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Denise Willard has over a decade of experience transforming the homes of clients in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Northern Virginia. Her work has been showcased on ABC Affiliate, News Channel 8 and published in The Washington Post, Home and Design Magazine, Washington Home & Garden, The Washingtonian, and Elan. She writes a regular design column for Viva Tysons, and has a blog where she shares her interior decorating insights, DreamDesignLive.com .

Denise specializes in creating simple, but elegant transitional interiors that are reflective of her clients' personalities and lifestyles. The combination of her southern roots and urban lifestyle can be seen in her personal design style, which combines the comfort and hospitality of the South with the flair of the big city.

How To Take A Contractor Grade Home Or Condo To The Next Level

Before: A contractor grade kitchen if I ever saw one. Clean and functional meets bland, boring and in need of some personality! (Photo Credit: Denise Willard)

Contractor grade isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it is usually a clean slate and items are selected to appeal to a broad spectrum of homeowners.  However, if you want a personalized interior, you will have to invest in a few upgrades.

I know it can be a lot of work, but don’t get too overwhelmed! If you are a home or condo owner who is stuck in a home that feels contractor grade, here’s a list of simple updates that will go a long way in making your place feel more upgraded:
  • Update the Light Fixtures: Do you find your dining room is complete with a traditional and dated brassy chandelier? Why has this not gone out of style in contractor grade homes? I can confess for a fact that one of our clients bought a million dollar+ new construction home and the dining room fixture was the same brassy fixture.  The reason–they are cheap and builders are all about putting the least amount of money into a house so that they can maximize their profits. We switched out the light for our client, providing her a much more updated and upgraded looking dining room. Light fixtures that have style can be surprisingly affordable, so definitely switch out any dated or common chandeliers, bathroom lights, pendants and the like. Updated finishes include brushed nickel, oil rubbed bronze (for a more traditional feel) and polished chrome.
  • Change Out Kitchen and Bathroom Hardware: Update cabinetry by changing out the hardware to something that is more you. Knobs and pulls can range from anywhere between $1-25 dollars a piece, so it is relatively inexpensive to update them.
  • Add New Granite Countertops: If your kitchen has a typical granite (like Uba Tuba that you see in every home) or even worse, a laminate countertop, consider switching it out for a more rare and stunning granite.  An upgrade to the countertop can make a big impact in your kitchen and/or bathrooms.
  • Frame Bathroom Mirrors or Replace Them: A typical ‘contractor grade’ bathroom mirror is normally unframed, glued to the wall and kept in place with little plastic clips. One solution to this type of mirror is to buy molding and frame it out, making it look a bit more custom. Another inexpensive alternative would be to replace the mirror entirely with something that is framed, finished, and appropriately sized for the wall space.  This gives the bathroom or powder room a much more upgraded look and feel.

    The same kitchen from above now boasts painted cabinetry, a stone backsplash, accessories and new appliances. (Photo Credit: Denise Willard)

  • Wallpaper At Least One Space: Wallpaper will instantly make your contractor grade home feel more custom. One popular trend right now is to wallpaper a single wall in a room and paint the rest of them. This saves you money and still manages to create a great focal point for the room. The dining room, bedroom and living rooms are great areas to consider wallpapering. Wallpaper the main wall you see as you enter to make the most “wow” effect in the room. Also, wallpapering a powder room is another solid investment – it will add a designer touch to your home.  Or, consider wallpapering the ceiling as is done by designers to create a totally unexpected and custom feel.
  • Paint: A fresh coat of paint on the walls, whether they are already painted or simply white, will instantly add personality to your home. This can be prioritized in phases if you don’t want to spend a big chunk of money all at one time. Pick the top three spaces you want to paint first and go from there. Do the job yourself if you have the patience for painting!

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