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-colored 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 Color 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 COLOR, but in STYLE.
As shown in this next photo, 1990s front doors usually involve fiberglass, 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 color, 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 color 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 COLOR
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 color, you need to choose a color 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…
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 colored 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 color for your cabinets, should you decide to paint them…
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 colored products
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