How to Make a 1990s House Look More Modern
Have you been hankerin’ for floral window valances stuffed with plastic grocery bags for extra volume? Or maybe you want to update your home with rose coloured carpet and hunter green walls topped off with a floral wallpaper border? And dare I mention sponge paint?
Oh, the ’90s. Not only did they result in some of the WORST decorative decisions, but they’ve also resulted in homeowners who 30 years later, need to take out a second mortgage to FIX all of those decorative disasters.
I mean, at the time, those choices were TRENDY, right? But that’s the problem when you decorate based on what’s TRENDY – it doesn’t always stay that way. Sure, you might happen on some timeless element that can stretch into the next few decades, but chances are – you’re going to have to do a small OR LARGE scale renovation to update your home for either personal use or resale.
So, today, we’re going to talk about a few ways to update your 1990’s home and bring it into the 21st century. Now, because I ONLY use photos from my Online Colour Consulting clients, not ALL of these homes are necessarily 1990s, but they’ll still give you the general idea of what I’m talking about.
UPDATE IDEA #1 METAL FINISHES
Brass is one of the FIRST signs of a home that was built or renovated in the ’90s. And while gold finishes have made a HUGE comeback, the lines tend to be cleaner and even then, it too will have its time in the sun and will slowly fade away.
Updating all of the metal finishes in a home can be costly, as you can find this gleaming golden finish on MANY metal surfaces, such as:
- door handles and hinges (as well as glass door inserts)
- light fixtures
- cabinet hardware
- bathroom plumbing fixtures, including frames on shower doors
This shows the more modern, trendy side of brass/bold, but I bet within five years it’ll be gone!
So, where do you start?
PICK YOUR NEW METAL FINISH
While the pros can do some great mixing & matching, when it comes to the everyday homeowner, there are some things I wouldn’t play around with – including Grade 6 math (hello COVID homeschooling) and brass combined with any type of nickel finish.
If you want to transition your home out of brass and into nickel/chrome, you’ll want to do it a ROOM at a time, rather than a ‘product type’ at a time. Nickel and brass do NOT like to be partnered up in the same space (although others will disagree with me…and that’s okay).
If you want to do things transitionally, you need a finish that can live in a room with brass for the short or long term and here are some good combos…
- Brass loves to be partnered with a black metal finish.
- Brass can also accommodate an oil rubbed bronze, as long as the bronze is PASSIVE and not dominant on the surface (and black is better). It can also work with an antique brass finish, but depending on your decor style, you could be further dating things, so be careful!
I recommend the following updates (in order):
1. Door handles and hinges (you HAVE to do both). This should cost approx $50 per door
2. Cabinet hardware (approx $175 for the whole kitchen)
3. Key light fixtures (ie: dining/kitchen)
Let’s look at a brass-inspired example. If I had this bathroom in my home and didn’t want to fully update the whole shebang, here’s what I would do instead…
1. Remove shower door entirely, fill any screw holes
2. Add a hotel style shower curtain rod and a nice shower curtain – I would be killing the etched glass and brass for under $100
3. Remove the hotel style towel holder and replace it with something less honky
4. I’d definitely paint the vanity
5. The mirror is a tough one as those are often glued on with industrial adhesive. I might consider keeping the gold on the mirror and the cabinet hardware so that they have each other and then change the remaining brass products to black
6. Or, I’d go gung-ho and take the mirror down (patch walls and replace the mirror) and do the whole room in the metal finish I love the most
The bathroom would look CONSIDERABLY more updated, without touching any of the EXPENSIVE surfaces, like the tile floor, vanity (other than painting it), countertop or shower surround.
Look at this beauty below…
A fresh and coordinated shower curtain, painted vanity, updated countertop, faucet and mirror and BOOM, it’s like a whole new space for a FRACTION of the cost of ripping it all out and starting from scratch.
Let’s look at another 1990s beauty…
Check out the FULL project HERE
PICK YOUR STYLE
If you want something transitional that’s more likely to flex with the times, don’t choose a style that is committed to being either SUPER SLEEK or SUPER ORNATE. Simple lines, no muss no fuss.
