install them, were on the coolest temperature. 😫Like why? Well, because a lot of builders aren’t really thinking about these things, they’re just trying to get the job done as quickly as possible.

Anyways, we switched EVERY single pot light to the warmer setting, and then I switched out all the 5000k bulbs to 2700k bulbs.

5000k bulbs are horrible in interiors. They make everything feel like a hospital. Warmer lightbulbs will completely transform your home, so if your home feels uncozy but you’re not sure why, start by looking at what kind of lightbulbs you’re using.

10. Layer your window treatments

layered window treatments are a great way to bring depth and character into a bland space

A lot of basic builder grade homes have blinds. Blinds can be functional but they can also feel very rigid and a little soulless in my opinion.

I actually prefer to use curtains whenever I can.

But if your home has blinds and you feel like you want to keep them, then I highly recommend layering curtains on top them. Curtains pretty much instantly take any room up a notch and they will add softness and character to your space.

Just make sure you hang your curtains properly. Check out my video below to learn how to hang curtains correctly and steer clear of the five common curtain mistakes that most people make!

11. Add wallpaper

a bold wallpapered powder room packs a huge punch of character into any builder grade home

Wallpaper instantly adds pattern, color, and texture, so it’s a fantastic way to break up the monotony of boring walls, and create a room that feels more unique. I love the idea of experimenting with wallpaper in a smaller spaces, like a powder room, or even just in a closet, for a little unexpected pop of pattern.

The wide range of wallpaper styles that exists these days means you can easily find options that express your taste, whether you prefer something bold and graphic or a soft, calming design. There are so many options available actually, that it can even be overwhelming! And if you don’t suffer from analysis-paralysis like I do, wallpaper can be a great jumping off point for the color scheme and other decor in your room.

If you want a dramatic change in your space, that only needs a few hours of work and you can’t or don’t want to paint, then wallpaper is definitely something you’ll want to consider!

We talked about a lot of ideas today on how to add character to a builder grade home, but remember, there’s no need to tackle everything all at once! Focus on one project at a time. If you don’t know where to start, then start with whatever bothers you most. Gradually, your home will transform to reflect your unique style, and before you know it you’ll have moved away from that generic builder -grade feel and your home will feel personalized and inviting. Have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to try new things!

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