How to create a style appropriate to a 1990s builder's house

June 2, 2013

Pal said in a recent post on period bathrooms:

Compare this to a 1990s builder's house that is likely to have a Palladian window, contemporary interior floor plan, colonial interior trim work, shaker cabinets, and Victorian looking faucets, and Craftsman Light fixtures with somewhat rustic stone look porcelain floor tile...and you can kind of see that it doesn't really point in any direction because there IS no direction for the entire house. And the mix has gotten so pervasive that people have lost the ability to even Identify what the mish mashed elements even Are, taken individually

OK People, I need help.

We are closing tomorrow and moving into just such a place.

Seller has been in the home since 1989. It has mauve vertical blinds with powder blue valances in the LR. Oak in the kitchen. 3 baths that are perfectly functional, but with cultured marble tops, the older, lower height vanities, hollywood bulb light fixtures. Main room has high vaulted ceilings (popcorn of course), wall to wall carpet (no hardwood underneath), and a sliding glass patio door to the deck (in the dining room). It is very clean and has been maintained.

I have been living in a 1931 colonial revival with plaster walls, bathrooms just like in Pal's post, and moldings and hardwood floors.

Let's hear it! What do ya got to say GW?

I have some ideas in mind, but want to hear yours first before I reveal what I have been considering.

And the reason we are moving is that this home is in a subdivision that we don't have to mow or do the snow.

Comments (48)

  • awm03

    Looks like nice space & light! Will you be keeping your furniture or buying new? If the former, do a style in keeping with your furniture. If buying new, contemporize.

  • allison0704

    DD2's house is also a 1990's builder home purchased pre-construction by the older couple she purchased it from a few years ago - minus the vaulted popcorn ceiling and sliding glass door it sounds a lot like yours. Here is a link to her DR transformation. She's yet to reveal the MBR, guest room turned playroom or the kitchen... but the MBR should be revealed soon. As you see, it's eclectic.

    Yours is also light and bright. Taking down the blinds and curtains, then painting will do wonders. DD2 painted her kitchen cabinets and put new counters (wood) but hopes to replace the cabinets eventually.

    There are links at the bottom to the rest of her home, with before and after pictures:

    Here is a link that might be useful: DD2 DR

    This post was edited by allison0704 on Sun, Jun 2, 13 at 20:32

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  • palimpsest

    Location, amenities and price are all good reasons why people buy houses. My sister lived in a very pretty 1930s Dutch colonial that was a millstone around her neck, and now lives in a bland townhouse with quite ugly bathrooms that will never be renovated. But she has no outside maintenance responsibilities and it has the right number of rooms and an attached garage and other things that make it a very nice place for her to live despite its aesthetic shortcomings.

    The first thing you need to decide is what you Must change, and what you would like it to look like within the context of the existing volumes: short of putting in another floor, it will always be a vaulted space and that needs to be respected.

  • juliekcmo

    Photos are of seller's furniture.

    We plan to keep most of our furniture that Makes Sense. Anything too worn, or not necessary will be donated.

    We want a less cluttered, more upscale casual feel to this house than our previous one.

    Our 1st priority, Job 1 as they say, is to remove and discard window treatments. DH wants plantation shutters, which I also agree would be very dog-friendly and easy to live with.

    2nd priority will be to get a functional kitchen/update appliances. Probably do that this fall. At this time we will install a 30 inch range and hood where the wall oven/micro is located. And the island will have butcherblock counter installed. This is the extent of making the kitchen functional.

    Then we plan to live with everything for a while and see what other functional needs may need to be addressed before more decorative updates are done.

    Currently we are expecting to paint kitchen cabinets, add tile countertops, change out light fixtures, open up wall between kitchen and DR, add french door in place of slider, remove popcorn ceilings, add hardwood floors in public areas, paint all wood in the house white, paint interior, add some built-in in the lower level family room, update bathroom counters, sinks, faucets, flooring, and probably will need new hvac. This is our 5 year plan. So we need a style to grow toward, and noncongruent styles to avoid in all of this.

    I am thinking of a lakehouse/vacation home feel. Leather, linen, wrought iron, non shiny wood, not to busy with pattern, relaxed, nothing to MCM or retro.

  • palimpsest

    For the overall Envelope I would encourage you to look at the work of Hugh Newell Jacobsen. I think there are similarities in the overall volumes. I don't think that these interiors are driven by MCM furniture, I think within the neutral setting you could use what you liked to some extent:

  • kswl2

    Love HNJ's signature egg crate bookshelves and think they work really well with vaulted ceilings--- clean lines, not a lot of extraneous moldings, square shapes that can easily be staggered or otherwise arranged on irregular walls in a way regular bookcases or "wall units" cannot.

