Photo courtesy of Rebecca Hay. Photographer: Mike Chajecki Photography.

For many people, a move to the suburbs is inevitable. Rising costs, postage stamp-size properties, and the hustle and bustle of downtown living grinds them down, prompting them to consider a move outside the city — especially when starting a family. A popular option for homebuyers making the move to the ‘burbs is a pre-construction home in a new subdivision.


Photo: James Bombales

While there are many benefits to buying pre-construction (energy efficiency, new home warranties, etc.), they are often thought of as boring, builder-basic boxes. But this doesn’t have to be the case, says Rebecca Hay, President and Principal Designer of Rebecca Hay Designs. The Toronto-based interior designer insists that it is possible to add charm and character to your builder basic home — so long as you know where to invest and what to upgrade. Here she shares seven tips on transforming a cookie-cutter new build into a sophisticated, designer-approved showpiece.


Photo courtesy of Rebecca Hay. Photographer: Mike Chajecki Photography.

1. Invest in architectural upgrades

When purchasing new construction, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to upgrade certain elements in your home — beyond flooring, tile and cabinetry — that deliver maximum visual impact.

“Choosing architectural finishes that are a little bit of an upgrade will elevate the look of your home ten-fold,” says Hay. “I’d say splurge on the areas that are harder to change out in the long run that add a lot of character and interest to a space like wainscotting, crown mouldings, high baseboards, or coffered ceilings.”

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Hay. Photographer: Mike Chajecki Photography.

2. Make the most of standard builder samples

Viewing a builder’s standard spec sheet doesn’t have to be a depressing experience. Even standard finishes can be elevated by getting creative with color and pattern, or by pairing them with high-end accents. “Subway tile, for example, is a timeless and inexpensive option that can be used in kitchens and bathrooms,” says Hay. “And it doesn’t always have to be white. You can use subway tile in various colors to add loads of interest and still be super classic.”


Photo courtesy of Rebecca Hay. Photographer: Mike Chajecki Photography.

3. Splurge strategically on high-quality finishes

Upgrading features and finishes can be costly, so it’s important to be selective when deciding where to spend your upgrade dollars. Kitchens, in particular, deliver the best return on investment and act as a natural gathering spot in the home. It’s also one of the rooms where upgrade options are plentiful — and a great place to start is with the countertops.

“People have been gravitating to quartz and really plain and simple materials, which are very nice, but I think it’s a missed opportunity,” says Hay. “There are some really beautiful granites and marbles out there that you can use in your counters to add some real texture and interest. A leathered-finish granite, for example, feels amazing to the touch and adds a little bit of depth and interest to elevate the look of the kitchen.”


Photo courtesy of Rebecca Hay. Photographer: Mike Chajecki Photography.

4. Bring your walls to life using wallpaper

Wallpaper is an easy and inexpensive way to transform any room, but many homeowners shy away from it due to commitment issues. “Always wallpaper your powder room!” insists Hay. “You can add personality and pop in small doses. And you don’t get sick of it because you don’t live in your powder room.”

If you don’t have the budget to wallpaper your entire space, consider using simple decals to amp up the visual interest. “We bought a roll of silver, shiny circle dots for $10 from a big-box store and they look just like wallpaper without the fuss.”


Photo courtesy of Rebecca Hay. Photographer: Mike Chajecki Photography.

5. Make a statement on the ceiling

Updating the builder-beige paint color on your walls is a great place to start if you want to inject some personality into your new build home. But have you ever considered making a statement on the ‘fifth wall’? “Adding color to your ceiling is a totally unexpected way to add interest and life to your home,” says Hay. “It truly adds a little something extra.”


Photo courtesy of Rebecca Hay. Photographer: Mike Chajecki Photography.

6. Source unique light fixtures

One of the benefits of purchasing a pre-construction home is the ability to choose where your electrical outlets are located, giving you more flexibility when it comes to installing unique light fixtures. “Lighting is an area where I think you have a great opportunity to add personality by installing a beautiful chandelier or unique pendants,” explains Hay. “I also love using wall sconces to elevate the look of a hallway or room. They really add a whole other layer of lighting, mood and atmosphere.”


Photo courtesy of Rebecca Hay. Photographer: Mike Chajecki Photography.

7. Express yourself through your furniture and accessories

Furniture, accessories and art add the finishing touches to any home and allow you to express your personal design style. Whether it be a custom sofa, vintage lighting or family heirlooms — these are the details that tell your story and bring positive energy into your space. “It goes without saying that furniture can transform your builder basic house into a charming, character-filled home,” says Hay. “Add some color, texture, and play with styles to make your furniture ‘you,’ and you will really elevate the look of your builder home.”

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