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How are you customizing your house on a budget?

Posted by Skyangel23 (My Page) on
Fri, Jan 24, 14 at 22:38

I am new to GardenWeb. We are at the blocking stage on our first build. We have two gorgeous acres and 2700 sf, but due to budget we are limited on upgrades.

I would like to know what smaller, less expensive things you are doing to make your home look more custom/high end for less? For example, instead of the builder grade mirrors, we are bringing in our own framed mirrors found at a vintage shop. We deleted the ceramic toilet paper holders and towel bars; the builder will install bronze ones we bring in. In the bathrooms (and kitchen), we deleted the built in backsplash attached to the countertops, and we will be doing custom stone tile backsplashes after we close.

I am very interested in hearing what other people are are doing that are low on the cost factor but high on the "wow" scale. :-)

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

3 years back i was facing the same problem as my budget was limited. I contacted several builders but not in my budget and lastly found B&B Homes, meeting my budget. They built custom RTM home and it has been a good experience so far. It can be shifted from one place to another without worrying of packing and unloading of the goods and furniture.

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

Since I'm building my own home, everything is custom. We are also on a very limited budget, though, so you have to get creative. I've been all over craigslist and ebay, buying vintage lighting fixtures. It's ironic that you can get the real thing much cheaper than reproductions! Even if you brought them to a lamp shop for rewiring, you'd still be money ahead. As an example, I paid $40 for a pair of vintage porcelain sconces for the bathroom. Repro ones are $160- each!

I found 10 matching vintage 5 panel doors on craigslist for $10 each. Sure, they need to be stripped and refinished, but they are heavy, solid wood doors. I can always just paint them if refinishing proves to be too much of a chore. I don't need all 10, some I'm going to use 2 of them for paneling in the mudroom area.

On the door theme, I bought a pair of antique barn door type rollers. The (vintage) powder room door will ride on these.

If you have any DIY skills (or the desire to learn them) you can do a lot with trim and paint to customize your home. I have a LOT of skills, so I am making the outside of a small, average ranch home look like an authentic craftsman bungalow, at a much lower cost than paying someone else to do it. We simply could not afford this house unless building it ourselves.

There is a thread going about saving money by shopping around. It does take time, but i really enjoy the 'thrill of the hunt'. When it's all said and done, we'll have a home like no other.

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

skyangel-I like arches, just do. So we found a place on-line that will make them to your measurements for about $50 bucks and my dh put them in, *love* them. So we have arches around our fireplace builtins and master shower that was relatively inexpensive. We are doing a lot of the finish stuff (paint, hardwood and tile flooring install, trim, doors, setting cabinets) ourselves which saves big on labor. With that savings I feel like we could afford a little bit better finishes, solid wood flooring, tile, etc..

It's a balancing act for sure.

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

What you want to do is make sure your special things show. So, for example, use standard inexpensive ceramic tile, but then buy a decorative sheet tile, which can be cut into strips so they go a long way, to add as an accent and put it at eye level in the shower or on the backsplash where it will have the greatest impact.

Decorate with color...paint color costs you nothing more, but nothing will make a room look more special than a good color scheme, well applied, especially vs. builder white.

Pick something special in each room to not compromise on, and then it'll be easier to go more basic with the rest.

You may plan now for future upgrades if you wish. Think about what can and can't be easily replaced in the future for when you may have more budget to spend. Light fixtures are easy to swap out and so our plumbing fixtures...but things like tile and windows, not so much.

Also, think about your whole budget. For example, we went with a lot of built-ins which may seem more expensive at first blush, but can save you money when you realize you then aren't buying furniture on top of it to fill the room in. Built-ins are also big space savers.

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

Thanks for the responses.

Mushcreek, I am interested in finding fixtures/lights on craigslist too, but I am worried that I would buy something only to find out when the builder went to install it three months later that it doesn't work. Our builder is semi-custom, but we are in charge of our own lighting, and we can buy fixtures if we want too (just not warranted by builder). Have you had anything like this happen? You are building yourself, so your construction intelligence is well above ours. We are relative babes in the woods, when it comes to this.

