Some houses age with grace, adding even more charm with each passing year. Others look just like every other home on the street. If you have the latter but wish you had the former, there are ways you can make it happen.
You don’t have to buy and renovate an old Victorian beauty to have a vintage-feeling home. In fact, you don’t even need to spend much money, especially if you’re willing to get your hands dusty.
Ways to Add Vintage Charm to Your House
Forget the home equity loans and personal loans for home improvement projects. Here are 25 affordable ways to create true vintage charm in even the blandest cookie-cutter home. Some recall rustic farmhouses, others grand elegance of bygone eras, but all discard the mundanity of the mass-produced in favor of distinct looks from the last century.
1. Replace the Doorknobs
Today’s flimsy doorknobs look and feel just as cheap as they are.
But it’s an easy DIY remodeling project to swap them out with old-school glass or bronze doorknobs. It’s entry-level an home update suitable for beginners.
If you insist on getting truly old, original doorknobs, prepare for a challenge in finding a matching set at antique stores. Or, you can find vintage-looking new ones online for less than the cost of lunch. Try this glass doorknob set from Defender Security.
2. Add Inside Trim to Flat Doors
A glass doorknob looks out of place on a cheap, thin door. You can replace the door, of course, but that gets expensive quickly, and you may have trouble finding older doors that fit your modern door frame.
But if you have a flat door, it’s easy enough to spruce it up with some trim, formed into rectangles, on the door itself.
For dramatic impact, you can paint the trim a different color from the door itself. Or you can keep it simple and cover it all in the same glossy coat.
3. Replace the Cabinetry Hardware
Just as you can liven up boring doors with vintage knobs, you can do the same with drawers and cabinets. Bronze works well, as does a rough-and-tumble cast iron look.
I once bought a house with a half-bath that came with a seashell-shaped sink. It felt vaguely dated and out of place, and I considered replacing it. Instead, I went a different route and committed to a seaside look in that bathroom.
I painted the walls a sky blue, which worked well with the sand-colored tiling. I hung shore-themed art on the walls. But the coup de grace was the bronze seashell-shaped knobs on the cabinet doors.
Not everyone who used the bathroom noticed, but the ones who did used words like “adorable” to describe it.
4. Add Vintage Kitchen and Bath Fixtures
Clawfoot tubs have been popular among retro-chic homeowners for years now, and for good reason. They add plenty of vintage charm to any bathroom.
Similarly, you can install a farmhouse sink in your kitchen. Anyone who loves cooking (or just does a lot of it) can appreciate the width and depth of a proper farmhouse sink, which makes it easier to do the dishes without them piling into an unscalable mountain.
Beware, though: In a kitchen with usable counters and cabinets already in place, changing the footprint of the sink is no small job. It’s best done when you’re either ripping out the surrounding cabinets anyway or when you can replace the sink without having to replace the surrounding cabinets.
As tempting as it is to DIY these sorts of home repairs, start small with DIY home upgrades. Work your way up to larger updates and hire a contractor in the meantime. If you don’t know any contractors in your area, you can use a service like HomeAdvisor. They run background checks and can recommend both general contracts and specialists in your area.
5. Go Retro With Your Appliances
Classic refrigerators with rounded edges and chrome handles are increasingly popular again, but that doesn’t mean they’re cheap. Fortunately, you probably want the vintage look without the vintage innards, which means buying one new that only looks like it was manufactured in 1952.
You can buy matching ovens and dishwashers too, with the same curving lines and gleaming chrome handles. They’re not cheap, but they make for a striking look in any kitchen that’s cheaper than a full-scale renovation.
6. Butcher Block Counters
One simple and affordable way to create a farmhouse kitchen look is butcher block counters. These wooden counters look gorgeous and come in any wood tone from bleached blonde to deep mahogany. Plus, they don’t have any grooves or grout for crumbs and liquids to crust into, making them easy to clean.
7. Incorporate Antique Dishes
You can do a lot with antique china dishes.
You can hang them on a wall, which works well in kitchens and dining rooms. As you meander through antique shops, keep an eye out for lone China dishes that look great and could contribute as an accent among other old pieces. You can also scatter them around to serve as soap dishes, candle dishes, and produce dishes.
Keep in mind that the goal here isn’t to match. It’s to add character to bland spaces.
8. Buy Vintage Furniture
“They don’t make them like they used to” is true in the furniture industry.
Not in the sense of quality; if you’re willing to pay enough, you can buy gorgeous handcrafted furniture today. But some furniture designs simply fell out of fashion decades ago and are largely unproduced to this day. For example, you don’t see many chaise lounges or chesterfield sofas in furniture showrooms today.
Scout antique furniture shops and Craigslist for furniture with that vintage feel to add some old-school charm to any room. It’s often a great way to buy quality furniture inexpensively. Plus, you can donate your old furniture to charity and enjoy the tax deduction if it has some scuffs or sell it if it looks closer to new.
Just be careful to keep each room consistent and not to put a century-old chaise lounge next to an Ikea pleather loveseat.
