Like the mad scientist (Frankenstein) it’s named after, a “Frankenhouse” is a kind of allegory about the dangers of overambition. But unlike the classic Mary Shelley novel “Frankenstein,” which can be consumed, enjoyed, and set aside, a Frankenhouse must be lived in. You might even be living in one right now. Frankenhouses are the result of decades of additions and redesigns, often done by different people with distinct goals and aesthetic visions. “A Frankenhouse is essentially a renovated home without a sense of continuity or cohesion,” says Jasen Edwards, a real estate sales expert and performance coach at Agent Advice in Austin, TX.
These unnatural aberrations are frequently the product of “do-it-yourselfers,” says Martin Carreon, broker and owner of Soco Wine Country Properties in Santa Rosa, CA. “Often, they’re designed by people who have no experience or knowledge of good home design.” Unfortunately, the tight real estate market is creating an opportunity for sellers of these specimens. “Most buyers of Frankenhouses are first-time homebuyers, or people who have smaller budgets,” says Gunner Davis, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Realty in Tampa, FL. “These homes are like entering time machines, with a 1990s Tuscan kitchen, a living room with parquet flooring, and a hot tub–style bathtub in the bathroom." If you suspect you own—or are attempting to buy—a Frankenhouse, and you want to learn short- and long-term projects that will help you tame its beastlier attributes, you’re in luck: Creative solutions abound.
Fix it with lighting
Frankenhouses often feature light fixtures with a lot of personality. You might see track lighting in the living room, a fluorescent light box in the kitchen, and Hollywood mirror lights in the bathroom. When you embark on your Frankenhouse makeover, one of your first moves should be to update the lighting. “Adjusting the lighting is one of the fastest ways to rectify a house lacking cohesion,” says Carreon. “It’s better not to use more than one color of lighting fixture. Using a similar kind of lighting fixture throughout the interior is smart, and it doesn’t require a significant financial investment.”
Fix it with new flooring
Frankenhouses are defined by their disjointed aesthetics. A good way to replace chaos with good flow is with new floors throughout. Opt for solid hardwood or an engineered alternative. “These monstrous houses tend to have confusing paths from room to room, with different floors in each room,” says Ron Wysocarski, a real estate broker based in Port Orange, FL. “Replanning the floors themselves and the way the doorways flow will put you well on your way to a more cohesive home.”
Fix it with a new paint job
Hodgepodge walls are also eyesores that are all too common in Frankenhouses. “A single shade of paint that gets used in every room is a good example of a modest, permit-free project that can help to stitch your Frankenhouse together,” says Todd Saunders, CEO of the New York–based FlooringStores.
Fix it with more closet space
Frankenhouses are commonly plagued by one consistent oddity: a lack of closet space. Kim Quance, a real estate agent for Keller Williams Realty in San Diego, says many Frankenhouses have bedrooms with small closets. Homeowners who’ve chosen to expand their main bedroom might not touch the closet, and this mistake can cost owners down the road. Most buyers these days expect ample storage in the primary suite. To bring your Frankenhouse into this decade, make sure the main bedroom closet is proportional to the size of the room.
Fix it with a massive revamp
Some people purchase a Frankenhouse after having already budgeted for a major renovation. Others take several years to save enough cash to put their home through major surgery. But if you’re ready to completely upgrade and transform your space, do yourself (and future homeowners) a favor and hire a professional to help.
“Frankenhouses can turn into huge money pits if you begin to run into major structural and layout issues,” says Chase Michels, a real estate consultant at the Michels Group at Compass Real Estate in Chicago. “I would highly recommend hiring an architect and keeping in mind what the next potential buyer would want. Today, that means bright open spaces that allow light to flow; that often entails removing walls.” The goal, Michels says, is to make the space more livable for you, while also thinking of how it can be useful and functional for multiple purposes.