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7 styles that date your home and what to do about them

Styles that date your home
Steven Errico/Getty Images
Styles that date your home
Steven Errico/Getty Images

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You’re not a trendster – you’ve too much sense (and not enough money) to keep chopping and changing your home’s decor and furnishings. But let’s face it: Some styles and fixtures do date or outlive their function. And that can make your home look tired at best and affect its resale value at worst, by turning off potential buyers.

There are a few outmoded features that are especially egregious, making people think that the home is older or in worse condition than it really is. Luckily, changing these features often isn’t expensive or time-consuming. And the transformation from passé to pleasantly modern (or better yet, timeless) can be enjoyable whether you’re planning to put your house on the market, or just want to prioritize remodeling projects to enhance your own living.

Here are seven styles that scream “out-of-date” and ways to update them.

1. Light-colored, imitation-wood cabinets

Light-wooded, fiberboard cabinets with a distinctive raised design were a kitchen and bathroom standard for a long time, along with plain light woods like pine. But they’ve fallen out of fashion now — and possibly in literal ways, if yours were the latest thing when you got them.

“We recommend clients replace their ‘80s cabinets as they are typically falling apart anyways,” says Ariana Lovato of Honeycomb Home Design in Pismo Beach, California. Depending on their condition, “sometimes it is more costly to paint the cabinets and update the hardware than it is to replace them entirely.”

The trends now are toward cabinets in more luxurious materials and/or exotic finishes, such as cerused white oak or driftwood (if a pale look is what you prefer). However, it is still possible to economize with less-expensive engineered materials, including more modern (and realistic-looking) forms of fiberboard and wood veneers, in which thin panels of quality timber are affixed to a plywood core.

While you’re at it, consider a frameless cabinet, which offers a more sleek, streamlined look (​​because the door hinges attach directly to the sides of the cabinet box, instead of to a face frame in front). “Plus, a frameless cabinet will provide more useable storage throughout,” since it lacks a center stile in the middle of the cabinet doors, Lovato notes.

2. Intense or trendy wallpapers and paints

Wallpaper can be a beautiful addition to a room, but it can be hard on the contemporary eye if it is in a print that had its heyday a few decades ago — or is executed in colors that evoke a certain era, like the 1970s (I’m looking at you, goldenrod, olive green and burnt orange). The same goes for hues of paint. “One of the most dated design elements are muddy colors: beige, khaki and dim yellow,” says Megan Hersch, an interior designer and the co-founder and COO of roomLift.

You don’t have to entirely neutralize your decor. But if you strategically pick some of the loudest or most unusual wall treatments to replace, using warm grays, whites or off-whites, you can give your home a bit less of a time-capsule look. “A fresh coat of white paint — my favorite these days is Valspar Bistro White — will bring updated life into a space immediately,” Hersch says.

3. Analog thermostats

A traditional analog thermostat with a simple knob to move the temperature up or down can really look older than it is, simply because so many homes have converted to a digital-style thermostat.

And it’s not just about a display that makes the home look younger. Contemporary programmable or “smart” thermostats will make the home function better too. Their sensors can adjust the temperature based on the time of day or number of people in the house (judging by the degree of movement); they can be set to a schedule based on your family’s preferences and activities. Either way, your thermostat works to avoid waste, boost efficiency and save money, while also making it look like your home is a “smart home” — and what could be more au courant than that?

4. Cluttered rooms

It seems like the look of “minimalism” is here to stay. If you’ve let your home become overfilled with knick knacks, bric-à-brac and decorative furnishings, a great design choice is to work on cutting down on the clutter. Keep only the pieces you use most and like best, and spread things out to take advantage of space. There are even suggestions having a decluttered space can feel less stressful and boost productivity, making the benefits greater than just a home update.

Which isn’t to say your rooms have to be barren. “Timeless trends most definitely include house plants (more O2!),” says Hersch. Just be sure to get ones that “work with your exact space and ability to care for them (let’s be real).” Also, splurge for some “great-looking bins” or baskets to contain papers, magazines, mail and the other flotsam and jetsam of daily life, Hersch says. “Life can be messy but when everything has a place, everything can fall into place.”

5. Carpeted bathrooms (and, depending on age, carpet in general)

Unlike hardwood, which is both in vogue now and forever — it’s able to be refinished in ways that make it “like new”  — carpet gets old. Too old to be anything but dated. In particular, very few homes can have carpeted bathrooms and still feel up to date.

“More of our clients are drawn to engineered wood floors throughout the home and less people are wanting carpet due to allergy issues,” explains Lovato. “We typically will install the same flooring throughout a home, except for the bathrooms and sometimes a laundry room, where we will install tile.” Other options include a waterproof hardwood-look laminate, or a sturdy stone flooring that is easy to clean. If you fear that’ll frost your feet on cold mornings, you can always add underground heating to the floor.

As for other parts of the house, carpet may still fly — though discolored, damaged, or unusually loud patterns or colors are all going to be red flags signaling age. Carpets can also retain odors, particularly from pets or smoking. So one way to simultaneously remove the smell at its source and update the look of the house is to put in a hardwood floor or a hardwood-looking vinyl planking.

6. Tired kitchen countertops and hardware

Up-to-date (or up-to-date-looking) kitchens are always in demand. But certain details can date them. Case in point: tile countertops. However cool-looking they were upon install, they get impractical fast, due to dirt accumulating in the grout. Kitchens need to be a breeze to wipe down, and with an uneven or even fairly smooth tile surface, it’s hard to keep it looking clean and fresh.

As an alternative, “we recommend installing solid surface countertops throughout (either a natural stone or an engineered quartz surface). It’s easier to clean and looks 100 percent better,” says Lovato.

The hardware on your cabinets and drawers also has a big impact on the room’s appearance. “Updating the ‘cabinet jewelry’ can really go a long way to instantly improve the look and feel of the rest of your kitchen,” says Lynne Tocchet, Director of Interior Design at Pacaso, a San Francisco-based property broker specializing in second homes.

“For a timeless look, think sleek and sophisticated,” she advises. “Chrome always has a place in decor and never seems to go out of style so that is a good choice if you are looking for a light option. In the dark hardware category, matte black has officially emerged as the new ‘oil-rubbed bronze’ alternative for the next 30 years.”

7. Heavy drapery

Thick, dust-gathering drapes do date a space, giving off a grandma’s-living-room vibe. In fitting in with the trend towards clean living (both literally and stylistically), many homeowners prefer the sleek look of hard window treatments, like shades or blinds, especially if they’re the automated or smart variety.

That doesn’t mean it’s curtains for curtains, though. Just swap out your thick fabrics for lighter, airer options like linen or rayon — and don’t let the texture fool you: Just because they’re gauzy doesn’t mean they can’t filter out light and heat.

“This is a quick fix as so many retailers sell pre-made drapery panels that you can possibly even hang on your existing rods,” says Hersch. RH (Restoration Hardware), West Elm and Annie Selke are among those she recommends.

Final word on updating your home

Of course, you should always do home remodeling for yourself first, and for sales second. And if you’re happy how everything looks (and works), don’t chop and change for fashion’s sake. But if things are looking tired, getting the decor up-to-date now can meet less work and expense later. Focus on the features you’d like to update most, especially in key areas like kitchens and bathrooms. Ideally, you can execute some home decor ideas that both benefit you in the near term and boost your home’s desirability down the road.

Written by
Laura Leavitt
Laura Leavitt is a former contributor to Bankrate.
Edited by
Senior homeownership editor