  • Caree

    I think we're supposed to burn them. Or refuse to buy and live on the streets.

  • jmc01

    "Then we plan to live with everything for a while and see what other functional needs may need to be addressed before more decorative updates are done."

    You have the best plan with this one idea!

  • juliekcmo

    Thank you. I see that I can lift the symmetry, lack of nonfunctional ornamentation, calm colors, use of natural materials, and generally spare style to create a backdrop that would serve this well.

    So is the danger to add too much and lose the balanced calm?

  • palimpsest

    I think one of the mistakes with the seller's decor is that it essentially creates a horizon line of conventional ceiling height and completely ignores anything above 8 feet.

    While Jacobsen does't really emphasize the upper volumes other than allowing them to exist, he doesn't visually cut them off either.

    I think you could go a long way by painting the entire surface of the living space, all it's trim and ceiling included in a single white shade, and installing plantation shutters in the same shade.

  • juliekcmo

    Thanks Pal

    I agree that doing as you suggest, and grounding with hardwoods is what the space is lacking The horizontal use of space currently is off proportion to me.

    And I haven't even shown the fireplace wall that really has issues with this area.

    We will probably move our contents in two weeks or so.

    I will post more pictures in a couple of days with the space empty

    Thanks and keep the ideas coming.

  • palimpsest

    I would also suggest looking at pictures of

    the Vanna Venturi House, and other houses by Robert Venturi or Venturi, Scott-Brown Associates.

    The Vanna Venturi House is the first prominent post-modernist residence, built for Bob Venturi's mother. It probably signaled the beginning of the use of these interior volumes. It took a couple more decades for these types of volumes to show up in builder architecture.

    The downfall of their use in a lot of common architecture was kind of two fold. In the 70s through 90s I think the overall footprint that these houses were built on could carry the ceilings properly, but at the same time the extraneous details started to filter in because 1) it was cheaper to build if you could cover things up with stock trim and 2) most people like modern floorplans but "tradional" houses. They don't really understand the disconnect of what they are doing.

    The second major shift of using these volumes occurred when the vaults and double heights started to be combined with smaller and smaller footprints.

    Your house seems to be of adequate size to carry the height, but with smaller and smaller room size the "tower" or "toaster slot" effect starts to occur. Part of this is due to the use of these elements indiscriminately in small houses, part of it is because of their use combined with a slight shift away from open plan to enclosed rooms.

  • palimpsest

    Memphis-oid furniture aside, your house shares something with this:

    and these interior photos of the Vanna Venturi house at various time points show that the house was actually lived in with "normal" furniture.

    I think the Venturi house is important because of what it represents more than for the idea that it is a masterwork. There are some things that are not completely likeable about it. It has flaws, and it's an immature example of Venturi's output.

    But it does show that these kind of spaces can take regular furnishings.

    What I often run across in the forums though, is people who have houses like yours wondering what More they can do to it to make it look better, when I think the Real Question is What LESS should you do to it to make it look better.

    If you compare the Hugh Newell Jacobsen houses to the Venturi house, you can see how much more "stripped" the Jacobsen work is. But this "lack of detail" is actually a great deal of detail, but all of it suppressed or hidden, and very expensive to do.

    The Venturi house, on the other hand has a fair amount of visible, conventional trim, but it is suppressed in color and ornament.

    So in your new house, you need to consider what needs to be Removed, (even if you are only removing it by painting it to match) rather than what needs to be added.

  • annie1971

    We have a mid 90's house and I have to say I'm saddened and offended by some of the generalizing comments. We lived in a double-wide during our college years, a DC townhouse, built a very upscale home in rural Virginia and find our current residence out West a breath of fresh air. Yep, built in 1994; we've made changes for sure, but it's suiting our lifestyle and stage in life. We are considered to be in a premier neighborhood with a waiting list for resale purchases; however, I guess it would not suit most of you on this forum.
    Snookums2, please explain your comment about either burning, or living on the streets. It's an ugly comment, at best and I don't get it, although I've tried to fit it into the thread somehow.

  • palimpsest

    There was a generalized loss of direction in residential architecture that seemed to strike the US in the 1980s or 1990s and since then a lot of general builder's types of houses have been -- weird. Badly proportioned and strange mixes of styles. Not all of them by a longshot, but there have been entire books written on the loss of "something" when it comes to late 20th century architecture.

    I think Snookums is just referencing that type of comment.

