Making Builder Grade Custom

Do you ever find yourself on Houzz and Pinterest loving all the home design and decor pins but thinking “that could never be my house” or “I don’t have that kind of budget”? I certaintly felt that way in our first home! This is not to say there was anything wrong with our house but I felt like aesthetically it didn’t match my decor or overall feel I was going for. So today I wanted to share with you some of my top tips for making a builder grade home feel more custom. Here was our home when we moved in:

Ha! Kidding that’s the after! This was actually our home when we moved in:

 Again, nothing wrong with it per say, but it just wasn’t super thrilling. For one let’s talk about bland. The house and trim color were barely a shade apart and that brick. I have nothing against brick, I live in an all brick house currently. The problem with that brick though was that it was probably the cheapest brick around and just felt and looked cheap. No variation to it whatsoever. Second, the landscaping. You can’t see it really well in this picture but it had red lava rock in the beds, making the red brick and rock stand out even more. 

I think one thing that holds us back is sometimes it’s overwhelming to figure out where to start. And by looking on Houzz or Pinterest you feel like it all has to be done at once. While that’s great if you can make that happen it’s not realistic for most people’s time and budget constraints. I always think a good place to start is to paint your space. Paint can change a space so quickly and is relatively inexpensive. 

Paint is primarily what spruced up the exterior. We got rid of the ugly red brick color by painting it white and painting the siding gray. Add in a fun front door, new exterior lighting, pots and change out the red lava rock with river rock and we had so much more curb appeal!

Of course I didn’t take many pictures when we moved in because 1. I didn’t have a blog then and 2. Instagram was so new! Above is a picture of our kitchen after I painted the walls and put new hardware on the cabinet doors. Like holy wow, honey oak. So, so much honey oak in that house. So if you can picture that honey oak on all doors, trim, cabinets then you get the gist. 

Here are a couple photos I found going way, way back on Instagram! Here’s the mantle in the great room that attached to the kitchen/dining. More honey oak! And you can see the original wall color that was everywhere in the house. Pretty much the same off white that’s on the exterior of the home.

After all walls were painted (Sherwin Williams Dovetail in main living spaces, Sherwin Williams Watery in kitchen/dining) something needed to be done about the flooring. There was an awful vinyl “tile” (think one sheet, not actual tiles) in the kitchen/dining and all bathrooms except the master. In all living spaces and bedrooms was a cheap low pile off white carpet. The builder was also so kind as to bring that into the master bath…who does that?? So we picked out a Pergo engineered hardwood at Home Depot that was installed in all main spaces, entry, and bathrooms. 

Now let’s get real ya’ll. This did not happen overnight. Just the mere fact of painting all the walls took a while especially because we had vaulted ceilings. We started in the kitchen/dining and did the great room and entry later. We didn’t paint the master until right before we were married and I painted my office after that. And then even later, the basement living room. The wood floors happened right before we were married and were a wedding gift from my parents. We also had the kitchen cabinets refinished the summer after we were married which you can read about here

Having our kitchen cabinets refinished completely changed the look and feel of the kitchen. Add in new hardware, new faucet and new stainless steel appliances over time (the dishwasher never got changed out!) and you have a completely new space. 

Had we stayed in the house I wanted to do new backsplash and countertops as these were laminate and the backsplash matched and was off white. However, all the other changes that happened in here it kind of made the countertops and backsplash disappear. If you can accomplish that in your space that’s awesome as countertops cost so much!


Another big project I did after wood floors went in was to paint all the trim on the main level white. If you’ve ever painted your own trim you know it’s no joke. That was a huge job, time wise, but made all the difference in my mind. And of course some cute decor can help as well. Everything in this picture decor wise is either from TJ Maxx or Target, because duh.


For one of the One Room Challenges I participated in I redid this bathroom that was our guest bath on the main level. You can read all about that here. I learned something amazing about myself during the time we lived here: I was willing to give anything a try if I wanted it bad enough. Take this bathroom for example, had I ever put up wallpaper before? Heck no. Did I teach myself how to anyways? Heck ya! I only did one wall as an accent and because I didn’t want to commit to doing the whole room. I repurposed leftover wallpaper from my parents house so I paid nothing! Another huge task I put my hand at is that concrete countertop. This was probably the most work I’ve ever put into a project but well worth the effort!

The master bedroom was the result of another One Room Challenge as well. Read more about that here. Walls are Sherwin Williams Gauntlet Gray.

Another top tip for making your builder grade home more custom is changing out the lighting! This made for a huge difference in all the spaces we did this in. Like the dining room, entry, master, and bathrooms. A couple of my favorite sources for inexpensive lighting are World Market, Wayfair, and IKEA. And lastly, furniture and decor that makes you happy and fits your aesthetic will make all the difference for your home. So making your home feel more custom is to simply make it unique to you. We aren’t bound by Pinterest or Houzz though it does give good ideas! I find more enjoyment in seeing an idea and figuring out how to accomplish it on my own and/or cheaper, like I did with our cable railing in our current house.

To recap my top tips to making your home more custom on a budget:

  1. Paint! Walls, trim, cabinets. Basically everything.
  2. Flooring! This might not be necessary or doable for your budget but think outside the box like painting over laminate in a space or pulling up carpet and staining concrete
  3. Lighting! Find unique, size appropriate fixtures for your space to literally brighten it up.
  4. Furniture & Home Decor! Find pieces you love that match your style. Check facebook trade sites if new isn’t in your budget.

Making our first home feel custom didn’t  happen overnight. It was an ongoing process from when we moved in to when we moved out. It took a lot of time, effort, planning and sometimes redoing because I made a decision to hastily. That’s the beauty of DIY, you can always DIY again, though it may irritate your husband 🙂 If you live in a home like I first did I hope this gives you some ideas and inspiration! 

To see all the pictures of our previous home go here.