Autumn 4, are you doing a custom build? I know our semi-custom builder would not allow us to do work ourselves like that. Most will have to be done after, like our backsplashes in the bathroom. The arches sound awesome! Do you have pictures of the ones over the shower and the fireplace?

Good ideas. We are trying to do this as much as we can. We paid a huge charge to have 10 ft ceilings--can't ever change that later. :-) We upgraded to larger windows also. I am planning to do a few lovely lights now, such as the pendants over the peninsula, most others will be cheap Lowes ones that we will replace over the next couple of years. I am making sure I absolutely love the tile in the bathroom showers, because I don't plan on changing them for the 15 years or more we plan to live here. :-)

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

I was fortunate that a lot of my preferences were for simple materials. I actually wanted simple white ceramic subway tiles for my backsplash and inside all the showers. I could achieve the look I wanted without stone tiles. To make it more "custom" I designed a herringbone pattern using the same tile behind my range. I did have to get the decorative frame pieces of tile which were pricey, but it was much less expensive than using glass or stone tile, and what I wanted anyway! :) Our home is painted brick, and we have an outdoor fireplace. I had the masons create the same design over the mantle on the outdoor fireplace in brick. It is a subtle, custom touch that didn't cost extra.

I agree with Annie that built-ins and custom millwork are a great way to get a big return for relatively little $. We paid @ $1500 to get door and window casings an inch wider than what the builder specified in our contract. Going from 4 to 5 inches for those casings was a relatively inexpensive way to get a very custom feel. Not as splashy as if I had spent an extra few thousand to get a Wolf range vs. my KitchenAid...but I appreciate the luxury and "customness" of it every day. It is also cost effective to use drywall creatively to create "found" spaces in closets and children's rooms. One of my neighbors had one of those crazy complicated rooflines, and our builder suggested that they do something fun for the kids. They created hidden ladders in each room that led to a shared hideout above both rooms. Totally inexpensive to do, and OMG, the kids and their friends LOVE it! It helps if you have a builder who thinks outside of the box. Again, I really didn't want exotic materials for our home, so it made staying in the budget easier. I wanted oak floors, I didn't need cherry or mahogany. I wanted painted woodwork and built-ins, so didn't need to use stain grade lumber. I used my lighting allowance to get very high end fixtures in main rooms and exterior, and ordered lights online from and other sources for secondary rooms. These aren't "cheap" choices, but definitely less than
they could be. Most importantly, we didnt skimp on anything important, like
the bones and structure. I actually enjoyed stretching my budget and was like a game. If I went over on side, I made myself balance it out on the other.

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

skyangel-yes. We are gcing our own build and have done all of the sub-contracting and in some cases we are the sub. We paid a house designer to create a plan for us and had it bid and made our own sub decisions. We are fortunate enough to have a relative with a builders license that would let us do that and he actually framed it for us. There aren't many around that will do that and the bank will not do an owner build period.

We are just at drywall, so arches are not complete but here are a couple pics I snapped of them mid-build. We are at drywall but I didn't take another pic.

Above the shower:
 photo photo16_zps5478e778.jpg

Fireplace (excuse the mess):
 photo photo15_zps5139c0e9.jpg

 photo IMG_1302_zps3a5590cf.jpg

Like nini we saved a bunch buying fixtures on line. I bought quite a bit of plumbing during 'black Friday'. Merry Christmas to me! :)

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

Autumn, I love your arches. We also have several in our home but they will not be cased. Just drywall arches.

One way that we saved money was buying pre-made vanities with or without tops for a couple of our bathrooms. The cost of one of our 48'' vanities with a carrara marble top was less than the cost to have our cabinet maker build one (not including a top). We also got a 60'' double vanity from Home Depot for 70% off.

Also, in an effort to save costs we are postponing our laundry and mudroom cabinetry until later.

I've purchased most of my lighting from outlet show rooms and off of ebay for a tremendous savings. You can find some nice high end lighting for great prices! Just have to be diligent with searching.

