How To Add Character to a Drywall Box

How To Add Character to a Drywall Box

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Katie Steuernagle
Apr 25, 2011

Last week I paid a visit to my sister who just moved into a 1920s cottage in an older neighborhood of Dallas. With its arched doorways, wood floors, glossy white moldings, and black and white penny tiled kitchen, her new home is packed with character even without any furnishings. As we discussed what to put where, I realized that with that backdrop, she could do no wrong.

A red Ikea stool, a vintage embroidered pillow, a ficus tree in an old brass planter she stole from my mom's house (I wanted that planter!), it all looked amazing in rooms that had so much character to start with. Even my plastic Starbucks cup looked charming sitting on a wooden table in the corner.
I love and appreciate my newer construction home, but I have to admit, it lacks the charm of an older house. So how can you create that warmth and personality in a baby's room if you're starting off with a bland, beige drywall box?

1. Wood

Nothing evokes a warm, organic feel in a space like wood. If you're starting with wood floors, consider yourself lucky. If you can afford to put them in, do it! Check Apartment Therapy for articles relating to every aspect of wood floors, from choosing them to installing them to refinishing them. If wood flooring isn't in the budget, you can still bring in wood elements, like a vintage school chair or inexpensive side table without breaking the bank. The tones don't have to match, and finishes with a bit of patina create a soft, aged look.

2. Paint wood trim white
Yes, we just sang the praises of wood, but, trust us, this makes sense. In virtually every old home we've ever lived in or seen, the wood baseboards, window and door trim, and moldings are painted white (usually about 50 layers of white). Painting trim can be a tedious, labor-intensive task, but the results are so worth it. Whether you're going for a sleek, modern look or more of a vintage eclectic feel, white wood trim makes all your other color choices pop. Scan through our archive of room tours to see examples like this one and this one. You can find a great guide for painting woodwork here.

3. Replace builder grade hardware
We have no problem with cheap. We have no problem ubiquitous (we love Ikea!). But there's something about having someone else chose the cheapest, most common hardware options for us that makes us want to tear them all out. So do it! Replace all those builder grade brass knobs, light fixtures, even doorknobs and replace them with options that you love. They don't have to be expensive. Try thrift stores, salvage yards, and garage sales for unique and inexpensive choices.

4. Lighting
Speaking of tearing out light fixtures, a great way to break up the boxy feel of a bland room is through lighting. Add lamps around the room instead of relying solely on a glaring overhead fixture. A few light sources around the room as opposed to one will reduce harsh shadows and create a warm, glowing feeling. And when you do rip out the ceiling fixture that the contractor bought by the case from Home Depot, chose something that you love. Check out this post for overhead lighting inspiration.

5. Chose furnishings that add height
So many charming older homes have built-in shelving. Tall bookshelves can make a suburban box look like New York brownstone for way less than the cost of real built-ins. Check out these floor to ceiling shelves! Having furniture pieces with varying heights, like secretary desks, armoires, lingerie chests, or tall bookshelves, will break up a boxy feel in a room and provide places to display collectible pieces like vintage toys out of the reach of little ones. Just make sure everything is attached securely to studs.

6. Go eclectic
Even if you're shooting for a modern nursery, throw a few vintage and handmade pieces into the mix. The juxtaposition of old and new creates personality and makes a sleek room feel real. Pieces with a story behind them, whether it's a hand-me-down toy or an afghan crocheted by grandma, keep a space from looking like a furniture store display. Our archives are packed with examples, and check out this post for more about mixing old and new.

7. Plants
A great way to add warmth to a boxy space is to add plants. They do wonders for air quality and their organic forms draw the eye away from too many boring, straight lines in a room. Plants in a room can take you from the boxy burbs to a covered porch in a North Carolina bungalow for very little cost. Check out this post for more plant info and a chic planter round up. Or you could just steal one back from your sister!

top image: Kevin Marsh, flickr Creative Commons licensed
bottom image: Scarlett's Sensational Secondhand Space

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