How To Add Character To A New Build House

In 2020 we bought our first home and no one was more surprised than me that it was a new build property. I’d always dreamt of renovating a period property but when our paint-chip-eating toddler came along I changed my opinion on new build homes. What hasn’t changed, however, is my desire to pack as much character and cosiness into our new build house as possible.

Below is a list of ways you can add a homely, personable feel to a new build property, many of which I’ve been implementing in our own new home since moving in.

So, scroll through if you’re looking for ideas on how you can decorate your home, especially if it’s a completely blank canvas like many new build properties.

Note: This post was originally written in 2020 but has been updated in February 2023 to include details of what we’ve done in our own home. The article contains some affiliate links. Please read the disclosure for details.

10 easy ways to decorate a new build house

1.Install panelling

Panelling can be an easy and effective way of instantly adding texture to your new build’s blank walls. Choosing what style of panelling compliments a modern home, however, can be tricky.

This pin by Emily Henderson takes you the various types of wall panelling – from applied moulding to wainscoting – along with some beautiful examples of what part of the house you can use them in.

In our home we have added shiplap or tongue and groove panelling to a number of feature walls. I think this is a classic style that hopefully won’t go out of fashion anytime soon. I like how the vertical lines show off our surprisingly high ceilings and how there is a flow between different rooms because we’ve focused on one style of panelling – albeit in different variations.

Georgian panelling from The English Panelling Company painted in Cold Brew by Coat Paints

Some of our panelling was done professionally and some we DIY’d. If you’re in the UK I recommend The English Panelling Company who supply high quality MDF wall panelling in 5 different styles and a number of size options. We used their full height Georgian panelling to make a statement in our bedroom.

2. Add a focal point with a fireplace

DIY electric fireplace TV wall
Our electric insert fire and Samsung Frame TV

The first project we took on in our new house was building a faux fireplace in the living room. We had come from a period home with a traditional hearth and chimney so when we moved into our new build it just felt like something was missing.

I came across this amazing tutorial for a DIY minimalist fireplace and loved the idea of adding a focal point with an electric fire and rustic wooden mantel. In the end, we decided the work was a bit above our skill set, so we found a builder to make the vision a reality instead. Find out more about the design and build process of our faux fireplace here.

Psst if you want to know more about the TV above it – yes, that is a TV! – you’ll want to read this post too!

3. Hang wallpaper, murals or wall decals

Curious to know where anything in these pictures is from? Shop our home via LTK

Wallpaper has come a long way since I last chose some for my bedroom feature wall circa 1996. I’ve come across some great companies on Instagram who make mural-style wallpaper, like the stunning watercolour effects made by Hovia.

But if you’re a commitment-phobe like me, removable wall decals are a great way to dabble with wall decoration in a way that’s easily changeable. We popped some safari-themed removable decals up in my son’s room shortly after moving in as it was a really simple, mess-free way of adding colour and playfulness and, bonus, it took less than an hour to completely transform the space.

Two years later, we finally found a wallpaper we could commit to and after easily removing the animal stickers, my son’s room now has Alfred Misty Blue by Sandberg Wallpaper adding instant colour, character and a touch of tradition to his walls.

4. Layer the lighting

Nyna Floor Lamp with articulated arm from La Redoute 

If there is one thing I’ve learned from the home decor books I’ve pored 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.

We’re slowly filling our rooms with all sorts of feature pendant lights, wall scones, floor lamps and table lamps, which my husband rather cleverly ordered Philips Hue bulbs for so we can tell Google to turn them all off of an evening!

The lamp I get asked about most is the Nyna Floor Lamp with articulated arm from La Redoute that we have in our living room. It really has made this corner of our lounge somewhere you want to linger.

5. Personalise the kitchen

Depending on your developer you might not get much say about the design of your kitchen in your new build house. Our developer offered houses with 4 themes and whichever one you chose dictated everything from the style of cabinets in your kitchen, to the colour of bathroom tiles and what type of flooring the house came with. I chose the theme that came with a shaker style kitchen but apart from that had no further say in any of it.

So how do you put your own stamp and design aesthetic into a brand new kitchen that you can neither afford nor need to replace? Well, we did a couple of things to personalise ours.

Firstly, and most impactfully, we removed a couple of upper cabinets and added open shelving. This felt like a big gamble at the time as our kitchen is small and we don’t have a pantry but it’s amazing how much better you can utilise your cupboards when there are less of them!