    I make this type of comment all the time, and I can't really apologize for it. We are really in a period of architectural inferiority when it comes to mass architecture. So, I think she is saying, tongue in cheek, that people feel these houses aren't worth living in.

    I wouldn't live in one of them if I could avoid it. Right now I can but who knows about the future? One may fit the bill someday.

    That said, the 1963 house I will be moving into soon is quite ugly in some respects, but at least the architect had a persistent vision and *it fit my criteria at this point in my life.

    But really, a house is an inanimate object. It's a thing we need to live in, and whether someone thinks yours or mine is ugly isn't a Personal insult, because it's about a pile of building materials. Not really something that requires personal offense --it's not about you.

  • rosie

    Juliekcmo, one thing that struck me is that, although you're reaching for a style, not one word has been said about climate. Geography. Local culture.

    Climate alone should be a major consideration. There're reasons why gray is so appealing in Manhattan--and pictures of those apartments look dreary and cold when viewed from an Atlanta suburb. Why the blue and mauve that looked so right in desert climates almost immediately became almost nauseating when adopted as a national trend.

    Vertical trees. Horizontal skyline. Heavy snows. Steep roofs, flat roofs. People and noise everywhere. Birdsong everywhere, not even a road in sight. Green everywhere, up down, right left. Gold, lavender and pink on all sides, cloudless blue above. Hard black shadows. Soft gray-blue ones. Light that makes a glory of bright colors. Light that makes them appear garish. Light reflecting green in the woods.

    The problem with that wonderfully comfortable and livable house is that it is totally generic, replicated by the millions, seen wherever one goes, the wonderful and tremendously important differences between geography, climate, culture, the ways people regard life itself irrelevant to design.

    This thread, like so many others, is demonstrating the perniciously homogenizing effect this has had on how we approach decorating. The same way everywhere. (Thank goodness for Palimpsest and others like her who are always trying to break us out of this mass-produced box-thought.)

    You are busy using ideas offered to spark new thoughts, and that's great. Just don't forget to look out the window, drive around town, and run them by that reality too.

    BTW, this has the ring of truth to me. Pinged loud as soon as I read it: "What I often run across in the forums though, is people who have houses like yours wondering what More they can do to it to make it look better, when I think the Real Question is What LESS should you do to it to make it look better." But then maybe a less is more look'd be kind of strange there... Are you deluged with sensory overload every time you leave your home?

  • Tmnca

    Why is ugly stuff from 1930, 1950 or 1960 "period" "MCM" etc and stuff from the 1990's is "ugly" and "lacks vision"? Hindsight is 20-20, I don't think that architects had any more quality or quantity of vision in 1950 than they did in 1990.

    It's all a matter of personal preference, and we don't all share the same preferences.

    That said, *I* think the house posted in the OP is very nice, I like the lofty ceilings and natural light. MY preferences for the house posted in the OP would be to remove all the fussy, clashing window coverings and replace with more natural blinds and drapes such as bamboo and linen - I just like natural materials.

    I hate carpet so I'd consider removing it and replacing it with wood if it's in the budget.

    I'd paint the walls and ceiling same color in the rooms with vaulted ceilings, the transition from beige to white looks strange when the angles are so open.

    The soffits in the kitchen are unfortunately they make the ceiling feel low and closed in compared to the rest of the house, but the plates up there call attention to it. Presumably those are going away with the PO.

  • juliekcmo

    Thank you to all who made helpful suggestions.

    To offer some additional info to those who asked: The setting is lovely and wooded, with a small stream in the back yard visible from the deck and walk out lower level. Very private. The home and neighborhood is well laid out and is sited well in that no direct vis a vis windows exist, so you don't see into your neighbor's home nor do they see directly into yours. Even standing on the deck you can't see directly into the neighboring houses.

    The interior gets great natural light.

    We will eventually put in hardwood floors, but that will most likely not be for a couple of years as we want to pay as we go for all improvements.

    We are actually thinking about keeping the cabinets oak in the kitchen, and going eventually with basic black granite counters and butcher block on the island.

    The shiny brass fixtures will need to be replaced, thinking black iron in simple forms, but are not totally sure about that yet.

    I will post pictures on Saturday once we get things cleaned up and some of our things in.

  • palimpsest

    Here is another pair of completely postmodernist fireplaces.
    The only reason I am posting the arrow shaped one, is to show that --again--the postmodernist house was filled with very traditional furniture.

    And--although your house is not specifically like this, they are of the same period and there are commonalities.