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

Using vintage lighting fixtures is going to require some legwork on your part. Unless you are experienced with it, bring your treasure to a lamp shop that does repairs, and have them re-wire it. Ask them if it will fit up with a standard electrical box as well. I bought an Art Deco ceiling fixture on ebay. I will re-wire it, but the rest of it fits just fine with a standard ceiling box. The porcelain sconces I bought, likewise, fit standard electrical boxes mounted on the wall. That stuff has been standardized for a long time. You can also google antique lamp parts to find all sorts of repair parts for rebuilding antique fixtures and lamps.

Just make sure that your house will have the electrical boxes in place to support whatever you get. I went ahead and used a ceiling fan box in the foyer, since some vintage fixtures are quite heavy. If you're planning a large, heavy fixture, be sure your contractor and electrician know it.

To me, finding old stuff, and them making it work in my home is the fun part. I know I'll have things that you'll never see in another home. Most of our furnishings are antique as well.

You can get deals on new stuff, too, if you shop around. I bought a huge 43" kitchen sink for less than $200 on ebay.

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

I am a huge fan of Home Depot's daily deals. You can sign up on their website to get them emailed to you each day. Being a savvy shopper, I have literally saved thousands of dollars already and we haven't even started building yet!

I keep up with everything that I buy in a spreadsheet that I use to not only keep up with what I've bought and what I still need, but I also keep track of the regular price versus the price I actually paid for things.

I had mentioned on another thread about my desire to save around 50% on all my lighting, fixtures, etc, etc, and I kinda got laughed at like that wasn't possible. I just updated my spreadsheet tonight with some orders I placed today, and I am now at exactly 50% saved! Included in those figures are all the light fixtures, faucets, ceiling fans, one tub, two toilets, over half the doors, several windows, furniture, sinks, vanities, cabinets, hardware, etc, etc.

We are building a 4 BRM, 2 BA, 2200+ square foot house for less than $100,000. I am serving as the general contractor, which is going to save us quite a bit. I have overseen construction projects before and have helped build two houses and have remodeled several, so I'm fairly confident this is the way to go for us. Our goal is to not have a mortgage when we're finished. We're able to do this because we recently sold two homes and will be selling the home we live in now along with about 9 acres of land that we own outright. We'll be building on the remaining 6 acres that we have.

Another tip: If you're shopping online, always shop through (or - there are several websites like this) where you earn cash back on your purchases. I also buy gift cards through places like So, for example, when I want to order something from, I log into ebates, and then put in Then at, I purchase discounted gift cards (that can be used online within a few hours of purchasing.) Then I go back to Ebates and enter Home Depot, then click thru the link to place my order at Home Depot. I know it sounds like a lot of steps, but it's just second nature for me now.

My best find this week is was a hammered copper sink for my kitchen. I had looked at a lot of places where they were well over $1,000, but that just wasn't in my budget. Home Depot had one exactly like I wanted on one of their daily deals one day this week for $399. I had gift cards that I had bought through already and went to order it online, but their website wasn't cooperating, so I called and they agreed to give me an extra 5% off because I wasn't able to go through ebates to get the cash back on my order. So, when all was said and done, after you take into consideration what I saved by purchasing the gift cards through and all the discounts, I paid around $330 for the sink. And it was exactly what I wanted!

I've taught workshops on how to save money, and the first rule I tell those in attendance is to buy when it's at it's lowest price, and then figure out a way to get it cheaper through using tools like Ebates and Of course, when it comes to doing this for a house, you have to be extremely detailed and organized, and I've found that my spreadsheets and pinterest help keep me sane...when I purchase something, I add it to my spreadsheets and also to my pinterest boards (I keep several private boards just for this.) That way, when I'm out and about, all I have to do is pull up pinterest on my phone and I can be quickly reminded of what I've already bought, even if I don't have my spreadsheets with me.

I realize that's doesn't exactly answer your question regarding customizing, but I thought I'd share those tips in hopes it will help some of you.

As for what we are doing to customize our home on a budget, we are doing a lot of the finish work ourselves. I've also purchased things like tile from Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. Before purchasing it, I looked up the tile on my phone and it was still in-stock at Home Depot, but by buying it at the Re-Store (still in the boxes even), I saved about 1/4 off the retail cost at Home Depot.

