Architectural Details: 10 Easy Ways to Upgrade A Boring Room
Have a boring, boxy room that needs something to make it look better? Adding architectural details (like moldings) is one of the easiest ways to add interest to a boring room.
What is one of the big differences between custom homes and builder-grade homes?
These are the things that help a room not look like a box even when it doesn’t have any furniture in it.
So whenever I’m doing a room makeover in my builder grade house, how to add architectural details is one of the first things I think about.
Having done this in most of the rooms in my house now, I’ve come up with a list of projects that are fairly easy to do. And make a big impact on the look of the space.
Keep reading to see 10 ways to upgrade your home with architectural details.
Before we start…a note about pinning: Some of the pictures below are from houzz.com and cannot be pinned due to their copyright policies.
1 | Create the Look of Panels
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Solid wood panels are an architectural detail you often find in custom homes.
They are beautiful…but also costly.
I can’t justify spending that much money in my (much) less expensive house.
So I do the next best thing.
Install picture moldings that give the illusion of sold wood panels.
Besides being really inexpensive, they’re also really easy to install yourself.
And you can cut them to whatever size and shape you need them to be for your room.
My master bedroom has a high, peaked ceiling, so I placed the moldings on the same angle to emphasize that feature.
When I did my den makeover, I installed panel moldings to outline wallpaper panels, which also acts as sort of a picture frame.
Read my tutorial for how to make panel moldings HERE.
If you don’t want to cut all of those moldings to size, you can buy panel frames (like these ones)* of the right size and nail or glue them up…no cutting required!
You can also get them in different shapes and patterns (some of which would be a little complicated to DIY).
2 | Install a Chair Rail
Installing a chair railing helps to break up a large expanse of wall.
It also gives you a natural place to change wall colors if you want to do a two-tone look.
In this case, the chair railing was installed with some panel frames underneath.
Painting everything on the bottom half of the wall white except for the middle of the panels draws your attention to the chair rail.
You can find step by step instructions for installing a chair rail on providenthomedesign.com.
If you want the look of a chair rail but not the effort of installing them (they can be a little tricky because of the angles), you can use panel molding to achieve a similar effect.
Install 2 moldings parallel to each other at the same height as a chair rail would be.
Then paint the whole area one color.
3 | Put Up Wainscoting
Wainscot is a traditional way to add some interest to the lower half of your walls.
The original version of it was planks of wood that were grooved on the sides so that they fit together on the wall.
Now, you can buy panels that look like grooved wood, but are much easier to install!
The wainscot panels that I used in my original master bathroom makeover weren’t even made of wood…they were some kind of fiberboard that was really light and easy to nail up.
Finish off the traditional wainscot look by installing a baseboard at the bottom of it and a chair rail going around the top.
High board and batten wainscoting is a more contemporary approach, and really adds some elegance to this living room.
You can find the step by step instructions for how to install it at lovegrowswild.com.
4 | Create Ornamental Door Frames
In my builder-grade house, the moldings around the doors are nothing to write home about.
Updating them with something more interesting is an easy way to create some interest on the walls.
Especially for doors that lead into the main living areas of your home.
I used marble tile to frame the doors and windows in my bathroom. It definitely doesn’t look builder grade any more!
5 | Add Faux Columns
This dining room uses faux columns at the corners of the room to add some extra formality to the room.
The stairwell in my house is a very, tall thin space that doesn’t have any windows.
As a blank wall, it seemed like it went on forever!
So I decided to add some interest by adding faux columns (made from moldings) in the corners and ledges going across that make it look like it’s paneled.
Painting the whole thing white makes it look like true paneling and brightened up the whole space!
You can find the rest of the stairwell update, and more information on how to make the faux columns, HERE.
6 | Put Up Moldings On The Ceiling
Another one of my favorite techniques to make a house look more custom is to decorate the ceiling.
Adding architectural details to it is one way to draw your eyes up.
