Bobby Berk’s Guide to Shopping for a Home: Design Features To Fix or Nix

Updated on July 17th, 2019
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Ever since my husband, Dewey, and I have been together, buying a home has been a dream of ours. Flash forward 15 years (yes, we just celebrated our 15th anniversary, time flies!) and now we finally have that house on the hill with the view that we always wanted, and Redfin allowed us to finally check that “dream home” box off our list.

Shopping for a new home is undoubtedly exciting, but it’s easy to get stuck on existing design features without being able to envision what your home will look like. As an interior designer, I’ve learned which elements of the home are easy to change, and others that take more effort and investment. When redesigning homes on Queer Eye, we often can’t change the foundational details of the home but can alter certain design elements that cosmetically give the entire house a new look.

To get started, I’ll walk you through specific design elements to help find your perfect home, even if it doesn’t look like it when you first walk in. Let’s break down design elements that are quick to fix, worth the fix, and those you should nix.

Quick To Fix

Paint – Think Beyond Just the Walls

The wall colors of a home are typically easy to change but many fail to realize that the same goes for cabinets. Changing the cabinet color is one of my favorite projects when redesigning a home because the new color gives the kitchen a totally different feel (I’m currently loving black cabinets!). When buying a home, rather than looking at the color or finish of the cabinets, look at the door style and structure. If you like the style of the cabinet doors and the structure is solid and sturdy, they can be refinished or painted to be more personalized to you.

Bobby Berk Home Design Tips
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Adding ‘Character’

We’ve heard it before, “oh this home has so much character!” Guess who else can give the house character? You! While you might think that phrase means there is something innate or exceptionally original to the home, ‘character’ can be added at any point of the home’s lifetime. If a home has blank walls, special features like crown or floor moulding, built-in bookshelves or wainscotting can be added over the weekend by a handyman or carpenter.

Bobby Berk Home Design Tips

Swap the Front Door

The front door sets the tone for the rest of a home, but what happens when you’re touring a home with a door you don’t like? If your front door is a standard size (around 80” x 36”), swapping in a new door can be done quickly as long as it’s the same size and thickness of the old door. You could also opt for a fresh coat of paint or door knocker to give it a new look without replacing the entire door.

New Lighting = More Lighting

If you’re not a fan of the light fixtures in a home, remember that most can be replaced. Even better, replacing the light fixtures means you can add more light, drastically changing the look and feel of a home. An easy way I’ve done this is by changing a pendant light with one bulb, to a chandelier with multiple bulbs to maximize the amount of light emitted from the fixture. My final trick is to put everything on a dimmer. The fixture will not only produce more light but enables you to dim to whatever brightness you like, creating that perfect glow at any time of the day.

Bobby Berk Home Design Tips

Worth the Fix

Refinishing Hardwood Floors

I love a gorgeous hardwood floor and learned that refinishing hardwood floors, although inconvenient, is one of the best ways to invest money back in your home. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy the results of beautiful floors! If the hardwoods are in good shape, but not your ideal aesthetic, have a professional come to refinish them. Replacing hardwood entirely can be very expensive, whereas refinishing them to a different tone or color can cost a fraction of the price and will still look stunning.

Bobby Berk Home Design Tips

Changing Kitchen Countertops and Backsplash

When touring homes, don’t panic over countertops or a kitchen backsplash you don’t love. People are always surprised to learn replacing countertops or backsplash is less labor-intensive than expected. If you’re not experienced replacing countertops or backsplash (because few of us are–slowly raises hand), there are plenty of companies who will take care of the entire process for you from initial consult to final installation.

Updating Plumbing Fixtures

Faucets, sinks, showers, and plumbing hardware shouldn’t deter you from purchasing a home because none of these features are permanent. Updating unattractive or out of date plumbing fixtures in your home will make your home more appealing to future buyers–and you! Plumbing fixtures can be found at a very reasonable price point and scheduling all of them to be replaced at once instead of separately can reduce the overall cost.

Bobby Berk Home Design Tips

Fireplaces: Hot or Not?

If the facade of a fireplace is throwing off the vision for your potential home, it most likely can be changed. Redesign options can be as simple as painting over brick, or more advanced like adding decorative tile or a new mantle. If you have an older home, I love the look of exposed brick from the original fireplace to give your home more character. If the fireplace is a deal breaker, it’s possible to completely remove, but it can be expensive.

Bobby Berk Home Design Tips

Nix Instead of Fix

Kitchen Layout

We spoke earlier about how easy it is to change the color of cabinets, but a kitchen layout is not quite as simple of a fix. By this, I mean the footprint of the kitchen. Making a change that involves moving plumbing and electrical can be expensive and time-consuming. When touring a home, imagine how you use your kitchen on a daily basis and if the layout will work in your favor. I love being in a big open kitchen with lots of island space as everyone always gathers around!

Bobby Berk Home Design Tips

Natural Light

Natural light is on the top of almost every person’s wish list–especially mine and Dewey’s! Light is dependent on the design of the house, which is difficult to change without a major renovation or adding windows. When touring houses, visit the home at different times of the day to see how the natural light changes. Real estate agents will typically turn on every light in the house, so before you buy, visit during the day and turn everything off. If the house has minimal natural light, it may not be for you unless you’re willing to make a significant financial investment.

Bobby Berk Home Design Tips

Storage

For many of my clients (including myself), storage is essential for living an organized life. While I can make design changes to implement storage solutions for clothing and household items, it’s tough to magically create space for larger items like bikes, paddleboards, or skis. When touring homes, analyze closets, the crawl space, cabinets, laundry room, pantry, and the garage. If the home can’t hold your lifestyle, it’s time to let go.

Exterior Siding

I take such pride designing the inside of my home, I want the outside to be just as beautiful. If you feel the same, you should be aware of what it takes to change the exterior of a home. If it is just a matter of color, then painting your home is a feasible option. However, changing from stucco to shingles, or from wood siding to rock can get very expensive. Knowing this, if you’re not willing to make a significant investment, you may want to ‘nix it’ and keep touring.

Bobby Berk Home Design Tips
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bobbyberk

Bobby Berk is the resident design expert on Netflix's Queer Eye. Bobby and his husband recently bought their first home in Los Angeles with Redfin. Watch Bobby's home-buying journey here!

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