Content may contain affiliate links. When you shop the links, I receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thank you for supporting my small business.

There are many affordable ways for you to add character to a builder grade home, or even just an older home, without spending a fortune.

bedroom with picture frame molding on all the walls.

Do you want a home that’s filled with unique charm, character and where rooms have a story to tell? But your newer home is cookie cutter to say the least? Don’t worry! With a few well thought out choices, you too can have a home full of custom touches that won’t break the bank.

1. Don’t Underestimate The Power of Paint

The single most inexpensive way to transform any room is through paint. Paint has the power to lighten and brighten a room, or add drama and moodiness. It’s one of the favorite ways to make a huge difference in the look of your home.

elegant bedroom with off white walls.

You don’t just have to paint walls either; you can add character by painting interior doors a color other than white, or adding a pop of color to your kitchen by picking the perfect kitchen island paint color. This is a great way to give your kitchen cabinets a new look.

walk in pantry with blue cabinets.
Butler’s Pantry

Adding color to cabinetry is a sure fire way to make any basic cabinet look custom and expensive. This bathroom vanity is a basic one from Lowe’s, but by painting it, it suddenly looks so much more expensive!

before and after of painted bathroom vanity.

RELATED: How to paint bathroom cabinets.

2. Add Wall Treatments

Don’t just stop with paint. The following are all easy ways to add some architectural details to boring walls which in turn will add serious character and make your builder-grade homes look custom.

Shiplap and Other Forms of Planked Walls

I know what you’re thinking – shiplap is a trend that’s on the way out. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. Firstly, many trends are cyclical. How many times have bell bottom jeans and crushed velvet come back in style?

The same holds true for home decor trends. Secondly, if you love it, then go for it and don’t worry about what the “experts” say is trendy or not. Who cares! It’s your home, so do what you please with it!

Adding planked walls to your home can be done in various ways. You can go the tried and tested route of real shiplap but beware that it’s expensive and labor intensive to install.

You can go the budget friendly option with plywood cut into strips and attached to the wall (my favorite method! cheap and cheerful!) or you can switch it up with adhesive backed products such as Stikwood which are only a couple of millimeters thick and come in a variety of rustic wood tones.

Plywood “Shiplap”

The shiplap walls in this small bathroom were created with luan plywood that was ripped down to size and attached directly to the drywall. Then lightly sanded, primed and painted.

RELATED: How to fix a hole in the wall

Tongue & Groove Planked Wall

kid's bedroom with shiplap walls.
My boy’s shared bedroom.

Tongue and groove plants are a more authentic shiplap. They’re more expensive, but they are also a far superior product than going to plywood route. Installing is more labor intensive, but definitely still a do-able DIY project, especially since the nickel gap is built into each board making spacing easy.

Rustic Weathered Wood Planked Wall

nursery with planked wall detail.

This reclaimed, real-wood product has been planed down to a couple of millimeters to achieve a weathered, rustic look plank. They are easy to install thanks to the adhesive backing and can easily be cut with a utility knife and straight edge.

Because the product is so thin, you also don’t have to worry about issues with baseboards or crown molding.

But what if shiplap and planked walls are not your thing?

There’s several other wall treatments that will add the same type of architectural without risking falling into the “fads” trap.

Wainscoting, board and batten, picture frame molding and beadboard are more traditional finishes that will continue to look classic in years to come.

Just like the planked walls, these are a simple DIY for anyone looking to add character to a builder grade home.

Board and Batten

Board and batten is one of the easiest and most DIY-friendly wall treatments. If you can cut a straight line, caulk some seams and hold a paintbrush you’ll be good to go!

We added this simple vertical board and batten wall to our mudroom this past fall and it instantly transformed a dull, boring space into a light and bright dream. The entire wall, including painting above it took one weekend and only cost about $100!

In the above example, we chose to add the board and batten so that it filled the majority of the wall, since we wanted to draw the eye up to create the illusion of height. However, in our first home we added a similar treatment in our dining room that was much lower.

Board and Batten in a small dining room.

