DIY Bride

How To Give Your House Character

My dream house is a Craftsman-style abode with a huge front porch, rich, dark hardwood floors, arched entryways and beautiful built-in bookshelves surrounding a huge brick fireplace. My actual house? Pretty much the exact opposite.

Our home is a 3-year-old townhouse that, upon purchase, had white carpets throughout (save for the bathrooms and kitchen), golden oak cabinets and and a dirt patch filled with construction debris for a backyard. A little back story- the builder of my complex bought the land and built the houses at the height of the real estate market in California. As things came crashing down, they were unable to sell the units, leading them to put the majority of them up for auction. I had been batting around the idea of purchasing a home for awhile, and the starting bids were within my loan pre-approval amount. My brother suggested we take a look, and I quickly got swept up in the excitement of it all. Probably too quickly. No, definitely too quickly. The idea of being a homeowner as a single woman was quite appealing and probably clouded my judgment more than I would care to admit. I had looked at a few houses in town that I loved, but they were still a bit too far out of my price range. The townhouses had starting bids of $295,000 (I ended up getting mine for $343k), which seemed like a screaming deal at the time. My brother, sister-in-law and I went to the auction an left with shiny new houses. Just a heads up, buying a house at an auction was one of the most nerve-wracking things I have ever done. This one worked just like a stereotypical auction, except at the end, your saddled with a 30-year mortgage instead of a trunk full of trinkets or an antique end table. I was actually quoted on the front page of the local paper the next day thusly: “I feel like I am going to vomit.” Yeah. Above the fold and everything.

There are many perks to having a brand new house. The appliances are all energy efficient, there are no weird plumbing or wiring issues, and I don’t have to deal with odd things breaking or shorting out here and there. I really do realize that I am lucky to have a home and don’t want to seem like I am whining about totally inconsequential things. That being said, this house has no damn character. None whatsoever. I mean really, who puts white freaking carpet in a dining room? The first time my then two-year-old niece ate at my house, she spilled spaghetti sauce everywhere. Rug ruined. I have a black, long-haired cat who sheds just to spite me, leaving clumps of black hair everywhere. The linoleum they put in the kitchen and bathroom is something a person designing a gas station bathroom would look at and deem “too ugly.” And golden oak? Really? Look, I realize oak is a very nice, sturdy wood. Some people love golden oak. I am not one of those people, and this particular hue looks totally dated. The kitchen cabinets made me crazy for months, but I have made peace with them for the time being (and by peace I mean the minute I have ANY disposable income and time, those bad boys are getting refinished). Slowly but surely, I have been giving the inside of the house the quirky makeover it deserves, trying to create a unique and inviting space that belies the cookie cutter exterior. Because I am incredibly cheap (and have little to no extra money after paying the mortgage), I have managed to do so in creative and inexpensive ways. Here is where I start doling out the little tips and tricks in the hopes that it will help you dear readers spruce up your space. Let’s start with the living room, shall we?

Living Room

I participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life a few years ago. For those who don’t know, it is a 24-hour event where one person from your team has to be on the track at all times. I hadn’t slept in around 36 hours when I returned home at 10 a.m. on a Sunday and retreated to my couch. Too tired to sleep, I zoned out instead on the television, enjoying the lovely design programs HGTV had to offer. In my sleep-deprived state, I kept looking from the beautiful new hardwood floors being installed on the TV to the stained, disgusting white carpet surrounding me. Suddenly, the desire to be rid of them was overwhelming. Armed with a screwdriver, a hammer, an Xacto knife and a pair of gloves, I started in one corner and proceeded to rip up the carpet and tack strip throughout the downstairs. I hauled the rolls out to the garage, glad to be well rid of them. And then I had a concrete sub-floor staring me in the face and no plan for what to do next. After researching various flooring options, it became clear that laminate was going to be my only option if I wanted to have a wide selection of colors and still be able to afford to eat. Laminate wouldn’t be my first choice, but eating is important to me and I had kind of screwed myself out of being able to put it off for very long. I ended up going with, which has a fantastic selection and really good prices. I also had the good fortune of having an amazing friend with vast construction skills that owed me one, and he put in the floors for free. Score! Total cost of flooring- $1200, with about $200 in surplus planks.