    This one has nothing to do with your house, but was in the same photobucket file:

    And, although it has been interpreted, wrongly, that I despise everything about 1990s architecture, I don't. I think the volumes that they developed in houses like yours are great. My criticism is generally of the lack of attention to the various decorative details that were put in by the builders.

  • Caree

    "Snookums2, please explain your comment about either burning, or living on the streets. It's an ugly comment, at best and I don't get it, although I've tried to fit it into the thread somehow.

    We have a mid 90's house and I have to say I'm saddened and offended by some of the generalizing comments. .... I guess it would not suit most of you on this forum."

    My comment:

    "I think we're supposed to burn them. Or refuse to buy and live on the streets."

    Annie, I'm sorry you misinterpretted my comment. Yes, its reference does span across threads but also to the OP's opening post. It may be ugly but I didn't think it could be misinterpretted! Like you, I get tired of the blatant, insensitive insults to people's homes and taste here. So, that was my sarcastic response to what the OP was supposed to be doing with her house, to make other people happy that they don't have to look at such atrocities anymore.

    I think it's highly amusing that you call me on such an insult, considering how many times we hear those type of comments. I often think, if I or one of the other women were to say that, all he!! would break out. So it doesn't surprise me that way, except that was not what I meant!

    Sorry you had to think about my comment so much. I'm actually on your side.

    "whether someone thinks yours or mine is ugly isn't a Personal insult, because it's about a pile of building materials. Not really something that requires personal offense --it's not about you."

    That is just not true. Our homes are very personal and it is a well known fact that people are extremely sensitive about their homes and their personal taste. Without going into that can of worms!

  • allison0704

    Thank goodness for Palimpsest and others like her who are always trying to break us out of this mass-produced box-thought.

    I agree! Pal (who is male, btw) brings a lot to this forum. I've learned from him over the years, and I'm sure others have too.

    Snookums, maybe sarcasm needs a ;D afterwards so others can mind read.

    This post was edited by allison0704 on Tue, Jun 4, 13 at 8:24

  • nosoccermom

    Honestly, I immediately interpreted snookums comments as sarcastic --- addressing the kind of criticism that is frequently voiced of the dreaded "builder" grade house. So, exactly the opposite of how annie1971 interpreted it. That's the problem with written comments, i.e. that we're missing out on non-verbal cues of how to interpret them.

  • joaniepoanie

    Many of us live in generic tract housing because it is what we could/can afford, because of the schools, close to jobs or public transportation, etc...My house--an 80's tract colonial--has no crown molding, no trim around the windows or open doorways. It was all really cheap builder stuff when we moved in....25 cent vinyl tile squares, lightweight slab doors, etc..We have made many improvements in the nearly 30 years we have lived here the most costly in the last 3 years since the last child graduated from college. Redid baths, kitchen, put hardwood in...new paint and furniture on main floor. We did replace every door with solid core 6 panel...this helps also with noise. But some things I just left alone---no crown molding, no trim around windows, etc..and made peace with it. Have felt many times I was trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear! And have probably upgraded too much for my average neighborhood, but we aren't retiring for another 5-6 years and stuff had to be done..although I could have spent much less..ie. formica instead of granite, etc..

    The truth is...most of us will never be able to build our dream homes, so you make the best of what you have. A 90's house would probably have many things ours doesn't--higher ceilings, bigger closets, larger kitchen with island, open floorplan. So for me, a 90's tract house would probably be an upgrade from my boxy, traditional center hall colonial.

  • Caree

    I couldn't really even see how it was being misinterpreted last night, that it would require any mind reading. Especially with the opening post being what it was. Now I am thinking Annie read that I meant something insulting like they are "intended" for burning as in what other purpose would they have or be good for. ??? How did you read it, Annie?

    I was going to put a lol in but really, I do not find it at all funny, so was not making light or fun of things.

  • hhireno

    I'm trying to understand and learn from the advice offered.

    What I notice, between the original owners furniture and the HNJ houses, is the eye travels up and down over the furniture heights in the OO rooms but sweeps across the HNJ rooms because of the similar level of everything. I'm pleasantly aware of the ceiling height in the HNJ rooms and feel almost overwhelmed by it in the OO room. It looks like an afterthought - oh, yeah, BTW, the ceiling soars in here.

    In the OO rooms, any art work is hung as though the walls and ceilings are traditional heights. The HNJ art does draw the eye up or at least it doesn't feel like it's capping the height of the rooms.