Beadboard Wainscoting

Beadboard is one of my favorite wall treatments because it covers all manner of sins. If you have textured walls, damaged walls or (like me) walls full of old tile adhesive, attaching beadboard is a great option.

It’s also one of the only options that I recommend for a bathroom where there will be a lot of moisture, since it’s readily available as a vinyl product.

The photo above is from my cute but oh-so-tiny master bathroom. We removed a wall full of tile and were left with lots of bright orange tile adhesive.

The only wall to get smooth walls would have been to remove the drywall and replace it or sand and skim-coat. Both were too costly and labor intensive for my weekend bathroom makeover.

Our solution was these vinyl beadboard pieces that slot together. They cut easily with a decent electric saw and are attached to the wall with a mixture of a nail gun and liquid nails adhesive.

My favorite part about this vinyl type in particular is that you don’t have to paint it (since it’s already bright white) and it won’t warp due to the moisture in the room.

When you’re done, top it off with a piece of vinyl chair rail, and caulk any visible edges for a perfectly finished look. Of course, you can also run the beadboard right to the ceiling and finish off with some crown molding or quarter round.

Shadow Box / Picture Frame Wainscoting

Shadowbox wainscoting in an upstairs hallway.

Shadow box wainscoting (also know as picture frame wainscoting) like what I’ve got throughout the most of my house is a very traditional detail that adds so much character.

In fact, the wainscoting throughout our home was one of the primary reasons we fell in love with it to begin it! While we were lucky enough that this wainscoting already existed, your builder grade home can achieve the same look quite easily – whether you opt for this wall treatment in one room or throughout your entire home.

My wainscoting is a full panel with the shadow box added on top as well as a chair rail. If your walls are in good condition and relatively level, you can skip the backing and just add the square trim and chair rail.

All you need to do is purchase some inexpensive quarter round from the hardware store as well as a miter box (if you don’t own a compound miter saw like we do) to cut the right angles that you’ll need for professional looking cuts.

Cut your trim pieces, attach to the wall using a nail gun and caulk the seams for a clean finish. Finally, add the chair rail to the top and you’re done! Paint with some crisp white satin or semi-gloss paint for that classic finish.

Below, you’ll see how I added picture frame molding in our basement living room to give the wall behind the TV and more custom look.

There’s no chair rail in between, but you could certainly add it. Instead of painting the trim white, I went with a tone-on-tone look and painted it to match the walls (Behr Reflecting Pool).

basement living room with picture frame molding on the TV wall.

3. Add a Custom Touch With Wallpaper

If you think paint is transformative, then you’ll be amazed at what wallpaper can do to even the most basic room.

While my small home office already had some custom details thanks to the wainscoting, adding wallpaper to all four walls completely changed the look. It’s so much more elegant and inviting now!

I added a single accent wall in my son’s nursery (now toddler room). Not only did it brighten the space, but the pattern created a stunning focal point.

If you’re nervous about installing wallpaper for the first time, I highly recommend starting with a single wall like this where you don’t have to worry about wrapping wallpaper in and out of corners (which is the trickiest part).

toddler bedroom with wallpaper accent wall.

RELATED: How to wallpaper an accent wall.

4. Don’t Forget The Fifth Wall!

What is the fifth wall you ask? The ceiling! This part of a room is often neglected but can make a huge impact to a space.

Rustic wood planks on the ceiling of a  new build house.
Stikwood Ceiling via Addison’s Wonderland

You can of course paint it a different color but other options to really add some character include adding ceiling medallions, adding beadboard or planked wood (just like from the walls!) or even faux beams.

Again, these are all completely do-able DIY projects!

Faux wood beams spanning across a living room.
Faux Wood Beams via The Heathered Nest

5. Create Character By Updating Your Trim & Casings

Adding new trim to a window or door can instantly transform a space. This is also a very affordable way to add character to your home.

In my powder room, we opted for a simple craftsman style window trim that was a quick and inexpensive DIY that didn’t require us to cut 45 degree angles!

