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5 Ways to Add Old-House Charm to a New Build

By: Liz Harrell
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5 Ways to Add Old-House Charm to a New Build

By: Liz Harrell
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I’ve dreamed of living in an old home my entire life. My dream house is a quirky Victorian, filled with moody rooms, colorful art, and a creaky stairwell. The windows have wavy glass and look out over slightly unkempt gardens, and my bedroom has a fireplace. Although, to be clear, the oldest home I’ve ever lived in was a midcentury modern ranch tucked into the Lakewood area of North Little Rock (which I adored).

This fall, I was lucky enough to move back to Arkansas from the northeast. I commenced house hunting online and quickly realized a newly-built house was far more attractive than I’d once thought. As a single woman with kids, I wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about the old home worries that come with a historic house. Did I want stained glass windows? Yes. Did I want to replace leaky old pipes? No. Did I want a winding stairwell? Yes. Did I want to worry about an ancient HVAC system? Also no. In the end, I chose a newer home and began considering ways to add old-house charm while still enjoying the perks of less maintenance.

Antiques, Antiques, and More Antiques

A home decorated with strictly brand new, big-box items can feel a bit soulless, especially if it’s new construction. And while new homes may not have a lot of intrinsic character, antiques are an important way to add interest and charm. So I always try to balance a bit of old with a bit of new, like an old Victorian china cabinet with a modern lamp or an ornate 1920’s mirror with a farmhouse console. I also love trying to incorporate a piece of furniture into the kitchen, whether it’s an old buffet or china cabinet, it can add some unexpected character.


It’s the little things that matter most, or so they tell us. When it comes to interiors, that’s often true. New builds are usually devoid of the details we treasure in older homes, like intricate tilework, hand-carved fireplace mantels, and stained-glass transom windows. But in our new homes, we can add our own details. Switching out builder-grade door knobs for more interesting options always makes a subtle but important difference in a home. I plan to add mismatched pottery knobs to my plain kitchen cabinets (with some extra standby knobs purchased in case of knob-child-related catastrophes, which will inevitably happen). 


This is a home decor step I’ve avoided. It’s likely because I grew up in the “no amount of wallpaper is too much wallpaper” era. For all those too young to understand what I’m talking about, I recommend a screening of Home Alone. Note that every room in Kevin’s house had a different style of wallpaper, and these are the things that give us 80s and 90s kids bad flashbacks. However, old fussy permanent wallpapers are no longer the norm. Peel and stick options are easy ways to add character to a plain room (and easy removal if you change your mind). Wallpaper murals also provide gorgeous details to a feature wall in a dining room or bedroom. And if you’re like me and intimidated about all that pattern, adding wallpaper to the backs of bookshelves or china cabinets can add character and interest without being overwhelming.

Display Collections

When you don’t have the luxury of gingerbread-trimmed porches or butler’s pantries, you have to add character and interest in other ways. Displaying your favorite collections is a great way to add some individuality to your house. Whether it’s a collection of vintage pottery, a gallery wall of portrait paintings, or framing a dozen of your grandmother’s prized bumblebee pendants, these are the little touches that create authentic charm and sentimental character in your home.

Libraries are Always a Good Idea

J.K. Rowling said, “When in doubt, go to a library.” Not only do I agree, but I also submit that there’s nothing like a home library to make a home feel lived in and cozy, whether it was built in 1921 or 2021. And while not all of us have the luxury of devoting an entire room to books, don’t underestimate the impact of a wall of bookshelves in your living or dining room. It creates an ambiance that will give the plainest of tract homes character. 

This past fall, I decided to abandon my old house search and buy a new house. It was one of the best and most practical decisions I’ve ever made. But living in a new home doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my love of old-house charm. My house may only be a few years old, but it’s full of antiques and all the feelings that make it truly a home.

Meet the author

A little about Liz Harrell

Elizabeth Harrell is an author, freelance writer, and lives in Conway. Her book, My (not so) Storybook Life, was published in 2011. Her blog projects and articles have been featured in At Home Arkansas, Apartment Therapy, Better Homes and Gardens, Design Sponge, and here on Only in Arkansas. Visit her at https://elizabeth-harrell.com

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