9. Distress the Paint on Existing Furniture
One way to give newer furniture a vintage feel is to distress the paint. It’s easy enough to do. You simply take some sandpaper to the paint, whether the paint job is old or new.
A word to the wise, though: This only looks good on furniture that looks like it could conceivably be older. Don’t try this with a cheap modern table. But for old desks, cabinets, tables, and other already-vintage-looking pieces, it can be a stylish way to add the gravitas of age.
10. Use Reclaimed Wood
Create a wood plank accent wall with reclaimed wood in your living room or den for a warm, rustic feel. The beauty of these walls tend to be the rough texture and staggered lengths of the planks, giving it a slightly irregular and organic look.
But don’t let that look fool you. The planks must still fit together well. If you mount them poorly, it looks haphazard instead of warm and rustic.
Score inexpensive reclaimed wood through online classifieds websites, through peer-to-peer selling platforms like eBay and Etsy, or even from grocery stores overflowing with wooden pallets. If you’re willing to pay a little more, you can also check out architectural salvage retailers and reclaimed lumber dealers like Vintage Timberworks or Plank & Mill.
If making your own wood plank wall sounds like a lot of work, you can buy one instead. Try this affordable option from Epic Artifactory.
11. Hang Vintage Mirrors
Not only do mirrors make a room look larger and brighter, but they can also add an elegant feel from a previous era. An oversize mirror creates a powerful impression in the room, recalling the grandiosity of the Roaring ’20s or La Belle Epoque.
The trick is to find a huge mirror smoky with age. Ideally, you want an equally oversized gold or silver frame around it, covered in lush laurel leaves, floral designs, or broad, bold lines. The frame can also have a faded color to it. Don’t be afraid to paint it yourself to give it the perfect aged-looking hue.
12. Add a Bar Cart to the Living Room
Bar carts sit on the side of the room looking sexy, with bottles, a decanter or two, glassware, and other bar-related accouterments. Pick up a vintage crystal decanter and a set of coupe, crystal highball, wine, or martini glasses to create the look of mid-century sophistication. Round out the look with a sterling silver ice bucket.
While you’re at it, learn how to make a bourbon drink or two to impress your guests. My favorite is the home sweet home, made with two parts bourbon or scotch, one part lemon juice, and one part chamomile simple syrup. It’s easy, delicious, and guaranteed to please.
13. Add a Fireplace and Mantle
From rustic farmhouse to old-money grandeur, there’s a fireplace for every look. It serves as a focal point for the room and, when lit, creates an undeniable allure.
Ideally, it should actually work. But if you’re low on budget and don’t have an easy way to vent the smoke, you can always just install a mantle and fireplace that are purely decorative.
Before making that decision, though, explore gas fireplaces. They’re often easier to install than traditional wood-burning fireplaces with flues, chimneys, and the works. You don’t necessarily have to spend much on them, either. For a low-cost example, see this gas fireplace from Duluth Forge.
As for the mantle, if you enjoy antiquing, then keep an eye out for an original vintage mantle. If that proves a challenge, you can always build or buy a new one instead.
14. Surround the Fireplace With Faux Stone
Faux stone such as AirStone or NextStone is easy to cut with a regular hacksaw and mounts on the wall with a premixed adhesive mixture. No grout, no contractors, no special equipment needed.
It’s a prefabricated veneer that creates the look of a stone chimney or wall, without the unwieldy weight or mounting challenges of real stones.
And it’s surprisingly cheap. For a few hundred bucks and a few hours’ labor, you can create the rustic vibe of a stone chimney by adhering faux stone panels on your fireplace and mantle. Check out this kit of four interlocking NextStone panels that cover nearly 17 square feet of space. Alternatively, AirStone claims to be made from recycled materials and even feels like real stone at similar pricing.
15. Channel Grandma With Quilts
If you’re lucky, you still have one or two of your grandmother’s handmade quilts. If not, well, you can always buy some at a thrift or vintage store.
Quilts work wonders for that farmhouse look, both as throw blankets on the back of your living room sofas and, of course, on the beds. They’re a cheap, simple way to add rustic charm to any home.
16. Get Creative With Mason Jars
Mason jars might just be the most versatile thing in your house (after duct tape, of course).
Craftsy people can make their own candles in Mason jars for a farmhouse look. If you make your own jams and preserves, you can line a kitchen shelf with jars of them, perhaps with those little red-and-white linen jam jar covers. Lazy people can use them as flower vases for an easier effect.
You can also build a Mason jar light fixture (or buy one) with old-school transparent incandescent bulbs. Check out this pair of mason jar lights as one example.
17. Decorate With Vintage Vases
Not everyone appreciates the Mason jar look. If you’re going for “understated elegance” rather than “my grandparents’ cottage,” pick up a few antique vases.
They’re easy to find in every shape, size, and color in antique shops across the world. Placing a few flowers in them instantly adds color and charm to any room.
You can also get more creative if you’re fresh out of flowers. Use vases as bookends or as candy or mint dishes. They’re also perfect for holding kitchen utensils on the counter. In the bathroom, larger vases can keep spare rolls of toilet paper handy. Small vases can go on the table by the front door to hold odds and ends like sunglasses, keys, and earbuds.