Living room before with gross carpet

Me, loving and hugging the floor upon their completion

Living room today

For home decor, Etsy, Home Goods, Ross and Craigslist cannot be beat, particularly if you are trying to stay on a budget. The Craigslist free section is a treasure trove of wonderfulness. We got our couch off there; a woman was moving in a hurry and just needed to get rid of her items, and it was in near perfect condition. This does, of course, require a large amount of patience and diligence, but gems will pop up regularly enough to make it worth your while. It is amazing the things people will literally give away so they don’t have to deal with them anymore.

There is not one frame on that wall that is its original color, including the mirror on the left. Some were white, others multicolored, woodgrain, or hideously gold plated. One or two cans of spray paint later and I had a coordinated set to frame everything up with. As for the pictures, they came mostly from Etsy, but some are from a great art project blog called Indie Fixx: Feed Your Soul where different artists contribute a free download each week for people to use. There are amazing prints available and it’s a great way to decorate at little to no cost while getting exposure to new artists. While I get most of my frames at Home Goods/Ross/Marshall’s, the Dollar Stores and their ilk almost always have frames as well. Beautiful original artwork for $1 plus tax? Don’t mind if I do!

Living room from another angle

Having a husband who is a sculptor – -is really handy when trying to add unique pieces to one’s collection. I apologize for the appearance of the spider, but barring it’s ability to be absolutely terrifying, I freaking love it. And yes, I have a Home Sweet Home (from Target, as is the Buddha candle statue) plate next to his sculpture of naked military men with rifles for penises. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, no? The “Living In Sin” print on the wall was a gift to us from Nana for Christmas last year, which makes it all the more awesome, in my opinion. Even though he’s made an honest woman out of me, that print is never coming down. There is still more than enough sinful stuff going on in this joint to make it valid.

Meet Fernando. He was the man of the house until Jon came along.

I got him from Home Goods for $99. He is over 7′ tall. How could I not?

Every home should have these items. Every. Single. Home.

Awesome painting by my friend Aaron. Yes, those are hot dogs and bacon and cowgirls. Awesome-sauce.

This is George

I know gigantic metal knights and taxidermy aren’t for everyone – though I stand firm on the need for Buffy, Angel and LOTR- but in attempting to make this house match my personality, I had to get creative. The boar hung in my grandfather’s office for my entire life, and when he passed away two years ago, I wanted it more than anything. I know many will find it repugnant, but every single time I look at it, it reminds me of sitting in my Papa’s lap, balancing the checkbook, watching TV or just hanging out with him as a little girl, and it reminds me how lucky I am to have known my grandpa and to have been able to spend so much time with him throughout my life. That’s probably more meaning than most people would pull from a stuffed animal carcass, but there it is.

I know that the sheer haphazardness with which I decorate is giving those of you with a more streamlined, modern, and simplistic design sensibilities the shivers right now. Jon likes to call my style “see how much shit we can put on every flat surface,” and while that is kind of a crappy way to put it, it is also totally true. Dusting takes more time than I would like, but the plus is that I get to look at things I enjoy all around me all the time. All these random little things make me happy; each one has a story behind it or a recalls for me a fond memory, even if that is something as small as discovering an awesome seller on Etsy. There is nothing in my living room, aside from electronics, that cost me more than $100, and yet I feel like it is an honest reflection of my style and personality. The next step is getting some color on the walls, but I can’t decide on a color. I would welcome any suggestions, dear readers. I hate the white walls.

