Trying to Add Character to a Space? First You Need to Find Your Vibe.
People talk a lot about "character" when it comes to houses. Character! It's what makes a house a home. It's what gives your house value! Add some dormers. Renovate the kitchen! Bump out a bay window. Buy a house that's 100 years old. Or something like that.
The thing about character is that it's really not that elusive or expensive. You can slowly add character to your home by doing lots of small things along the way. (And you can do the big things, too, of course!) If you're like we were and bought a house that really didn't have much of a vibe to speak of, you have a blank slate. And that's exciting (and overwhelming sometimes.)
Before you start painting or tearing down walls or even changing out trim or listening to someone else tell you what they think you should do, it might be worthwhile to take a minute and figure out what your vibe is. Our approach to adding "character" into an otherwise character-less home over the years only worked when we finally figured out a few important things:
We had to figure out what our style was. I know that seems like a no-brainer but it's actually super important, especially if you're taking on a project as amorphous as trying to change the overall feel of your home. I think there are some important questions to ask yourself on the whole "find your style" journey. What kind of spaces are you drawn to? Would these spaces make any sense in my own life or would components of those spaces make more sense? What are the commonalities among the spaces you like? Finding some sort of mis-mash that speaks to you and your family is actually super fun but it takes time. We jokingly call our style "Scandinavian New England rustic". It's somewhere between a minimalist, Swedish cabin in the woods and an eclectic Vermont timber frame. Most of the colors in our home are calming neutrals to allow all of the wood elements to shine through (and to generally chill us all out). But we had fun with our kitchen and painted the bottom cabinets a bright blue danube. We wanted our home to be a solid, timeless sanctuary, but also reflect the fact that we're a young family with lots of energy to spare.
We had to know when to lean in. Leaning into your style will inevitably help shape your choices when it comes to your home. Here's an example: we hated our floors for years - they had been finished with an awful, generic orange-tinted poly and they were both shiny AF and worn to hell. We figured they were red oak judging from the color where the finish had worn off. Refinishing our floors was a massive project that we held off for a long time. It took us years to figure out what we wanted to finish our floors with - all the typical polys just didn't fit our style. We ultimately ended up using Rubio Monocoat and we're really freakin' glad we did. It's a 0% VOC hardwax oil wood finish that keeps the natural look and feel of the wood. Our floors aren't shiny! They're soft and feel amazing underfoot. If the kids or dog completely mess them up, you can easily sand and re-wax to blend it back in. The finish smelled faintly of honey going down and is super earth friendly. Our old floors (which are actually white oak) were brought completely back to life. If we hadn't really stuck to our style, we probably would have been swayed by other opinions into using the tried and true floor finishes. Now our floor is completely reflective (and adds to) the overall vibe and character of our home.
And when to lean back. We've been in our 1200 square foot Cape for ten years now, slowly adding to our family (a big rescue dog and one son and then another). So maybe it's our personalities or maybe it's just the reality of living in a small space but one thing we've learned over the years, often the hard way, is that leaning back is really important. In America, our design aesthetic ends up being a result of a constant need to fit our stuff into our space. Buy more baskets! Add more furniture! Build more additions! We're all for projects and we, too, dream of adding a mudroom and expanding our kitchen but we've found over the years that often when we our home feels the most cluttered and chaotic it's not because we need more space. It's because we need less stuff and less forced design. We added really bright colors on our walls for years and it felt claustrophobic in our home. Lightening up and keeping a neutral palate has completely changed the vibe of certain spaces (especially our narrow hallway). I've fallen victim to over-engineered "organizational" systems for kids stuff. Special bookshelves, dozens of baskets, etc. It looks good for a hot second until it becomes more work to reorganize than to just shove the stuff back into a closet. Lean back from adding too many "solutions" into your home, lean back from design decisions that you may have made that don't serve you anymore. The character of your home will start to shine through.