I love old homes, and have never lived in a house that was built later than 1936. I don’t think I’ll ever trade the character, charm, and quality of construction found in older homes (and neighborhoods) for the convenience and freshness of a new house, no matter how tempting those giant closets and standard kitchen/family room combos get.
Upon inheriting an older home, however, you also inherit something else: the taste and style of the previous owner. Some of these things are easily correctible with paint and some wallpaper-removing tools. It took me less than 3 days upon house closing to get rid of the peach walls in my dining room.
Other things are not so simple. The white wall tile and powder blue countertops (and matching striped walls!) in my kitchen are my best (and worst) examples. These 80’s-inspired decorating choices were going to require a costly renovation, a blind eye, or some major creativity on my part.
The first two choices were not an option for me when we bought our house, so I was left with the third. I found my inspiration and salvation in the wise words of designer Christopher Lowell: Add to, don’t take away.
This sounds counter-intuitive to saving money and waste, but actually works like a charm. If you have something you don’t like, don’t tear it out or replace it, just add to it.
Take my white tiles. By adding pictures and other painted tiles on top of them, the eye now goes directly to my additions, not to the plain tiles themselves. And my blue countertops and striped walls? I added a chocolate brown coat of paint below the chair rail, and now my dated color scheme is instantly modern.
I carried this practice through to the furnishings in my house, too. The off-white walls and light blue comforter in the master bedroom that before were so plain looked fabulous when I added 2 brown throw pillows and brown curtains. My ancient wooden couch got a new life when I took the whole frame outside one afternoon and painted it with a matte black. I even recovered the worn pink cushions myself with a sturdy taupe fabric…all for $40. Is it my dream couch now? No, but I’m proud of it, and with a few more pillows, it’ll be great. Someone even asked me if I got it at Restoration Hardware.
The plain mantelpiece we felt needed replacing looked fine once we added a $0.99 candleholder from Pier 1. The old worn carpet in the basement? Completely rejuvenated with a few old throw-rugs leftover from the kids’ old rooms.
So many things could avoid filling landfills if we just add a finishing touch of paint, hardware, fabric, or wood trim to it. Just think of all the time, energy, and money you’ll save, too, if you spend an extra few minutes trying to turn something ugly into something else before you just toss it and replace it.