My Favorite Art Sites/Shops

My absolute favorite artist, so haunting and beautiful –


Decorating can be such a daunting task and it is hard to know where to start. I know that I hate using a level and get frustrated very easily when trying to hang multiple items in a straight line or evenly spaced. To avoid this, I just start hammering and fit things in wherever there is space. If you can’t, or don’t want to, put holes in the walls, get tacky gum or thick double sided tape, which will hold up most light frames. Don’t worry about blank space, either. Leave room to add more things as you find them. Most of all, never pass something up because you don’t like the color. Spray paint, spray paint, spray paint. You can turn the biggest pile of junk into a collection by painting it all the same color.

Happy Hunting and decorating, y’all!

Next week-

Headboard? We don’t need no stinkin’ headboard… making bedrooms less boring












9 replies on “How To Give Your House Character”

I rent because NJ property prices are similar to CA and I don’t know if I’ll ever own a house. However – I’m moving from my cookie-cutter stepford apartment into a house built in 1880 that is gorgeous and I can paint! I’ll be living with 4 other people which is kinda intense, but the house is huge and not that expensive and has a little yard for my dog to romp in. I’m trading down my big room and closet at my current place, but I think it’s worth it to be able to walk to bars, not hear my upstairs neighbor’s phone go off and have some personality in my home.

My grandparents brought back a full suit of armor from Spain when they were there on their honeymoon. Its absolutely the most fought over piece in the family since their deaths and I expect to be able to get my hands on it in about 30 years.

I really believe every house should have a suit of armor in it.

I have had to adopt the DIY attitude as well, since our move to a house in the suburbs which is 4 times the size of our previous 650 sq. feet condo.I LOVE my eighties kitchen : wooden light fixtures, orange-ish oak cabinets, but the room feels so “homey” I would not change it for the world. My husband has started to build furniture (thanks to Ana White’s free plans) , and I rely on the Salvation Army for art prints. I also started sewing, both to dress our girls and to make curtains and pillows.

You are lucky; the Goodwill and Salvation Army around me charge outrageous prices for frames. I was looking for an 8×10 a few months ago, and the cheapest one they had was $15 and super plain and ugly. I ended up going to Michael’s with a 40% off coupon and getting a great one for $6.50. I couldn’t believe it how expensive they were at the thrift shops.

I will definitely check Savers, though. I haven’t been to the one by me in ages.

My house was built in 1920 and has more “character” than I know what to do with. I love it and I love, love, love my neighborhood. But you can take some of my house’s character, and I’ll take some of your house’s not-falling-apartness, and we can call it even. :)

Also, damn lady, you remind me how great it is to live in the city I live in. My coworkers and I were just talking about this earlier this week. There may be downsides to living in a poor, rust belt city, but you can’t beat the cost of living. We paid less than a third of the cost of your townhouse for our whole entire house! By the time we’re done with converting the second kitchen, we’ll have two bedrooms, a library, two full bathrooms, living room, dining room, full front porch, nearly full basement (the ceiling is a bit low), and a backyard with offstreet parking to go with it all.

Awww, that is the (super shitty) trade-off for character, damn it! My very favorite house in town went up for sale super cheap right after I bought my place, but I called the realtor to see why it was priced so low. It needed a new roof, new plumbing, all new wiring, the roofs leaks had caused water to seep all through the house, infesting it with black mold inside the walls, and squatters had been living in it for the past 6 months. Yeah. I still look longingly at it every time I drive by, but the owners had to put so much work and money into it, I couldn’t have done it.

But I am still totally jealous of your house. I can’t help it!! Not just because it has a history- and a library!!!-, but also because you got it for sooooo much less. California is definitely the shits for affordable housing. Our place is decent sized- 1400 sq. ft. or so, but the backyard is non-existent. Oh, and it is also in the shittiest, most dangerous neighborhood in town. Drive-by shootings, gang fights, and they found a dead body in the creek about 100 yards from my door. So, yeah, barely scraping by and can’t go for a walk after dark. Hindsight is such a bitch.

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