How to Make a New House Look Old | Advice from Bob Vila

What are some ways to make a new house look old? We asked everyone’s favorite old house expert, Bob Vila, for his tips and tricks.

By Ian Aldrich

Mar 12 2014


Bob Villa

Photo Credit : Matt Kalinowski
bob villa
Former “This Old House” host Bob Vila.
Photo Credit : Matt Kalinowski

Turning a new home into a place that has some old-house charm isn’t difficult, says Bob Vila. He should know: He’s spent more than 30 years helping property owners do that very thing. And he’s done that with his own place, too. In his 11-year-old Martha’s Vineyard Cape (above), Vila has incorporated a 200-year-old mantelpiece he’d held onto for nearly 20 years—“a beautiful piece of Federal joinery”—and a pair of American black-walnut doors from 1860 that he lugged from a Boston townhouse he’d renovated: “I just couldn’t let them go.”


Paint Colors
Giving your home that more-mature look can start with something as simple as your paint colors. Colonial fans should strongly consider a gray for the exterior. “Historically, weathered gray houses were part of the architectural theme for so long because that’s what those early New Englanders could do,” Vila says. Inside you may want to go with earth tones, browns, olives, greens—colors that will keep the house feeling warm year-round.

Little touches can have a big impact. For example, something as simple as crown moldings can give a plain dining room a more-formal appeal. “They’re not expensive,” Vila says. “And you don’t have to get custom-milled moldings. They can just be what you get at your typical lumber­yard.” Vila is also a fan of wallpaper, borders, and drapes. “They can alter the mood and feeling of a room and make it more compatible with antiques,” he says.

Floor Coverings
Floor treatment is something Vila loves to advocate. One idea: a faux stone finish on an existing wood floor. During an early episode of Home Again, Vila worked with painters using two different stain colors to create a diamond pattern on the wood flooring of a new house on the Cape: “It looked as though we had stones on the floor.” Another possibility: painting your wood floor. “It’s time-consuming but inexpensive,” he notes.

Not exactly enamored of your recessed lighting? You’re not alone, Vila says. “It’s hard to create that feeling of an older room, because that kind of lighting is so contemporary and obvious,” he adds. Vila says one option is to cancel them out by drywalling over the cans and putting in something more appropriate, such as wall sconces. Or you can augment your ceiling lights with table lamps or lamps made out of old candlesticks. “There are a lot of interesting reproduction light fixtures out there,” Vila says.

Faux Effects
More than a few times Vila has turned around the look of a plain living room by adding a mantel over a fake fireplace. “You can paint the wall area black where the firebox would be,” Vila says. “Put a fire screen there to fool the eye. And then install a mantel, which will give you a place to hold pictures. It’s easy, and you just need a wall.”

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Bob Vila is the former host of several home-improvement TV programs, including This Old House and Bob Vila’s Home Again. He splits his time between New York City and Martha’s Vineyard.