This can make short rooms appear taller as well as add interest to a boxy room.
My mother did this with these DIY Craftsman-style moldings in her den.
This room uses wider picture frame moldings to create the same kind of effect.
And of course, beams on the ceiling would accomplish the same thing.
7 | Hang Crown Moulding
Crown moldings are an easy way to add elegance to any room and aren’t that hard to install.
To make even more of any impact, add some additional moldings around the wall below the crown molding.
If you paint the whole section the same color, it will look like one big crown molding.
And of course, no-one says your crown moldings have to be white.
I painted the ones in my bathroom black to make them stand out.
Find the step-by-step instructions for how to install crown molding HERE.
8 | Add a Fireplace Mantel
If your house is like mine was, the fireplace didn’t have a proper mantel over it.
So I fixed it by building my own which is actually a fairly easy and inexpensive DIY project. (You can find my DIY fireplace mantel tutorial HERE).
If your fireplace already has a mantel, but you want to call more attention to it, building a larger surround around it may be the way to go.
Even if your room doesn’t have a fireplace, adding a mantel creates a focal point (like this one in my bedroom).
9 | Create an Upholstered Backdrop
Using fabric on the walls is a great way to add texture and pattern to a space.
In this picture, panels were covered with fabric and then installed on the wall.
In my dining room makeover, I upholstered a backdrop similar to what you might use as a headboard…then installed it on the wall to add some flair.
I always get tons of compliments on this backdrop! And it makes a great place to hang holiday decor.
Built-ins serve dual purpose.
They add interest to your room and give you more storage.
You can create your own using stock cabinets from a big box store and some DIY shelving like I did in my office. (You can find the tutorial HERE).
Or create a less traditional look with IKEA cabinets and aluminum flashing.
Hopefully, you have found some inspiration for adding some interest to your own boxy rooms. Now I’m off to see what I can do with my guest bedroom 🙂
Other Home Upgrade Ideas You Might Like
- 10 Ways To Make Your House Look More Expensive
- How To Make A Small Room Look Bigger
- Space Saving Design Ideas For Small Bedrooms
Comments or questions on how to upgrade a boring room with architectural details? Tell us in the section below.
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This post was originally published on September 8, 2017 but was updated with new content on June 20, 2020.
These ideas are fabulous, Wanda!! Love your blog so much – great inspiration as always. Let me know if you ever make it to Seattle and want to see the zebras! Ha.
Thanks, Lele! You never know…Seattle is such a pretty city and I would love to see your zebras 🙂
I’m in the process of decorating my home & I want it to flow color wise. I have painted the master bedroom a charcoal black with a white stripe going all around the room. The room also has 2 windows with bright white custom 4 1/2” louvre shutters. & white double closet doors & white woodwork. White bedspread & white pillows. I love decorating with black & white. I also like very light shades of gray or very dark & white. Any advice for other 2 bedrooms, all 3 bedrooms are off a white hallway. I also love white. Any advice. Joan
Hi Joan…your bedroom sounds beautiful! I love black and white together, too. For your other rooms, you could try reversing what you have in the first bedroom, by going with white or light gray walls and black trim. Black and white buffalo check is another option…if you want to go bold, you could paint or wallpaper the wall behind the bed with it. Or if that’s too much, use it for your bedding. Or you could try adding a metal like gold or silver to change up the feel of one of the rooms. Not sure if you have already seen them, but you might get some ideas from these posts: bedrooms with black walls, my master bathroom design ideas (they are bathroom pictures, not bedrooms, but the color patterns could work) and my home office makeover. Hope that helps!
I really want to add architectural details to our home and am a bit hesitant until I figure out exactly what I want to do. I had not considered tiles on the wall before, this post is a great resource for ideas.
Thanks, Leanna! I’m a big fan of architectural details, but since they are somewhat permanent, I agree that you need to figure out what will go with your home before jumping into it. Thanks for stopping by!