    Pal, is that what you mean about respecting the space? Not that all the furniture has to be of the same level but a more cohesive view and not as undulating as the eye traveling up to the top of the hutch, down to the serving cart, up to the curio, down to the arm chair and the eye being prevented from naturally traveling up to the vaulted space because of art work.

    It sounds like a great new space for Julie. I'll be interested in seeing how she develops and decorates it. I hope she'll continue to share photos.

  • mjlb

    Julie, your setting sounds lovely, and with all the natural light and volume of space, I'm sure you'll end up with a lovely home.

    I'm glad to hear you say you'll keep the oak in the kitchen. If you like black countertops, you may want to consider a honed surface, as lots of people complain that shiny black surfaces constantly show every speck and reflect every wipe mark. In addition to granite, there's soapstone and other black countertop surfaces. It looks like that's a down-draft range? That is another kitchen item that lots of people regret due to inadequate ventilation.

    Everyone is different about which things we focus on (fixate on?) For me, I'd have to find a way to change the stair to the lower level -- I don't like that uncased opening with a different height from other openings in the room. I'd probably fully enclose the stair or convert the railing to a half wall, or possibly add a glass or cable railing.

    As to Snookum's comment, I too, assumed it was tongue-in-cheek.

  • gmp3

    Snookums, I see where you are coming from, I too though you were snarking. Thanks for setting the record straight.

    I have lived in three 90s homes, I find it amusing that they are so often trashed. My homes have ranged in size from 1750' to 4000', the current one is about 2400, 3000' including the basement.

    Typical 90s houses were built for a family and have the much sought after open floor plan and a 5 peice master bath. So often posters with MCM or older homes are knocking down walls to create faux period kitchens or baths in an effort to rid themselves of the very incovenient features of homes that may have more charm and detail, or in many cases are just plain old, cobbled together by a hapless homeowner or in the case of post WWII homes, built from a kit by an ex GI. In a typical 90s home you won't have to borrow space from a closet or spare bedroom to fit standard size fixtures in your bathroom. Your master bedroom will fit a king sized bed, plus two dressers and nightstands.

    How many posts have we seen bemoaning colorful tile combinations that are functional but considered dated or cabinets that don't have modern proportions? Everyone is after "timeless". I submit there is no such thing. White subway tile and dark floors would have been considered dated and old fashioned in the 50s and replaced by pink or aqua tile and linoleum.

    I think many older homes are beautiful. I understand why owners of such homes want larger kitchens and baths. Don't get me wrong, my point is that there are advantages and drawbacks to old and new.

    Julie, your home is going to be lovely. Your direction seems wise. At least you won't find asbestos or lead paint. I think you are going to find the house is very livable.

  • lala girl

    I love the openness of your new house and the natural light is terrific. I really like the houses Pal posted and can totally see the house with the walls and woodwork all painted white with hardwood floors. Open and airy + no leaf/snow clean-up? That is heaven! Enjoy and keep us posted with photos :)

  • palimpsest

    How many people who are so sensitive about tract house or builder's house bashing are the first in line with comments like "dated" when a time capsule photo is posted; "ugly" when an unusual color scheme in a old bathroom is posted or "ostentatous" or "proves the wealthy don't have good taste" when a really unusual but obviously personal house is posted, or "cold" when a modern house is posted?

    Those are people's houses too. And I am not defending any particular unusual house, but it's interesting that its okay to be critical to the point of hostility about anything that's not the norm, but not to criticise an average house.
    That's a double standard.

    Sorry for interrupting a thread that's supposed to be about something else.

  • madeyna

    I think changing out windows treatments, light fixtures and flooring and painting trim will really change the feeling of this home and make it a great space to live in.I like the 90s homes , I have never been in one that I wouldn,t change out light fixtures, trim and flooring on but those are easy changes. Thats where the buiders of that erra seemed to consistantly go cheap but its a easy fix. Its much harder fix a older home like mine that has a large kitchen and living room but tiny 8 by 9 kids bedrooms and the master is 9 by 14. I had to add on to the home just to have a place to put the washer and dryer. If the market ever goes up we will be adding on again just so we have the room for closets.

  • nosoccermom

    I think your house is very nice. In my opinion, lots of light, openness, and proper heating/cooling can't be emphasized enough.
    I've lived in very authentic houses that were hundreds of years old. They included real Tudors and stone cottages with depressingly small and/or dark rooms, lack of insulation, extremely low ceilings and door openings, small windows. Also lived in extremely nice urban buildings with 13 ft ceilings, very large rooms, detailed ceiling medallions and crown moulding, gorgeous windows, thick walls, and proper sound insulation, but the bathroom was tiny because it was retroactively built into the former pantry. For "hygienic reasons," toilets were originally either in the court yard or between the apartment floors (half a stair down).

