What updates should you consider in your 1990s home?

Many people are moving into the area into well established neighborhoods like Happy Valley, Tualatin, West Linn, Forest Heights and Murrayhill in Beaverton.  Though they love their new home’s layout and the friendly, spacious suburban neighborhood – the interior of these homes usually need a bit of freshening up. I have done my share of updating 1990s homes in the last few years and I don’t see that work slowing down.  It is a noble pursuit I think!

After writing about some of the worst and best interior design attributes of the 1990s home, it became one of my top five blogs.  It seemed appropriate to revisit the topic and outline areas I recommend reviewing to freshen the home up for today’s taste and lifestyle. Here is a short list:

Paint – This is the number one suggestion, because it is a relatively inexpensive to paint.  Wall colors like mustard yellow, sage green, and red are tell tale sign of a 1990s home.  Changing these wall color will do wonders for updating your home. Today, we traditionally use wall colors to support the design and story in the room. I have used wallpaper for accent walls, entries and powder bathrooms in 1990s homes to the delight of my clients. I also like painting the interior doors to a contrasting dark color like Navy, Black, or Gray. Also check the front door of your home.  It is (shudder when I say the color) burgundy?  Don’t delay, freshen it up!

Lighting – The second largest impact item to review in most 1990s homes is the lighting.  The fixtures are frequently mass produced and bring no charm or personalization to the space.  The recessed cans and switches and outlet covers in the home should also be evaluated.  Technology has come a long way, and so has the look and efficiency of the lighting.  Also evaluate vanity bars and all bedroom flush mount lighting.  In my experience they almost always in need of updating.  Additionally, 1990s homes tend to have too many recessed cans and not enough fixtures. Take at look at the kitchen island for example.  Would two to three pendants be a better choice for architectural interest?  Check outdoor lighting flanking the garage doors and entry doors as well.  Generally updated exterior lighting can go a long way.

Too Much Carpet – In the 1990s we preferred more wall to wall carpet than we do today.  Homes from this period simply have too many flooring transitions from entry, to living spaces, to rooms and hallways.  Moving to one main floor will make the home appear larger and update it’s appearance.  We frequently pull carpet from dining rooms, living spaces and master bathroom vanity areas.  Generally entry stairs also have carpet, and surface like hardwood might be more durable – with perhaps a carpet runner installed for style.  We have had a lot of clients opt to keep the carpet only in the bedrooms.

Dining Room Cosmetic update

BEFORE: this dining room only needed a few tweaks. The walls were freshly painted, we removed the carpet, and updated the light fixture that wasn’t remarkable and was too small in scale for the dining space.

Dining room oak floors

The new floors and light fixture, along with the new captain chairs transformed the space. Notice the beautiful color the natural oak hardwoods and the walnut pinstripe detail around the perimeter of the room.

Hardware – It isn’t brass that bothers me. It is the all too common quality of the door knobs and levers in the typical 1990s home.  If you are fortunate to have good quality hardware (even in brass) please consider not replacing them.  However, if the door handles are hollow and look basic, replace it.  What finish should you choose?  All finishes are acceptable in today’s lifestyle, and classic brass is especially back in vogue. To pick your finish, consider your personal style. Look at your wood tones, colors, furniture and upholstery for inspiration. I even recommend you mix your metal finishes with hardware, faucets and lighting.

Fireplaces and Television Niches – We had deeper televisions in the 1990s, and frequently we see cabinetry or sheet rock accommodating the depth size of these old televisions.  Fireplaces were also frequently designed poorly in scale.  The mantles and finish work tend to leave a lot to be desired.  I highly recommend cosmetically transforming these fireplaces.

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BEFORE: Wall to wall carpet, mustard yellow walls and a river rock fireplace spelled in all capital letters: MAKEOVER!

Family room 1990s fireplace makeover

We cosmetically transformed the fireplace and added built ins. Carpet was removed, and hardwoods were weaved into the space and refinished throughout the first level. The new paint color plays a secondary role to the fireplace and custom furnishings.

Jetted Tubs – Chances are you have a jetted tub that is taking up a huge footprint in your master bedroom. If the tub is not being used OR it the plastic parts are yellowing from age, add it to your list to replace when you remodel the master bathroom. Paying to install new tile around a tub that will probably break down and fail is a bad investment.  Look into vessel tubs as a replacement, or some clients choose to enlarge their showers and omit the master bathroom tub altogether.

