Designer Tips for a Cookie Cutter Home Sponsored by The Old Barn

Article Sponsored by The Old Barn

Unfortunately, we can’t all live in old homes with architectural details and stories the walls could tell. So, if you are building a house or live in a newer home that needs a touch more personality, I have some ideas for you. 

Words by Jessica Starr

Photography by Jessica Starr


If there is one thing I love in design, it’s character.

True story: I once chose not to buy a very lovely house that checked all the boxes simply because it was too perfect and lacked quirks and charm.  Granbury has so many beautiful carefully preserved historic homes and buildings, one of the many reasons people love to visit or live in our “Best Historic Small Town in America.”

Wall Treatments

I firmly believe that wall treatments give a home timeless character and beauty. Even in a mostly white home, the texture created by these wall treatments render so much interest. Board-and-batten, planking, shiplap, panel molding, plaster, and beadboard are some of my favorites. They all have historical uses which is why adding them, even in more modern applications, contributes to the overall atmosphere in the home.

Door and Window Trim

Many homes these days are built without door and window casing, and even without baseboards. If you’re going for a clean, modern look, that works in your favor. However, if you want to add more historic detail, some well-designed door and window trim will give that extra touch. Observe the casings around doors and windows of historic homes you love for inspiration.

Vintage and Vintage-Inspired Hardware

A simple hardware change can make a big difference. Glass or crystal doorknobs are eye-catching, sparkling, and send us back in time whenever we open a door. They are a distinctive nod to homes and buildings of the past and are a beautiful way to add character to a home. Additionally, turn latches and other vintage hardware on cabinets are an inexpensive and easy switch that is sure to enhance your home’s appeal.


My very favorite thing to add to any home are built-ins. Old homes often have charming built-in nooks and crannies that are so often missing in builder-grade homes. They add so much character, individuality, and function. An important piece of advice for planning a built-in is to think about how you use the space. Function comes first when planning a built-in, and character is the welcome perk. Some ideas for built-ins include bookcases, a mudroom bench with cubbies, or a hutch where you can display and enjoy your favorite heirloom china.


Comfy blankets, area rugs, window treatments and throw pillows can add texture and warmth to your home.  Cozy blankets layered on a fluffy bed and draped over the arm of a chair make a space feel welcoming. Conversely, a room full of hard surfaces can feel cold and uninviting.

Framed mirrors

A big wall-to-wall mirror is great for making a room appear larger and reflecting light, but not great for conveying historic charm.  The ability to make and transport large glass is a relatively recent development, so choosing smaller, framed mirrors in your bathrooms is an opportunity to give these spaces a decorative style. If you are building, you can ask to provide your own mirrors instead of having the builder install wall-to-wall ones. If you already have them and want to replace them, call a professional as they can be dangerous to remove yourself.

reclaimed wood

You can bring a piece of history into your home by incorporating reclaimed wood.  There are several local sources for reclaimed wood salvaged from old barns all over the country.  It’s sad to see these structures disappearing from our landscape, but they can live on and be remembered as part of our homes.  These pieces ooze American history, and the texture, color and durability are unmatched. Reclaimed wood is perfect for mantels, shelves, and ceiling beams. Be sure to share the story of the wood every time someone compliments you on it, and they will.  In our home, the reclaimed wood beams and columns are Hemlock Pine from a barn built in the 1800’s, and our outdoor fireplace mantel is from a threshing floor where they separated grain.

vintage-inspired lighting fixtures

Changing out bland light fixtures for some that are beautiful antiques, or even updated versions inspired by fixtures of the past, is a great way to add character. Our wagon wheel fixture in the living room is a nod to the candle-lit versions of the past. They were often used in churches and were lit by lowering with a rope and pulley.

architectural salvage

Whether building new or looking to add a unique touch to an existing home, architectural salvage can be a great source. Old doors, leaded glass windows, distinctive lighting, corbels, old mantels, and more, can all be found at architectural salvage stores. As a designer, I’d prefer to see these incorporated into your home functionally, rather than decoratively. For example, if you fall in love with some chippy painted French doors, use them to replace your box store ones. The pantry door is a great place to use a beautiful well-worn door salvaged from an old home.  

When I looked across the street from my car, through the opened doors of Old Home Supply in Fort Worth and saw this leaded glass window, I squealed and ran in to stake my claim. It now has a home above my foyer, letting in light and adding character.

meaningful items and decor

It’s tempting to want to rush and have every room perfectly furnished to complete your vision. However, half the fun is the thrill of the hunt. Take your time and allow your spaces to evolve. Search your attic, barn, local consignment, and resale shops for treasures. Use items that have meaning or that remind you of something you love, like a family member or a favorite vacation. Meaningful items slowly collected over time will bring you joy and make the home feel uniquely yours. Maybe you and your spouse work together to build or refinish a piece of furniture. Or perhaps repurpose an heirloom antique dresser from your grandmother as a bathroom vanity. I’ve taken so much joy in adding objects to our home that tell a story of some kind. Not only do they become interesting conversation pieces, but more importantly they add a sense of depth and sentimentality to our daily lives.

embrace imperfection

Distressed finishes, patina, wabi-sabi, and the occasional unexpected kitschy item all add comfort and unique personality to a space. Quirks make life interesting.  I love quirks in people and in homes. It’s what makes them unique, fascinating, and approachable. Perfection in a home may make people feel like they can’t touch anything, or afraid to relax or get comfortable. Maybe your table has a scratch from the time your son tried to breakdance on it, and a paint spot from your daughter’s art project. Those imperfections are just charming reminders of a life well-lived. Find joy and contentment in the reminder of the storied past these blemishes signify. My one word of caution is that this should not apply to too many parts of your home. There should be a balance, as with anything, to ensure your home still feels maintained and cared for.

..the absolute best way to make your home more charming.”

Charm is all about the heart and soul of a space. Your home can be perfect-looking inside and out, but if it’s not filled with love and shared with friends and family, then it’s just all stuff.  Dolly Parton says,” Everything means nothin’ if you’ve got no one.” Fill your home with the things that truly matter like friends, family, love, and laughter. The best things in life cost nothing.

It’s your home so decorate it any way you please, but if you feel like your home is missing something, I hope you find these bite-sized tips and ideas helpful and inspiring.  If you make your home a place you love, it will surely be beautiful. Refer to for product sources and links.

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