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How To Add Character To A New Build House

Late last year we bought our first house and no one was more surprised than me that it was a new build property. We currently rent a cottage that’s over 100 years old and I love its period features but am not such a fan of the upkeep and repair involved with maintaining it. Since having a child who seems most determined to eat any chipped paint or fraying woodwork he finds, my opinion on new builds changed. What hasn’t, however, is my desire to pack as much character and cosiness into that new build house as possible.

So what follows is a list of ways you can add a homely, personable feel to a new build property, all of which I plan to implement in our new house once they’ve finished building it.

Scroll through for ideas on how you can decorate your new (or old!) home, especially if it’s a completely blank canvas.

I’ll come back to update this post as and when I do the described work on our house to show you how it came out.

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12 easy ways to decorate a new build house

Terrazzo wall decal by The Lovely Wall
Image thanks to The Lovely Wall
  • Panelling

I’m super keen to add some panelling to a few of our walls, but I must admit choosing which type and where is massively overwhelming. From applied moulding in the bedroom to wainscoting in this bathroom, this article lists 8 types of panelling for the home and I’m seriously considering all of them.

How to add character to a new build house - Panelling by Hannah Trickett
Image thanks to Hannah Trickett
  • Wallpaper Murals

Wallpaper has come a long way since I last choose some for my bedroom feature wall circa 1996. I’ve come across some great companies on Instagram that can provide mural wallpaper for the study, like the watercolour seen at the top of this post by Murals Wallpaper , as well as removable wall decals for Miles’ bedroom by The Lovely Wall. The options I’m considering for the nursery include polka dots, a terrazzo wall or a giant map decal.

Watercolour map by The Lovely Wall
Image thanks to The Lovely Wall
  • Layering the lighting

If there is one thing I’ve learned from the home décor books I’ve poured over lately it’s the importance of getting the room lit correctly. For new builds, in particular, that typically come with lots of downlights, layering the lighting so you have softer options for different atmospheres is so important. I’ve got my eye on all sorts of feature pendant lights, wall scones, floor lamps and table lamps, all of which my husband insists we get Philips Hue bulbs for so Goggle can control them.

  • Respraying the kitchen cabinets

One of the things I’m most excited about doing in our new build to make it feel more unique is respraying the kitchen cabinets in a bolder colour. As we purchased off plan we were able to choose our cabinet style and colour scheme, but it was from a limited number of options. So, we have shaker style cabinets being installed in a shade of putty that I plan to pimp up with a splash of green paint.

I found a great example of this kind of transformation via @ourhome_upnorth on Instagram who resprayed her cabinets in Farrow and Ball De Nimes and also replaced the cabinet handles, which got made over with Rustoleum metallic spray.

Our Home Up North Kitchen
Image thanks to Hannah at Our Home Up North
  • Dressing the windows

Another overwhelming number of decisions to make involve dressing all our new bare windows. I’m a huge fan of the shutters we have in our current rental but I wasn’t sure how they would work in a more modern home until I saw House of Harvee’s gorgeous combo of shutters and floor-length drapes in her bedroom. We have long windows like this in a number of rooms, so I guess I best get saving for all that window dressing.

  • Add picture rails

 I love a nice bit of picture railing and coving like you find in many older homes. We have quite high ceilings in our new build so I’m hoping we might be able to add a picture rail in the living room or I’ll consider taking the paint colour only part way up the wall if not.

  • Put up picture shelves

I’m really like the idea of using a shelf behind the bed or sofa to arrange our prints on rather than nailing or sticking command strips all over newly painted walls. I feel like this will offer us more flexibility as well while I’m playing around with which artwork and photos fit where in the new house.

Image thanks to Kismet House

I’m also shopping for new statement art for the house. In the past I’ve tended to follow trends for art prints and posters and, as they don’t cost much from the likes of Desenio and Fy, I just changed them regularly. As this is our own home though, I’d like to invest in art we love and let that inspire the colour scheme of the room rather than vice versa. I’m eyeing up a few things on King and McGaw at the moment.           

  • Go big on the bed

I love, love, love oversized fabric headboards and have my eye on a few Gatsy-eque velvet ones. I initially wanted an iron 4 poster canopy bed like this one by Rockett St George but I don’t think our master can take it, so I’ll settle for a wall to wall headboard instead.

I’m looking for one that comes separate to the bed so I can have the option to change it should we update the colour scheme in the room several years down the line.

Image thanks to Pantone
  • Well-placed mirrors

We have zero well positioned full length mirrors in our current house and it bugs me no end. I can’t wait to add a giant one to the hallway and bedroom – and that’s probably just for starters.

  • Right-sized rugs

Our new home comes carpeted which isn’t necessarily the best flooring to pop a Morroccan rug on but I’m hoping if I go big enough it will work. Geneva at Collective Gen has a great guide on rug placement for a space.

  • Upcycling and mixing in vintage for an eclectic look

I’m not a confident DIYer but this might be my time to become one. I’ve come across lots of amazing ideas for upcycling things as diverse as vases, lamps, benches and dressers in Geneva Vanderzeil’s book Home Is Where You Make It and her blog Collective Gen. I’d love to utilize some of these ideas to breathe new life into old furniture.

How to turn a vase into a lamp by Collective Gen
Image by Collective Gen

Quite a few of our current pieces of furniture don’t fit with what I have in mind for the new home but perhaps with some of these tips and a few licks of paint I can make it work?! We’ll see.

  • Building a DIY fireplace

And finally, the first thing I would love to do to personalise our new build house is add a fireplace. We have 2 period fireplaces in our current home and I love how they provide a focal point for the room, other than the TV.

I came across this amazing tutorial for a DIY minimalist fireplace and love the idea of adding warmth with an electric fire and some personality with an oversized wooden mantel. As simple as this tutorial makes it sound I still think it’s beyond my pay grade, but hopefully my stepdad can help out.

DIY Fireplace by I Spy DIY
Image thanks to I Spy DIY

I’m tossing up whether we add open shelves and/or cabinets or even a bench seat either side of the fire but am quite keen to get the Samsung Frame TV seen in the above pic so we can set it to display art when we’re not watching it.

Further reading:

These are some of the books that have helped me come up with home decor and reno ideas so far. I’ve also got this board on Pinterest with heaps more ideas for styling a new home.

Home Is Where You Make It by Geneva Vanderzeil

Mad About The House by Kate Watson-Smyth

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About Author

Travel blogger and freelancer writer who loves boutique hotels and brunching. I've been blogging for 10 years, visited 60+ countries and called London, Sydney, Melbourne and (oh so briefly) New York home at various points during the last decade. Now travelling with a baby and trying to make it as stylish and stress-free as can be!

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