Original artwork by the talented Ronei (print available)
Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t choose a product with STYLE, it’s about not taking it TOO FAR or too committed. And while I do have a life-long addiction to hearing myself talk, this blog post would be WAY too long if I hit on ALL of the above products, so I’m going to focus on door handles I love, that range from classic and traditional to slightly more modern…
Classic with a traditional vibe…
Schlage door handle HERE
A little bit curvy, a little bit classy (like me…well, curvy at least)…
Schlage door handle HERE
Modern and clean-lined, but still transitional…
Sure Loc Hardware HERE
UPDATE IDEA #2 JAZZ UP YOUR FRONT DOOR
Nothing sets the stage for what’s INSIDE your home more than your front door – not just in COLOUR, but in STYLE.
As shown in this next photo, 1990s front doors usually involve fibreglass, glass inserts, diamond-shaped detailing and LOTS of brass. I can’t even BEGIN to list the sins of this fugly entryway…
With some paint colour, decor and some AWESOME glass inserts, this entryway looks ten times better. Same doors – new windows!
Have a chair rail in one of your rooms? Learn how to deal with it HERE!
PICK YOUR STYLE BASED ON YOUR EXISTING WINDOWS
The window insert style you choose needs to relate to the window style on the rest of your home. So, unless your home happens to BE a Craftsman or mid-century modern style home that was built in the ’90s, don’t try to stretch your home into something that it’s not – make sure your window insert relates to the style of the rest of your home.
For example, in this next photo, notice how the panes of the front door relate DIRECTLY to the style of panes in the windows. Well done, House of Blue Hues.
Jenn had hired me to help her with a new colour for her shutters as well as for her porch ceiling, but MAN did this home have some great bones in place already.
In this next photo, notice how the transitional window style SUITS the look of the support beams and Hardi-siding, nothing is overly styled or committed to a particular look/era, which goes for the door hardware as well.
PICK YOUR COLOUR
The LEAST expensive way to update ANY surface is with paint. Time and time again, I’m BLOWN away with the difference a few coats of paint can make to ANY surface – and the front door (inside and out) is NO exception (and I’m sure you can tell that I’m a bit of an ‘expressive talker’ by the number of bold words I use, which also varies depending on how much wine I’ve had to drink).
But don’t pick just ANY old colour, you need to choose a colour that relates to the products on the exterior of your home. But for the sake of keeping this blog post under, oh, 4000 words or so, I’m going to refer you to a few great blog posts instead…
The Best Paint Colours to Update Your Front Door
The Best Paint Colours for the INSIDE of Your Front Door
UPDATE IDEA #3 PAINT OUTDATED WOOD SURFACES
It should come as NO surprise that painting outdated ’90s wood is a great way to update your home. But, I know not everyone (ahem, husbands) aren’t always on board. Why not? Well, IT’S WOOD, YOU CAN’T PAINT WOOD!’ Well, guess what Harold, it will STILL BE WOOD, it will just LOOK GOOD. And those who’ve been following me for a long time will know what I’m going to say next…
Just because it’s wood, doesn’t mean it’s good…
Seriously though, I’ve advised MANY CLIENTS over the years to NOT paint their gorgeous wood cabinets – oak, maple and more. However, not all cabinets were created equally and you can actually lose MONETARY VALUE in your home by leaving things as is (if resale is a thought) or EMOTIONAL value if your wife is unhappy.
And while there are many wood surfaces from the ’90s, let’s focus on the kitchen, which often includes the following:
- oak cabinets – often pickled, giving them a pink look or just the standard oak stain (maple comes in second place)
- cathedral style door panels and exposed hinges
- pink or green-toned countertops OR the faux granite look countertop (which is easier to accommodate than pink/green and really started more in the early 2000s)
- NO tile backsplash or a backsplash of 6×6 tiles laid stacked or in a diamond pattern
- 12×12 tile floor with varying shades of coloured undertones (blue/pink/purple being the most common)
And while your kitchen might have some, all, or NONE of those things, whatever you’ve got can be darned costly to replace! So, let’s break it down.
