Make boring, cookie-cutter homes a thing of the past and introduce one-of-a-kind design elements that will make your abode the most beautiful on the block, says one Arizona designer, who is sharing his easy and budget-friendly DIY tips to make any builder-basic home feel more elevated, without breaking the bank.

Quickly becoming the face of impressive house transformations across the Phoenix-metro area thanks to his regular TV appearances and growing 113K Instagram following, James Judge is a big believer in finding unique and cost-effective ways to finish, modify and customize a home to make it not only gorgeous inside and out, but inherently more valuable.

“When it comes to tract homes especially, I find that my clients are often more deterred from doing design upgrades on their own because they feel like it’s too much work, too expensive or won’t look good since the developer only offered a few packages to choose from, all with similar styles. So, I’m here to tell you that you can do this and for a fraction of the cost,” said Judge, a Phoenix-based designer, Realtor, flipper, deal fanatic and all-around house-a-holic. “My clients call me the ‘House Whisperer’ because I’m able to see the potential the house was meant to have and work in the right finishes and materials to bring everything together. You’d be surprised that you can make a major home transformation over the weekend with some easy DIY tricks.”

With a passion for turning houses into homes one judgement at a time, here are five of Judge’s best-kept design ideas he’s used in recent projects to take underutilized spaces from drab to fab:

Design Tip #1: Remove Microwave & Replace With Custom Vent Hood as a Focal Point in the Kitchen 

To Buy: Broan Aluminum Power Pack Range Hood Insert ($97)

A tell-tale sign of a builder-basic home is when the kitchen comes equipped with an over-the-range microwave instead of a signature vent hood that often adds character to custom homes. “I always encourage homeowners to relocate the microwave to a different location, remove the small, useless cabinet that lies above and instead, install a custom exhaust hood that adds dimension and an elegant focal point within the kitchen. If you’re on a limited budget, you can build a box around the vent hood insert by using furniture-grade plywood and either apply a natural stain, tile, drywall, metal or shiplap to finish the look you’re going for. Pro Tip: A project like this is fairly DIY depending upon your skillset, but check out YouTube videos if you need more ideas for reference. One of the important things with this install is to make sure you preserve any existing cabinet molding you remove because you’ll need to trim and reuse these after the hood is installed.”

Design Tip #2: Create Design Features Out of Blank Spaces

To Buy: Plywell Ready to Assemble Shaker Cabinet Door ($25)

Developers will often create spaces to allow the homeowner to customize it whether it be leaving cutouts for media centers in the living room, an inset for the bed in the master bedroom or openings where artwork should be placed in the hallways. “We decided to make a feature out of a large drywall box that was obviously intended to be the location of a television in the living room by arching the opening for visual interest, installing open shelves on the sides and building a large, custom bench on the bottom to double as hidden storage and a great place to sit when gathering with friends. We also painted the back wall a darker color to create more depth, while adding a nice contrast to the white shelving. The open shelves and cabinet were made using basic lumber from Home Depot and then we installed salvage doors that we got at a building thrift store. However, if you aren’t lucky enough to find what you need at a thrift store, consider purchasing sample cabinet doors instead. Pro Tip: This example did require a professional to frame the arch and drywall it to match the texture, but the investment was minimal and worth the expense to ensure that it looks like it has always been there.”

Design Tip #3: Elevate Your Outdoor Space with Faux Green Hedges

To Buy: Porpora Artificial Hedge Plant (from $189 for 24 pack)

To create a lush, private outdoor space in your front or backyard, consider installing a vibrant green hedge to an existing chain-link fence, block wall or planter box. This is the perfect solution when you want to hide something unsightly and can often be attached with zip ties or screws. “Recently, we worked on a house located on a busy corner that didn’t have the best views. We created a frame and installed faux Ficus onto it using a staple gun to create an upscale courtyard where the homeowners can enjoy a glass of wine and a cool evening sunset, while also having something pretty to look out to from within the home. Pro-Tip: When installing to cover something existing, one side should do it but if you are trying to create your own fence out of it, make sure you buy enough of it to wrap both sides so that it looks good from each view, while also maximizing density.

Design Tip #4: Incorporate Trim Work to Add Dimension & Character to a Basic Room

To Buy: Trim Board Primed Finger-Joint ($4.79 for an 8-foot-piece)

Most new construction homes come standard with baseboards, door trim and crown molding, but there are so many ways to add more dimension and layers to the home whether it be from chair rail, wainscoting or faux beams. “In one of my recent transformations, we added trim work around an existing fireplace to make it feel more substantial, but we took it one step further by paneling the entire wall with squares to create a statement piece within the living room. There are so many different options in order to cater the trim work to the style of your home and it’s an affordable way to make a big visual impact. Pro Tip: To create the paneled wall, we used basic one-inch, by two-inch trim work and installed it as a grid pattern. Measuring everything and adjusting the design to the wall is the most important step so that you can ensure a complete pattern and not have a ‘broken’ design along the sides.”

Design Tip #5: Swap Out Can Lighting for More Upscale Light Fixtures

To Buy: Recessed Light Converter ($24.46)

A good lighting fixture is like a good piece of jewelry. It’s a small addition to the home that can add a significant impact while also showing off your personal style. “Most builders install recessed lights or generic fixtures that appeal to the masses, but this is a great opportunity to upgrade a home without a lot of work by using a conversion kit to swap in chic pendant lighting. Fixtures help to incorporate so much color, style, and warmth and it’s usually a simple change that adds great value. Pro Tip: When selecting your light fixtures, I always suggest matching your metals. It’s okay to mix your metals within a home, but when all of one category (lighting metals, plumbing metals, hardware metals, furniture metals) match, it creates a more unified and consistent design.”

Follow along with James Judge as he shares DIY tips, design-on-a-dime methods and overall inspiration for home-renovation goals at @thehousejudge. To work with James on an upcoming project, visit