We installed custom floating oak shelves from Ultrashelf and use them to display (and easily access) our favourite dinnerware from Fable and The White Company.

The second thing we did was to remove the upstand and install tiles. Our tiles are Oasis Ceramic White from Ca Pietra.

Finally, I changed the handles on all the cupboards to these modern traditional antique brass ones from Corsten Architectural Detail.

These three little tweaks have given us a kitchen that feels so much more us and they took next to little effort.

6. Dress the windows

I think one of the most overwhelming decisions we had to make when we moved into our new build was how to dress all the bare windows. I’ve always been a huge fan of plantation shutters 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 a number of full-length windows and bi-fold doors in our new build property that we have slowly dressed with a combination of shutters, curtains or both.

An absolute game-changer for me was discovering Two Pages who offer custom, pleated linen curtains in a wide range of colours at super affordable rates. Compared to everywhere else I priced up anyway! We currently have the Liz pleated linen curtains in Beige White in both our living room and bedroom. These curtains are super easy to hang and look fantastic straight out the packet. I love that you don’t need to hem, steam or iron them. They really are fantastic value for money.

Shop Two Pages Curtains here and found out more on my Instagram. (Look for the highlight on linen curtains.)

Are you about to move into a new build? Check out my top tips on things to do before completion.

7. Add traditional details like picture rails, coving & beams

I love traditional details such as the picture railing and coving that you find in many older homes and have seen some great examples of more contemporary versions being installed in new build houses.

In fact, if you have any doubt about traditional decor working in a new build house may I suggest you follow Alice Grace Interiors who does an incredible job of fusing the two together. One scroll through her feed will give you so much inspiration, especially if you like a bold yet considered play on pattern.

Another of my favourite accounts to follow on Instagram is Toby’s Home. Toby has the most beautiful contemporary classic cottage and the oak panelling and beams he added to his kitchen ceiling are now firmly on my wishlist.

8. Hang XL art

Affordable gallery wall idea
Create an affordable gallery wall with custom mounts

Moving into a new build home with acres of bare white walls crying out to be decorated is daunting! It took me a long time to work out what style and scale of art I wanted to hang in each of our rooms and I changed my mind about the decision often too! Thankfully, I found an affordable way to print digital art, which means I can change up my art to suit the seasons – if I so wish to!

If you’d like to know more about printing digital art, including XL vintage art prints and custom canvases, check out this article. You can also find all my favourite places to buy vintage art prints here.

9. Hang or lean well-placed mirrors

It’s hard to beat a floor length leaning mirror when it comes to adding extra dimensions to a boxy room.

We added the Foxcote Long Wall Mirror from Cotswold Company to a corner of our living room that was looking a bit unloved and I’d love to add one to our bedroom too now.

10. Upcycle and mix in vintage for an eclectic look

Vintage pots add a rustic touch to a contemporary setting

I absolutely love mixing the old with new when it comes to styling and like to inject each of our rooms with at least one vintage item.

I’m not much of a confident DIY-er but I’ve been inspired by so many upcycling projects I’ve seen online recently and now regularly scan Facebook Marketplace in case there is a vintage piece of furniture I can give a new lease of life to.

I’ve also come across lots of amazing ideas for upcycling items such as vases, lamps, benches and dressers in Geneva Vanderzeil’s book Home Is Where You Make It . I’d love to utilize some of these ideas to breathe new life into old furniture…. when I’m feeling brave enough!

Shop my style:

Further reading:

Below are some of the books that have helped me come up with home decor and renovation ideas so far. You can find a whole home decor reading list in my Amazon shop.

Made For Living by Amber Lewis

Travel Home

Home Is Where You Make It by Geneva Vanderzeil

Mad About The House by Kate Watson-Smyth

Have you moved into a new build home? Will you be implementing any of these ideas?

You may also like:

Where to shop for Studio McGee style in the UK

Where to buy affordable art for your home

How we built a faux electric fireplace in our new build home

Where to buy cool art for a Samsung The Frame TV

About the author

I’m Jayne, a travel blogger, content creator and mum to a 4-year-old son. I’ve been blogging since 2010, travelled to 65 countries and share travel guides and tips to help you plan stylish, stress-free trips.

1 thought on “How To Add Character To A New Build House”

  1. Thank you so much for this post – I’ve just (unexpectedly!) bought a new build and was feeling daunted about how to make it feel individual – so many helpful ideas here.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.