18. Repurpose Vintage Items
You stumble across some strange items at yard sales and antique shops. Many of them feature dated designs that are no longer considered efficient, but they still look cool.
Consider old-fashioned wooden toolboxes. They don’t fold or compartmentalize your tools the way you’d prefer in today’s world, but something about the dark, shiny stained wood and the sheer fact that no one uses them anymore creates a certain appeal.
They may not be great for storing tools, but you can put them to decorative use as magazine holders, window flower boxes, or quaint silverware holders.
The same goes for other vintage items you happen upon. Rather than only seeing their obsolete original purpose, brainstorm ideas for putting them to use in a more decorative role.
19. Convert Your Living Room or Den Into a Library
No one builds homes with a library anymore. That’s a shame because home library rooms are warm, welcoming, and have that inviting smell of leather and paper.
When my parents bought their home, my father created a casual library where he relaxes, watches TV, and of course, reads. One wall has built-in shelving stacked with ancient hardcover volumes, some of which he bought to read, and others he salvaged from his parents’ library. It’s the warmest, coziest room in the house.
If your budget doesn’t cover built-in shelving, buy a tall, antique wooden bookcase and fill it with classic hardcover or leather-bound books. You can create a similar effect for a fraction of the cost.
20. Add Faux Wood Beams Along the Ceiling
Picture a 300-year-old colonial home with broad, dark wooden beams bracing the ceiling. If you were to buy one of those sturdy, solid wood beams today, it would set you back thousands of dollars. Fortunately, you can buy hollow, faux wooden beams that look just like the real thing but weigh next to nothing and cost a few hundred dollars.
Take a look at this faux wood beam from NextStone as an example, and keep in mind this works best with taller ceilings.
21. Add a Ceiling Medallion
For a more grandiose look in a dining room or formal living room, add a ceiling medallion.
They were once expensive to install, but today, you can simply stick them to the ceiling. They pair particularly well with classic chandeliers. The only potential challenge is detaching and then reconnecting the light fixture.
Despite the upscale final result, they cost less than the dinner you’re planning to serve underneath them. For example, check out this 18-inch ornate medallion to add some Victorian elegance to your dining room.
22. Install Pressed Tin Ceiling Tiles
Pressed tin ceilings were all the rage 100 to 130 years ago. They lined the ceilings of salons and drawing rooms at the turn of the 20th century, but in the centuries since then, most have been removed or covered with drywall.
Today, it’s cheap and easy to recreate the same look at a fraction of the price. Most tiles you buy today are pressed sheet metal with a tin finish, creating the same metal look, feel and texture.
Start your search with this inexpensive but well-reviewed “pressed tin” ceiling tile set for tiles that look and feel like original tin tiles.
23. Dress Up Windows with Broad Trim
Today’s new homes tend to feature cheap, thin window trim. To give your home a more upscale, vintage feel, replace thin trim with broad, wide trim framing. Besides making your home look less cookie-cutter, it adds character to the room and draws attention to the bright windows.
24. Add Wainscoting or a Chair Rail
Wainscoting is a word you don’t hear very often anymore. That makes it all the more appealing as you aim to set your home apart from the neighbors.
Wainscotting is the three-dimensional trim on the lower portion of living- and dining room walls, below the chair rail. The chair rail is the jutting trim that lines the room at the height of chair tops. It’s meant to keep chairs from denting the walls if they’re backed into them.
Traditional wainscoting was white, forming rectangular panels along the lower walls. These panels were wooden, but today, you can buy them relatively inexpensively in materials like PVC and then coat them in thick, glossy white paint. Try these wainscoting panels on Amazon that you can easily install yourself.
Or spend even less and just install a chair rail around the living or dining room. Instead of hundreds of dollars, you can spend dozens on a polyurethane chair rail and install it yourself with ease.
25. Use Vintage Paint Colors or Wallpaper
You’ve added wainscoting or a chair rail to your dining room, leaving the bottom of the walls a gleaming white. What do you do with the walls from waist height up?
You could add wallpaper, such as this blue French damask wallpaper from Blooming Wall. Looking at it above wainscoting is like stepping into a time machine.
Or you could use paint colors reminiscent of the early to mid-20th century and before. Think pale lemon, pastel green hues, dusty rose, and soft lavender shades.
From rustic farmhouse to mid-century prosperity, you can choose and recreate the perfect look for your personality and home. It doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. You can implement nearly every idea above yourself, and many cost less than a meal out at a restaurant.
For the best results, combine ideas above to compound the effects. For example, you can transform your living room into a Roaring ’20s entertaining hub with a huge, smoky mirror surrounded by a gold leaf frame, a bar cart with all the trimmings, a ceiling medallion, chaise lounge, and pastel green walls. Or, you can create a farmhouse aesthetic with antique china dishes, quilts, Mason jars, a wood plank wall, and some antique wooden furniture.
The only limit is your imagination.