Updated window trim in a craftsman or farmhouse style.
Tutorial: How to Add Craftman Style Trim to a Window

6. Update Cabinet and Door Hardware

One of the first things we did when we moved into our home was to switch out all the basic hardware for something that looked more expensive.

flat black hardware on a white door.

This is a very simple project that even the most beginner DIYer can do. If you can turn a screwdriver, you can do this project! My favorite door hardware is from Amazon and looks like the fancy Emtek ones for a fraction of the price.

brass kitchen drawer pulls.
My kitchen remodel reveal.

We also switched out our front door hardware which instantly elevates the look of our simple black door.

brass Emtek front door handleset.
Emtek front door handleset.

7. Ditch The Builder Basic Lighting

We all know the dreaded “boob lights” that come with builder basic homes. Replacing light fixtures is a simple DIY project (and even an inexpensive fix if you have an electrician switch them all out in one go).

semi flushmount drum light.

By investing in higher quality light fixtures (I’m not talking $$$ but ones that look more expensive) you can change the look and ambiance of any room.

rattan pendant hanging over a dining table.
rattan pendant // table // chairs // mirror

This large rattan pendant is a statement piece in our dining room. It adds warmth and character and the room would look so boring without it!

Other places to switch out the lights include pendant lights over the kitchen island and entryway lights.

8. Add Unexpected Touches Like Corbels

Do your doors have lovely new casing that just screams builder basic? A simple way to add instant character is to add corbels or brackets! These are readily available online (I love this one!) as well as from Home Depot and will completely transform the look of an opening.

Corbels can be used in a variety of other ways including under bookshelves and under countertops.

9. Bring In Character Through Your Decor & Furniture

Finally, add character to your home by carefully choosing what you add to it. Bringing antiques and vintage items in will instantly make your home feel lived in and add interest.

bedroom dresser with a mirror over it.
dresser // mirror

If bringing the old in doesn’t necessarily work with your style, make sure that you’re varying your home decor and furniture, i.e. not buying “matching sets” of everything! Use warm woods, distressed finishes and even mix metals to steer away from the dreaded “cookie-cutter” look that a builder grade home can have.

living room with white couch and round wooden coffee table.
couch: “The Carlin” by Jonathan Louis Furniture // coffee table // rug

Final Thoughts

You see? There’s SO many ways you can add character to your home, whether it’s a new build that you want to make look old or just a new-to-you home that lacks charm.

Don’t forget that a home isn’t built in a day, so take your time and figure out what will work for you and I know you’ll be able to turn your builder grade, cookie cutter home into one full of custom touches.

Looking for more? Follow me on social media for lots more home decor & DIY content!

Pinterest | Instagram | Facebook | LTK

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Love all the simple easy projects that have just added so much style to your home. Thanks for all the highlights.

  2. Miki Schmal says:

    Really liked your ideas in this post. Even the ones I can’t use give me inspiration! Always enjoy your posts. Thanks.

  3. I love all your ideas for the “fifth wall”. What can I do with low (7 ft) ceilings to create a feeling of more space?

  4. Any recommendations for cheaply fixing or minimizing a popcorn ceiling throughout the whole house?

    1. Fresh coat of bright white paint….or scrape the texture off yourself. It’s not difficult, just hard on your back and very messy. You can also get it skim coated professionally (that’s what we did) but that’s not a cheap option.

  5. Really enjoy your blog, always gets me thinking deeper, better ;)

  6. Hi JENNA, Thanks for this VERY useful article. I usually like a mix of modern (not abstract modern) and old classic. My house doesn’t have a rustic feel to it so I was looking for ideas that would fit with the rest of my house. I love your rustic ideas and wish I had a cottage where I could use all of those things.
    Part of my house already has shadow box wainscoting but it didn’t occur to me to use it on a long monotonous wall that I have in my house. Now when you have mentioned it in this article I felt the assurance that I should go ahead and do it. At least it would bring character to the bottom half of the wall and I would still have to think what to do with the top half of it.
    I like that you usually give many alternatives . Thanks again.

    Shadow box weinscoting