  • awm03

    Joaniepoanie, do we live in the same development?! My ex-sow's ear isn't a silk purse, it's more like a nice leatherette bag from Kohl's. My husband was saying this weekend how much he likes the house now. Sounds like we'll be staying here for a long while.

    The pictures Pal posted are great. Incorporating the high space is a new concept for me. Makes me wish I had a 90s home to try to work with.

  • joaniepoanie

    Awm03--ha ha! I'm in Maryland..and yes, I would say my house is now a leatherette bag from Kohl's as well! At least I don't walk in the door anymore and immediatey feel depressed when I look around.

  • palimpsest

    This is Michael Graves (of Target housewares and the Alessi Teapot with the bird in the spout).

    This is pure postmodernism but I wanted to post these pictures from his website portfolio because he did not do a lot of all-white like the other pictures I have shown, and the rooms share the verticality and similar construction to your new house.

  • TexasJen

    Julie - Your new 90's house looks a lot like our new 1987 house!

    We move in about 3 weeks, and our list looks a lot like yours. We're lucky to already have hardwood throughout the main floor, but new windows throughout, new kitchen appliances and repairing the garage door top our list of "functional" needs.

    I think you've received a lot of good advice (which I've been mooching off of! :). For us, a lot of décor and furniture shopping will have to wait. I think that's going to be good though, so we can get an idea of how the house lives, and what we really want.

  • lizzie_nh

    I was reminded last weekend of why my husband (before I was around) bought our bulider-grade spec house in New Hampshire new. I grew up in a relatively old house (1800s) and since I have lived only in New England and eastern Canada, I have lived in exclusively old places until now. My current house has vinyl siding, which I HATE with a passion. And yet.... we are about to put it on the market and I was painting the one natural wood element on the exterior, the trim around the doors. And it was a PAIN in the you know what. My parents used to scrape and re-paint our entire house every 10 years or so, and I never quite fathomed how difficult it must be. Nothing was ever square, either, and we had wavy plaster walls which would crumble if we tried to hang anything heavy, there were almost no outlets (and only one grounded outlet in the whole house) and only one bathroom (which was not original to the house.) Now I have at least one grounded outlet on every wall, everything is square and the walls are flat, and the exterior maintenance is minimal.

    And so.... I embrace the new, although I admit a part of me still wants all the architectural character of the old. I did what I could to try to make my house have a bit more character. (Fortunately it was built with a very traditional style, is white, with black shutters, a red front door, and divided light windows, so the exterior has the look I want (except for the vinyl.) The setting is also nice, private like yours, wooded, with old stone walls, deck, walk-out basement, etc..) But, the interior is an odd hodge-podge of small enclosed traditional rooms, and poorly-designed open-concept areas (which could be good if done right.) We used to have the Hollywood lighting over the bathroom vanities... and lots of chrome, brass, oak almost-Shaker-style cabinets, colonial mouldings..... builder-grade. We have the sliding glass door, etc....

    I haven't read all of the above posts, but I have read what you, juliekcmo, are thinking of doing, and I think your ideas are pretty much in line with mine, and what I have already done.


    1.) Installed wood flooring throughout the downstairs. This gave an updated/upgraded appearance, and also unified areas which had before had different flooring (carpeting and vinyl.)

    2.) Left our trim as-is, because it was all-white, but I would paint any (cheap) wood trim white if it wasn't already.

    3.) Left our oak cabinets as-is (they are actually well-constructed) but changed out knobs to some attractive pewter knobs. I have finally actually grown to like the oak, as it goes well with the floors and the wall colors I have chosen.

    4.) Painted all walls in muted (but not beige...) colors which look to be from the same palette. I've never been a fan of the "accent wall," but since we have an odd open-concept plan downstairs, with one wall in two rooms, I do have two different colors in my kitchen, and it looks great. It seems to make the architecture appear more sophisticated.

    5.) Changed out all faucets and the major kitchen light fixture... did a stainless high-arc faucet in the kitchen, which goes really well with the existing stainless steel sink, and creates sort of a farmhouse kitchen look, which is enhanced by a painted butcher block island I made. Did a wrought-iron look traditional chandelier in eat-in area of kitchen.

    6.) Stayed with "Colonial" style of outdoor lighting, but swapped (misguided!) white light fixtures for black in same style, and installed these outside all doors, some of which originally had incredibly cheap "jelly jar" style fixtures.

    6.) Installed wooden Victorian-era-style doorstops on walls behind doors. This adds just a touch of architectural interest.