I'm not sure if I really answered your question, but I hope that someone will find my tips useful.

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

what smaller, less expensive things you are doing to make your home look more custom/high end for less?

Please define "high end".

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

By high end, I really just mean not builder grade, what you see repeated over and over in production/tract homes that are ubiquitous here in Florida. Things that make your house individualized, personalized, little touches that are not expensive like Quartz countertops, but that are eye-catching, different, special at least to you, the home owner.

BethanysMom, I love your ideas! I have never heard of but I will look into it tonight. I will sign up for Ebates too! The spreadsheets and updating Pinterest boards with purchases is brilliant. I will sign up for Home Depot's daily deals as well. If there are any other stores that have similar deals/sales you recommend, I'd love to get that information. Thank you!

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

I was able get some great deals on high end plumbing fixtures for 80% off at You have to check frequently as their stock seems to change often.

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?


I do a lot of the same things as you. Another tactic I am using for lighting fixtures is buying a lot of lighting fixtures at BedBathandBeyond. I always have tons of 20% off coupons and use those. I use discounted BB&B giftcards to make the purchase, and also use to find out what cashback portal offers the best bang for my buck when shopping online for a whole bunch of things.

Also, HD and Lowes promise to beat competitors prices for instock things. If you find a higher price, they give you an additional 10% off. I've used that guarantee on several things at Lowes. I stack that with a 10% moving coupon and discounted gift cards. :)

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

Bethanysmom and Carsonheim,

Thanks for those brilliant cost savings ideas!

As for what we are doing, I would say we are trying for one good focal point for all major rooms, and then trying to find ways to save on those features. For example we will have two window seats and 3 fire places (we are in Canada so it is cold). We have gotten great deals on two of the fireplaces, and are searching for a deal on the third. DIY what jobs you can do are key to more savings as long as you have the time to drag out the project. Cabinet prices are insane. My hope is to do mostly Ikea boxes and get the doors through a cabinet door provider. We have been able to get contractor accounts most places as we are GCing and DIY much of the build.

One other unique feature I love is our window wells. I know this is a boring item, but our white, light emitting window wells are awesome for those basement windows that are partially underground (some of our basement windows are above ground). There is no comparisons between these window wells and the standard steel builder special ones. So many contractors that we have hired ask about these windows wells as they are very unique. Our window wells were from Alberta, Canada. Not sure where similar window wells could be had from the US.


RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?

By high end, I really just mean not builder grade, what you see repeated over and over in production/tract homes that are ubiquitous here in Florida.

So it's the ubiquity you want to avoid? And the same "luxurious sunken tub" that the whole neighborhood has?

Go visit a bunch of builder's models and note what they are promoting. Whatever it is, try to avoid it.

However ... I have discovered that our "split master bedroom", "double-sided fireplace" and "sunken fire-watching lounging area" are suddenly fashionable .... again. they were the trendy tract home posh features of the early 1980s.

We want a NM ranch house feel ... 1880s stylin' with modern plumbing and kitchen, energy efficient ICF construction

We will be controlling costs several ways:

* Use "mass market" materials in inventive ways
* Selective use of "bling" materials where it's visible and makes sense.
* It's a CUBE. It has no dormers, gables, bays, zigs or zags in the walls or roof. But it has a 360 degree wrap veranda
* making the house dimensions fit the material (ICF) to minimize cutting during construction
* standard door sizes and installation methods
* same tile and fixtures in all bathrooms (except the powder room, which is a "public" area)
* same floor tile throughout, just a standard Saltillo-look tile
* Siding will be from locally produced lumber (and awesome!)
* Cabinets will be locally made "custom" but very plain to go with the theme
* Kitchen layout lets us use standard appliances and get the "custom" feel.

* We plan to do some finish work (painting and installing trim, ageing the siding) ourselves.

* If it's drop-dead gorgeous and expensive ... it's going to be art or furniture, not attached to the house.

RE: How are you customizing your house on a budget?


Love your arches! What website did you order them from? Thanks :)
BTW your house looks great!

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