1. DECIDE WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR CABINETS
Before you do anything else, figure out a plan for your cabinets; whether you’re keeping them as they are, painting, staining or replacing them. If you’re not sure WHAT to do, I have a fun and easy QUESTIONNAIRE here, which might point out a few things you haven’t thought about.
Notice it’s the same countertop and backsplash tile!
I also have some great blog posts that can help you choose the best colour for your cabinets, should you decide to paint them…
How to Pick the Best Paint Colour for Your Cabinets
The 4 Best White Paint Colours for Kitchen Cabinets: Benjamin and Sherwin
The Best Floor Tiles to Update Forest Green Countertops
2. ARE YOU KEEPING YOUR COUNTERTOP OR REPLACING IT?
The cost of a new countertop can be INSANE if you’re considering quartz or granite. However, there are some AMAZING laminate products out there that just might surprise you with how real they look! Check out this blog post here for a few of the most popular laminate countertops.
And while you CAN do the backsplash first, if you’re planning on replacing your countertop in the next few years, I’d hang tight as you want to pick the countertop FIRST and then coordinate the backsplash to it, rather than coordinating a new backsplash to your OLD countertop that’s going to be torn out. Chances are you’ll end up doing BOTH in a few years if that’s the case.
See this budget-friendly remodel HERE
If you have GRANITE from the 1990s or early 2000s, I ALSO have a great blog post you should check out… How to Update Your OUTDATED Granite Countertops
UPDATE IDEA #4 DON’T FIGHT THE CURVES
90s style homes are well known for their curves (just like me, wink wink). Curved doorways, curved cupboard door profiles, curved alcoves and CURVED windows. Oh, those curved windows.
The thing is, sometimes when you FIGHT something, you end up going against it, which can make it stand out a whole lot more. So, when it comes to some curves, I’m more inclined to EMBRACE rather than AVOID (which is why I also love my Lululemon leggings).
For example, let’s look at this dining room with its curved window…
Notice a few things:
- The chandelier has plenty of curves. You don’t need THIS much curvature, but rounded lines vs straight-lines will help to nod toward the style of the window if you do it with a MODERN style chandelier in a modern finish.
- The dining chairs have a rounded back vs a square back. Perfect.
- The only adjustment I would make would be to place the artwork horizontally, not angled, as the angle fights the curves a bit. I would also replace the lamp in the corner with a plant for some softness and acoustic value.
UPDATE IDEA #5 OPEN UP A LITTLE
When it comes to opening up a 1990s layout, it can be easy if your walls aren’t load-bearing (I mean easy, ‘relatively speaking’) or NOT ALWAYS WORTH IT if they ARE load-bearing.
Before, this entryway and stairwell were closed-off and made the home feel more like a townhouse than a 2500 square foot detached home…
Once we opened up the stairwell walls and replaced them with railings, it was like a WHOLE NEW HOME!
And from the top of the stairs (awesome blurry pic, I know)…
After, the natural light was able to pour from top to bottom!
This next home had the typical separated dining room and kitchen…
I apologize for the TRAGIC photo quality, this was before I bought my good camera…
So there you have it! But it doesn’t end there. I’m going to sum up some GENERAL UPDATE IDEAS that I would consider if I had a ‘typical 1990s home (in order)…
6 Budget-Friendly Ideas to Update a 1990s Home
1. Update the metal finishes – doorknobs, hinges, cabinet hardware, light fixtures and plumbing fixtures
2. Remove any window coverings from the ’90s, none are worth keeping
3. Paint or restain the cabinets (READ MORE)
4. Countertops – laminate is the most affordable (READ MORE)
5. Update the fireplace (brass, surround and mantel as needed – READ MORE)
6. THEN I would paint the walls
And of course, there’s flooring. However, unless it’s a small space, it’s not a very budget-friendly project.