    7.) Upgraded all exterior door knobs (black, which goes with our color scheme of red doors, white house, black shutters)

    8.) My husband (before I moved in) had custom (horizontal) blinds installed in every window of the house. This was a great choice on his part... we have never used curtains, anywhere. It created a clean, spare look. We have large divided-light windows and keep the blinds up during the day, retaining that very spare old New England look.

    9.) Kept countertops, and sliding glass door, but if we planned to stay longer, I would want soapstone counters, and a French door. I might also swap out some of the existing interior (six-panel) doors for 15-light French doors.

    Um... that's pretty much it. If we'd had popcorn ceilings, we would get rid of that.

    Basically, my plan, because I have kind of a strong sense of "place" in New England, was to create a more unified traditional space, with the white trim, door stops, new light fixtures, muted colors, spare window treatments.

    With my furnishings and accessories, I have brought in a little bit of modern, color, and fun, so it doesn't look just old fashioned. But I decided to find one style for the permanent parts of the house (the "backdrop"), and work off that. It's finally all come together, just as we are going to sell this house. (Yikes, this is long!)

  • lizzie_nh

    Sorry to add yet MORE comments after that long comment, but I have now read some more of the other posts.

    1.) I agree about geography and climate being very important your to decision. I said "fortunately" my house has a very traditional exterior, because I live in an area of New England where almost 50% of the houses were built before 1940, with a very large number built in the 1700s and 1800s. If I am going to have a builder grade spec house, which is unlikely to have any really amazing modern architecture, then I want it to have a clear traditional style (in my case, dormered cape) rather than some of these hideous hybrid styles with weird exterior proportions. I also went with an overall traditional style for the permanent parts of the interior, because of my location. I would have gone with all white walls if I had soaring ceilings, but they were all-white when I moved in, and with 8-foot ceilings, it just looked unfinished. If I lived elsewhere, I might have chosen a different look for the "backdrop" to my furniture.

    2.) I also really, really agree about the wood floors anchoring the space. We had off-white wall-to-wall carpeting, and white patterned vinyl flooring, with white walls, and white ceilings. The change to wood flooring immediately gave the rooms some "gravitas" and depth. I think this is absolutely key and it's only after you have these floors that you can really see what you have and what you can do. Of course you can and will make other changes before then, but the wood highlights the existing architecture and makes all of your existing furniture look better. If you like your white walls you might even keep them as long as your floors bring in the depth of wood.

    (My house is 2002, not '90s, but it's basically the same builder style discussed here.)

  • juliekcmo

    I just wanted to post an update.

    We closed last week. Once the previous owners contents were out, it was very apparent we would have to pain everything and replace all of the flooring.

    After getting bids on all the various options, and taking into account both our budget, and the time frame to get the work completed before our move, here is what we are doing:

    All walls and ceilings to be professionally painted. The previous owner had pets and also either smoked or maybe a pipe, as there is a lingering mustiness. To freshen up all new flooring is needed as well. So we decided to go back with carpeting now. We will probably change the living and dining room to hardwoods in 5 years or so.

    There just was too much project creep to change to hardwoods now. It can't meet our time frame.

    But the good part is that this has allowed us to get a new gas range, range hood, and kitchen counters now. We will also be changing out the light fixtures

    So. My question now is given a white ceiling, saturated gray wall, pewter or satin nickel fixtures, crate and barrel Davis sofa and brown leather club chairs, what color wall to carpet would you pick? I am leaning to a beige as it would hide dirt well. How dark?

    Our painters start in about a week. And WE FINALLY REMOVED THE VERTICAL BLINDS. What a huge difference. I will take some pictures next time I can get some daylight while we are there. Keep the advice coming

  • palimpsest

    I would coordinate the carpet with the wallcolor.

    Or actually the wall color to the carpet since there are tons of saturated grey paint shades and not as many grey shades of carpet to choose from. I would not go too dark with the grey...kind of in the grey version of beige range.

    I would not do beige with the overall scheme that you are describing because beige is the standard go to builder carpet that goes with everything and nothing. Particularly since you are painting such a large space and plan on replacing with hardwoods fairly soon, why not pick a tighter palette?

  • d_gw

    I completely agree with Pal about picking the carpet first.

    It seems like there are a million choices in the carpet store. But, once you eliminate the cheap choices, the expensive choices, the types that you don't like (whether it be frieze or berber or whatever) your options will be surprisingly limited.

  • juliekcmo


    I have the carpet samples we like at the house now. I am picking up my paint samples today after work.