1990s master bathroom remodel

BEFORE: This master bathroom had an awkward layout, vinyl floors, a basic fixtures and lighting, a shower insert and a built in tub.

Oregon's master bathroom remodel

It is hard to believe it is still the same space! We gave this space the “works”. We opened up the space, relocated the closet, relocated the vanity and the back exterior porch door. We updated fixtures and surfaces to make this a dream master bathroom!

Shower Inserts – An inexpensive shower option from the 1990s was installation an insert instead of tiling the floor and walls of the shower.  Today a shower insert is mostly reserved for inexpensive homes or less significant bathrooms, so if your master bathroom has an insert, consider upgrading to tile.

Bad Trim and Millwork – Small scaled baseboards were rampant in this period.  Since the ceilings were typically tall with vaults, it screams redo because the proportion and scale were so clearly disregarded.  If you are replacing flooring, your baseboards have to be pulled off in this process, so I recommend replacing with taller, beefier baseboards.  Also review at this time any trim work in the home. If it is done poorly -consider having the same finish carpentry contractor address those areas.  You will never be sorry for spending money with a savvy finish carpenter.

Master Bathroom – This can be a big ticket item, but master bathrooms usually are pretty awkward with angled walls, countertops and awkward flows to the master closet.  You might notice the shower and the toilet are in the same room.  You might notice the tub takes up a disproportionate area of the bathroom.  Today’s showers take center stage with beautiful tile in the bathroom.  These awkward layouts date the house even to the novice eye.  Look at opening up the space, or tackling a remodel for the bathroom.

Kitchen Islands – We were just exploring kitchen islands in the 1990s, so we had a bit to learn. They are commonly angled and look better squared off. They are also typically too small for comfortable seating, plate setting and so on.

Kitchen Remodel – Tiled countertops were common and old generation grout was a nightmare to keep clean.  Backsplashes were often 4″ tall or so instead of the full space between the counter and the upper cabinets.  Cabinets generally do not include today’s standard amenities like soft close doors, pull out shelves and built in efficiency and storage.  I have client’s often tell me they want not keep their kitchen cabinets, but at least half the time it makes sense to replace them.  If you are embarking on a kitchen remodel, consider removing the pantry in small to medium kitchens.  They are inefficient and the scale is usually wrong.  Instead install in your new cabinetry a pantry made from cabinetry with integrated pull out shelves.  A solid surface or large format tiles for the countertop, a full backsplash to the upper cabinets, and at least one area of open shelves will also do wonders to update the busiest home in your house.

Window Treatments – Mini blinds should be replaced, and in many cases cellular shades and wood blinds too. There is an art to dressing windows and these treatment options are austere, all utility with no finesse. Changing to woven woods, shutters, roman shades, or draperies will transform the finished details of your room via the windows.

Oak Floors – They are likely 2 3/4″ oak hardwoods in your 1990s home. Contrary to most client’s initial opinions about removing these hardwoods for something better, I don’t recommend pulling them if you have them.  The hardiness of these floors cannot be denied and stained the right color they look amazing again.  The yellow/orange color most client’s dislike in the oak floors from this time period is a byproduct of the old polyurethane and how it aged.  Oak floors are among the best wood floors for families and pets – and they take stain in any color exceptionally well.  Generally I recommend weaving and lacing in new oak hardwoods where the carpet was laid and refinishing all of them together. Do you like the color of walnut, or rich ebony floors, or how about driftwood gray flooring? Oak is perfect for these applications and more.  Last, if you have parquet floors with patterns please don’t pull them out.  They will give your home character and these floors likely just need some TLC.

Vinyl Floors – installing vinyl in utility rooms, pantries and bathrooms (especially outside the master bedroom) was commonplace in the 1990s.  It generally was made to look like stone with grout lines, but it instead looks like a poor substitute. Vinyl has come so far in the last 20 years and I have personally never seen a vinyl from that time period that I appreciated. I recommend replacing it.  Look into Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT), Cork, Tile, or even extending the hardwoods.

Ceiling vaults – Many times these homes have two story spaces in the entry or the great room area. The painted walls seems go on and on. Remember that finish carpenter i mentioned? Breaking up the expansive look with trim, crown, ceiling treatments and other design details is highly recommended.

If you need a fresh set of eyes, we would love to help you transform your 1990s home into a jewel.

Angela Todd Studios For Custom Furnishings

Angela Todd

Owner & Principal Designer

Angela is the principal designer at her boutique interior design firm in Portland, Oregon. She is known for creating memorable backdrops that tell the story of fascinating and intricate lives.

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