10 Ways to Make a New Home Look Old

published Jun 13, 2018
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(Image credit: Hayley Kessner)

Even staunch modernists are hard-pressed to deny the warmth and beauty of an old, well-built structure. While a Victorian mansion or sturdy Craftsman are distinct in style, it’s the decades of stories-gone-by reflected in their detailed, patinated features that are responsible for enriching your soul upon entry (a quality that is hard to manufacture). If your dream pre-1980s home just isn’t attainable, try implementing some of these tips to give your modern dry-walled digs an extra helping of soul.

1. Display Real Paintings

(Image credit: Sandra Rojo)

Prints didn’t exist back in the day, which is why machine-made art feels…machine made. Being able to see the texture of brush strokes painted on canvas by a human hand registers in your brain whether or not you consciously realize it or not. I like to think every artist breathes a soul into his or her work, thus transferring soul points to the house in which it resides (life is a game of soul points, in case you were wondering). Even if you lean toward the modern or abstract, finding a piece you love that has this human-made textural quality will help give your home that indescribable old world feeling.

2. Use High-Quality Organic Materials

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

Again, low quality plastics and synthetic blends didn’t exist back when our dream indefinite-era home was built. If you’re looking to move away from the modern McMansion look, pieces that are made with natural materials like hearty woods and metals in an organic finish, or high-quality linens and wools, are great options. Bonus tip: Don’t feel like you have to replace all of your linens and furniture at once. By building up your possessions one-at-a-time you’ll avoid stockpiling whatever is on-trend, making for a more timeless overall aesthetic.

3. Buy From Multiple Eras

(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

Buying antique pieces for your home is probably the most obvious choice for bringing some historical character into your home, but be careful. While Mid-century Modern may be your go-to decade for home decor, remember that real Mid-century homes were, by and large, comprised of pieces predating that era. Using a mixture of pieces from a variety of eras is the best way to give your home that warm, lived-in feel without looking like a contrived, theme-y vintage store.

4. Install Crown Molding/Base Boards

(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

I agree with your grandma about a lot of things, specifically, that they don’t make ’em like they used to. Maximum profit trumps attention to detail in modern architecture, meaning pretty carved base boards and arched doorways are hard to come by. Try adding elements of detailed design to your walls with crown molding, base boards, or, (renter friendly) wooden shelves or frames that contain carved detailing.

5. Put Up a Picture Railing

On a similar note, if you’ve ever noticed a narrow molding just below the ceiling in an old house, that’s picture molding. Originally installed to allow home owners to hang art on the walls without damaging plaster, this molding contains a lip just big enough to hang special hooks, like these from Rejuvenation. Check out Architectural Digest to see how designer Megan Pflug incorporated picture moulding into her home.

6. Paint with Lime Wash

(Image credit: Bauwerk)

Chances are your flat, smooth dry wall is making your home feel more sterile than soulful, which is why lime wash paint is a great option. This mineral-based pigment has been around for centuries and gives walls movement, texture, and character without feeling unnatural or forced, like some “faux” finishes out there. Portola and Bauwerk lime-wash paints are what dreams are made of.

7. Replace Modern Hardware

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

Try replacing modern brushed nickel hardware with classic pulls and knobs in a natural finish. There are so many options available on the internet as far as style is concerned, and if you’re ever in Portland, Oregon, a visit to Hippo Hardware is like a home renovator’s Disneyland.

8. Look for Worn Rugs

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

Rugs are a must-have for anyone looking to add an old world warmth to their home. Hold out for a piece that is big enough to fit under all of the furniture in whatever space you’re buying it for, and make sure it shows some actual wear. Be warned: Faux-distressing may look good on the internet, but, in person, will likely absorb hard-earned soul points from your home and convert them into disappointment. Check out Amber Interiors for the most drool-worthy vintage rugs, and Rugs for some slightly more affordable options.

9. Try Wallpaper

Another good way to add classic appeal to your drab drywall is wallpaper. Many companies like Designer Wallcoverings offer an array of antique-inspired high-end wallpaper, but we prefer these easy-to-install removable wallpapers for obvious reasons.

10. Grow/Buy Established House Plants

(Image credit: Elaine Musiwa)

The appeal of a beautiful old house is really more a feeling than a look, and that’s where a lot of people get it wrong when trying to recreate an antique aesthetic. Not only have plants in general been around for 700 million years (yeah, I Googled it), but each individual plant serves as a marker of time in smaller increments. Having large, well-established house plants and trees (think big!) creates a feeling that your space has been around a while and is full of its own stories and history.

I surmise that what we all love about old homes is the sense of connection they provide with the people of decades past. Old homes have an established personality, a reverence for craftsmanship, and interesting details that ignite the senses. Keeping this in mind while implementing these elements is key to maximizing your home’s soul points.