    Luckily we have really good trades we are working with, and DH has hit decision fatigue. So I can pretty much pick whatever I want from the options we are considering.

    I SCORED some light fixtures at the lighting store garage sale in a pewter finish. No shiny. Like wrought iron but nickel colored instead of black. This will look so much better.

    In the kitchen out current plan is black matte finish porcelain tile counters. Butcher block on the island. Black and travertine backsplash I ordered a smaller version of my blanco wave stainless sink from amazon. And got the last grohe faucet at Costco. Went with a Samsung gas range. It seemed to have be the only standard in stock range with 2 front burners that are high heat. Will have a 600 CFM hood. We will keep the oak for now. Probably paint later but maybe not.

    Still need to select a kitchen fan and light. Cabinet pulls.

    And of course pick all of the paint colors and flooring.

    We move in a month.

  • Oakley

    Julie, I know you said you all would wait to install wood floor's so you can do other things first. But if you want a spectacular change immediately that will spawn off many decorating ideas, the very first thing on your list would be to install wood flooring now.

    Then paint and work on the other things afterwards. I do want to caution you about plantation shutters, they will darken the natural light in the house. Big time. I love my shutter's but there are days I wish I didn't have them.

    Do the floors first. :)

  • htnspz

    My house was built in 1989, has a Spanish style vibe, those soaring ceilings and (imo) awkward angles. I like to paint the ceiling the same as the wall color to minimize those angles and bring attention back to the decor. My living room is almost two stories and the builder made the unfortunate decision to make the windows too small so I faked larger windows by hanging drapes very high over the windows. It makes a major improvement and balances the architecture much more. Plus,it helps with the acoustics in the room.

    I think the good things are that I have a little more leeway to do what I want with the interior space. I'm not trying to work as hard to preserve the architectural integrity of the home. That doesn't mean that it looks completely different on the inside than the outside. There is still hints at a Spanish style interior but it is built into the concept rather than literally expressed.

    I guess we just have to be happy with what we have. Would I love an older home in a charming neighborhood? Absolutely! But I can't really afford those. In this house, I have a safe neighborhood in a desirable school district and am 5 miles from the beach in one of the most desirable So. Ca cities.

  • juliekcmo


    If I had 3 months and a larger budget maybe so. DH is on board to add them later so overall not an issue. And we have picked out some nice carpet that will look fantastic with our new paint and furnishings.

    There is absolutely no logistical way to paint and do wood floors now before the move. That would add 2+ weeks onto the project we don't have.
    We are having everything painted, and will do carpet. It is essential that both painting and flooring be completed before we move.

    So the practical has to override this decision.

  • Happyladi

    I think the house has great bones and the setting sounds wonderful.

    If you want to get rid of the popcorn ceiling, I suggest having it done before you move all your furniture in. It will be so much easier and cheaper.

  • Oakley

    Totally makes sense, Julie. Let us know what you picked for the carpet and walls.

    About beige carpet, I think it's beautiful with dark wood furniture. If I didn't do wood floors I would have done beige carpet.

  • egbar

    Julie, I hope you post photos as you work on each room.
    I love your ideas and want to see the transformation. What I love about your new place is the light and airy feel. I think no matter what house a person chooses there are always plus and minus factors. One nice thing about a" blank slate" is that you can impress the personality on it that you would like. much harder to do when one has a very specific style of home. can't wait to see the next chapter.

  • rosie

    Juliehc, it sounds like you're cooking. I like the cozy sound of saturated gray, but a white ceiling sounds both rather harshly contrasting and as if the white will set it off as not belonging with what's below it.

    That's a cousin to the problem illustrated in those initial pictures of a room that Hhireno so accurately described as decorated for a lower flat ceiling, with the rest just sort of...up there.

    A lighter neutral paint on the ceiling that was dark enough to blend calmly into the walls, or more accurately walls into ceiling as the eye travels up, would help make the ceiling part of the room. (I like beige with gray and wonder if that would be a place for it.)

    I was also struck by Hhireno's comments about the effect of furniture shapes in the pictures Palimpsest posted. This isn't the only way to decorate high volumes, but it certainly works exquisitely in those pictures.

    Allied with that is my own observation that in every one of those designs, which are meant to celebrate their wonderful high spaces and make them look their best (rather than "deal with" or ignore them as problems), is that dark, contrasting colors are kept low, while the rest of their volumes soar with little interruption to their lightness.

    Julie's going warmer and richer with grays and beiges, with a very different feeling in mind, but I feel sure there're lessons in there anyway.

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