To the north and to the south of where I live in Pawleys Island are areas that are experiencing explosive growth. Homes are sprouting like mushrooms, seemingly overnight, in new developments with names like Palm Bay, Lakeshore and Wilderness Point. While it's wonderful to see so much growth, unfortunately, the houses don't have much charm and look much the same. Building a custom home can take a lot of time and significantly more money. So, I started thinking about how I would customize one of these typical tract houses after closing to make it look like it was custom built.
First, I would plan on buying a house that is about $25,000 under my target price in order to customize after closing. In perusing the offerings not far from me, I spotted this new home available in Lakeshore built by D. R. Horton, a national homebuilder/developer. It has a spacious floor plan and a nice view of the lake and I liked the flooring. But it needs some help to take it out of the cookie cutter mold. Here are nine things I would do pronto if I were to buy this home. My changes will focus on the interior because in these planned communities, it is difficult to make any changes to the exterior of a home. That said, I would landscape the heck out of it to create some privacy from the neighbors as well as increase curb appeal!
1. Replace Light Fixtures
Builders are notorious for giving paltry lighting allowances. One of the easiest ways to make your house look unique is to upgrade the light fixtures. I would absolutely change the light fixtures on the exterior of this house even though I just said exterior changes are harder (I think you can get away with that). Inside, I would remove the trio of tiny pendants and replace with a pair of larger fixtures.
With the wide plank flooring, I would go with something more rustic and since we are at the beach, something with a coastal vibe like this lantern from Visual Comfort.
And in the dining area, I would replace the ho hum chandelier with something much more interesting, like this distressed wood and iron chandelier from Aidan Gray:
2. Paint the walls of some of the rooms different colors
A dead give away of an off the shelf house is having every single wall painted the same neutral color. The foyer is nicely defined in this home and it also features a tray ceiling so I would use color here to highlight this nice feature. Of course the light fixture here would have to be changed!
I would use a peaceful palette like this:
I would paint the foyer walls in Pale Powder and the ceiling in Palladian Blue. The great room walls would be in Cornforth White.
3. Re-work the island
Making the island over is easy and will provide major impact. I would apply picture molding to the base on this side and paint it (including the baseboard) and the cabinet a soft blue/gray/green like Farrow and Ball's Light Blue.
Then I would replace the gray granite on the island with black absolute granite in a honed finish. The black counter will make sense of the black appliances here and the honed (un shiny) finish has a more casual rustic feel than a shiny finish.
4. Replace upper cabinets with open shelves backed by a wall of shiplap on the oven wall
I realize that you need some closed cabinets, but you don't need as many as builders are putting into houses these days. Open shelves are great for storing dishes and glasses which are what we typically put inside upper cabinets. Another idea is to find some glass front antique cupboards and install them where you absolutely must have a cabinet. The idea is to break up the sea of monotonous white builder's basic cabs.
5. Replace microwave/vent with a stainless steel vent hood
Nothing says builder grade better than a microwave vent over a range. Transform this kitchen by installing a real vent:
6. Redo the look of the fireplace
Fireplaces are typically the focal point of the main living area so it should not only look great but it should also be consistent stylistically with the home's interior features. In other words, if you are going for a coastal rustic vibe, the fireplace should reflect that feel. The fireplace that this house comes with could be better.
I would replace the shiny granite with slate tiles and replace the surround and mantle with one like this:
7. Beef up the trim in the foyer, great room and half bath
The baseboard, door and window frame, and crown molding are skimpy. Going with higher baseboards, deeper crown molding and wider door and window casing in the public spaces will add character and weight to this house. A good rule of thumb is to size the baseboard around 7% of the ceiling height. So, if your new house has 10 foot ceilings, go with a baseboard that is around 8 inches high. The door casings should be around 4 and a half to 5 inches wide. The crown can be customized by adding stock moldings to what is already there to beef them up a bit. Below is an example of a beautifully trimmed room:
8. Replace builder grade carpet in the master bedroom with higher quality designer carpet
Your master bedroom should be a luxurious oasis and there is nothing luxurious about the carpet options the builder offered!
There are so many gorgeous options from luxurious wool to animal prints to wall to wall sisal layered with an antique Persian rug. Here are some of my favorites:
9. Add square columns to porch to narrow the opening and tile the cement porch floor
So, that's my tract house hack- 9 easy things that will take a new house from basic to fabulous!