One Surprising Thing I Splurged on in My Last Home Reno — and I Don’t Regret It

published Jan 24, 2023
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View through kitchen showing countertop and light switch
Credit: Dana McMahan

What’s the one thing that gets overlooked in almost every single home renovation project? People will agonize for hours choosing — and then will spend serious coin on — fittings like cabinet hardware, light fixtures, and faucets. But when it comes to the necessary thing that outnumbers all of those in quantity, and is seen and touched every day? I’ve never understood why it’s an afterthought at best, and left to a contractor to provide at worst. 

I’m talking about plate covers. Think about how many light switches and outlets you see throughout your home, and how many times a day you interact with those. Certainly more times than you use a faucet!

Credit: Dana McMahan
Our light switches laying in wait for their new wardrobe.

When I was 16 months into the journey to rehab and sell a derelict Victorian with my best friend, we finally reached the point where we could envision the finish line. Only then could we look beyond the jagged holes in the freshly primed new walls and imagine details like light switches and outlets. 

And when the contractor told us the electrician was ready to order the plate covers, my soul shriveled at the thought of basic rectangular white plastic fittings coming into the home whose renovation had consumed our waking hours and dreams.

Like magic, and right on cue, my social feeds showed me that wasn’t the only option. How about the impossibly beautiful custom switch plates from Matureware in Japan (available in round! square! hexagon!) complete with embossed room names? Or the delicious, vintage-style aged brass from London-based Forbes & Lomax?

I texted my friend at midnight, the time when things that make no sense also make the most sense. “There’s no way we can do this, right?” I said, sending links to these treasures. But. But! If we would deliberate for months over the antique French pavers that would tile the risers of the staircase we were building, if we obsessed over the pattern of the bespoke wallpaper in the living room, how on Earth, I posed, would we not give the same amount of attention to the very things that the ultimate owners of this house would touch every day of their lives?

Besides, I feverishly convinced myself, the further we go into our future of talking to Alexa or tapping touch screens, the more people are going to appreciate analog, the satisfying click of something well-crafted responding to what you’re telling it to do. I mean really, the switch plates alone would sell the house, right?!

That all felt totally plausible until the cold light of day when we counted the number of openings in the house (more than 100!) and did the math. (There may or may not have been an extensive pricing-out of all options that I put together in our Slack “finishes” channel.) My dream plates were hundreds (yes, hundreds) of dollars apiece, and required potentially months-long lead times — not to mention additional patience from our electrician, who was already showing annoyance at these discussions.

So even though the idea of any profit on this “flip” had long since vanished with supply chain woes, skyrocketing materials costs, and labor issues, we had to acknowledge it was financial absurdity to drop that kind of money — even if it was for just a few select places in the house, and no matter how utterly gorgeous it would have been against, say, the dramatic Farrow & Ball Scotch Blue walls of the newly renovated kitchen. Sigh.

But still! Just because we couldn’t have the luxury of those gorgeous covers, we weren’t ready to cave and plaster our beauty with ordinary rectangular plastic covers by the dozen from an electrical supply house. 

Credit: Dana McMahan
Our wallpaper hanger covering an outlet plate with wallpaper.

Fortunately, we found a company based right here in Louisville,, that offered switch plates and outlet covers that were a big step up from plastic (and not nearly as pricey as those bespoke designs). The rounded beveled powder-coated metal plates we chose felt sturdy, and could even be painted or wallpapered (which our talented wallpaper hanger did!). Best of all, most were only a few bucks a pop.

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Can you spot the outlet in the wallpaper? No? That's because it's wallpapered!

There are plenty of gorgeous and intricate options you can find out there — from or other sources — for under $15 each, like brass plates with stately filigree that would fit seamlessly into a Victorian-era home like this one, or simple, clean-lined switch plates in oil rubbed bronze that would feel at home among mid-century decor. Ultimately, we wanted something for our Victorian project that felt both modern and timeless to match the transitional style that we created. That’s why we settled on the rounded beveled style, which softens away the pointy corners that you see in the standard 75-cent nylon switch plates. The powder-coated white finish is more matte, too; you won’t catch any shiny, plastic-y glare here.

So yes, we spent many times over what bulk plastic would have cost, but in the grand scheme of totally overhauling a four-bedroom, three-bath house, a $291 order seemed downright reasonable — and I don’t regret a dime. While it’s pretty unlikely that any of the prospective buyers who walked into the house were convinced to make an offer based on the switch plates alone, their one-step-up-from-standard look helped complement the upscale finishes throughout the rest of the home. In other words, they blended right in (in the best way).

A more intricate filigree design like this one would have been another suitable option for our Victorian-era project.

It’s worth considering the switch plates and outlet covers in your own home if you’re looking for a small upgrade that can make a big difference. If you work one room at a time, you can easily keep your costs under $25 per project — especially if you choose a simpler design style like we did (a great option if you’re planning to paint or wallpaper over it anyway). Even if you go for a more detailed design, like the outlet plate shown above, you can easily source options under $20 each.

Now that my Victorian reno is completed, I have my eyes on my own house. Maybe I could swing just one of those luxurious custom brass plates with toggle switches for the room I just painted there… a renovator can dream!