- if the flooring is typical ’90s carpet, vinyl or tile, with pink, blue or green tones, I would put it higher on the list, especially if it’s a small room like a bathroom or small entryway
- if it’s a typical 1990s oak, I wouldn’t put it anywhere near the top of my to-do list as it’s WAY easier to work with than coloured products
How to Paint a Room with a Chair or Dado Rail
Ideas to Update Your Wood Cabinets Without a Drop of Paint
Bathroom Update Ideas: High-End Ideas Low-End Prices
How to Deal with Popcorn or Textured Ceilings – Info You Need BEFORE You Scrape!
CHECK OUT MY ONLINE COLOUR CONSULTING PACKAGES!
Loved this post! The before and after pics are jaw dropping gorgeous!
Two questions: In a bathroom and kitchen, is it okay to mix satin nickel cabinet hardware, doorknobs and hinges with chrome plumbing fixtures? And in a small condo (700 sq ft), is it best NOT to paint the main interior door a contrasting colour? I’m leaning towards painting everything white. Thank you so much!
Hi Vicki, thank you!
So yes, I would mix satin nickel and chrome plumbing. I mean, if i were doing everything from SCRATCH, I’d do one finish, but if I’m just updating some of the finishes I would totally keep the chrome (often on the bathtub/shower) and update other pieces to satin nickel (or polished nickel).
As for the main interior door, I think it’s a GREAT idea as it can really define it and give it personality if it relates well to the colours in the rest of your home – TOTALLY!
Love this post! We built our home in the early 2000’s and some of these 90’s traits creeped in. You have given me excellent ideas on ways to update ! Thank you! We hope to build again soon and have completely different ideas on what we want in a new home but I want to freshen up while we are still here and feel it would help when we go to sell. Now to bite the bullet and get started….
You’re right, those early 2000’s homes can be borderline! I’m so glad you got some good ideas to update and check out some of the other linked blog posts too as there are some GREAT update ideas for things like you’re fireplace and bathroom too!
Lovely ideas, especially the one about opening up. I think you are too harsh about the brass hardware, however. I am seeing lots of brass and bronze in new magazines and I think it is just beautiful. It’s warm and rich-looking to me.
It’s true, it can be done very well, but it has to be on the right pieces in the right places :). It is so rich and warm!
Great ideas for updating! Love this post! Just for curiosity what is your favorite metal or hardware color??
Oooo, depends on what it’s on, but GENERALLY SPEAKING, black, just because it’s the most flexible and I’m a HUUUGE fan of contrast. If it weren’t for the contrast, then polished nickel is always sharp looking :).
are you worried black will become dated? Or does it all become dated?
Hi Lynn! I think that a certain amount of black will always be classic. However, the full-scale commitment to it will definitely run its course, so I’d be cautious about overusing it for sure :). I think that general light fixtures and what not can look striking in black, as long as there’s some black in the decor. But black windows in and out or bathrooms with black fixtures/high contrast with white might not make it too long (even though I love it in some spaces!)
My house was built in 2004. All the trim and doors are oak color. My husband wants to paint everything white. I don’t know which white to use. Can you help. The walls are a light beige
Hi Donna, it’s SO hard to know without knowing which beige is on your walls as well as all of the other fixed finishes like flooring, countertops and tiles! You’re welcome to check out my Online Consulting packages, in which case the 1 Room package would do this for you. 🙂
Love the advice and illustrations! If you cannot remove shower doors (for an existing stand-up shower, for example) can you spray paint the brass parts?
Hi again! I HAVE seen it done. I haven’t done it myself, but I would think you’d need a fiiiiiiine grit sandpaper to break up that shiny surface, so new paint can stick. I would use a HIGH ADHESION PRIMER and let it thoroughly dry and then some kind of paint that resist water – perhaps even boat paint? Also, paint can take up to 3 weeks to cure properly, especially on finishes like this, so make sure you give it time to tighten right up 🙂
I’ve never left a comment on a blog post prior to this one. However, I really needed to express my gratitude in such a well organized, thoughtful and even entertaining post especially, about a subject that has caused frustration and demotivation in my home. Thank you for taking the time to write this! I feel that I have a starting point now where before all the needed changes felt so overwhelming. Thank you!
Wow, what an awesome note to get – thank YOU 🙂
Please address the wainscoting of the 90s