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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 last year.

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 March 2021 to include details of what we’ve done in our own home. The article contains some affiliate links. Please read the disclosure for details.

12 easy ways to decorate a new build house

How to decorate a new build house
My favourite cosy corner

1.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 complements a modern home, however, can be tricky.

This awesome article 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.

We have applied wall panelling in a couple of areas of our house already. We have shiplap cladding around our fireplace and a tongue and groove panelled wall in my home office. (See below.)

We’re currently panelling our hallway with a beaded panel sheet from Wickes. Watch this space for updates on how that turns out.

How to decorate a new build house - wall panelling

2. Building a faux fireplace

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 oversized 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!

Collection Prints on Samsung the Frame
Our electric insert fire and Samsung Frame TV

3. Wallpaper Murals & Wall Decals

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 these stunning watercolour effects by Murals Wallpaper.

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.

When we come to decorate Miles’ room properly I’ll definitely order more decals from The Lovely Wall Co. I’ve got my eye on this map for starters.

Watercolour map by The Lovely Wall
Image thanks to The Lovely Wall Co.

4. Layering the lighting

If there is one thing I’ve learned from the home décor 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 Goggle to turn them all off of an evening!

The lamp I get asked about most is the Fishing Rod Floor Lamp by John Lewis that we have in our living room. It really has made this corner of our lounge somewhere you want to linger.

5. Respraying the kitchen cabinets

One of the things I’m considering doing to our kitchen to make it feel more unique is respraying the 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 in a shade of putty that I think I might pimp up with a splash of green paint.

I found a great example of this kind of transformation via Hannah (@ourhome_upnorth on Instagram) who resprayed her kitchen cabinets in Farrow and Ball De Nimes. Hannah also replaced the cabinet handles for something more bespoke-looking.

Our Home Up North Kitchen
Image thanks to Hannah at Our Home Up North

6. Dressing 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 long windows like this in a number of rooms and so far I’ve added wooden shutters but I’m saving/considering the option of adding floor to ceiling sheers over them too.

7. Adding picture rails & coving

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. She has a great highlight on her profile about adding character to a new build home that I suggest you watch after reading this!

8. Put up picture shelves

For ages I couldn’t decide on what art to put on the wall behind our sofa and then I realised I didn’t have to. With a picture shelf you can change the art on display to suit your mood, no nails or command strips necessary!

H&M picture ledge

I couldn’t find an oak ledge long enough, so here we’ve just hung 2 of the bargain light beige wooden picture shelves from H&M next to each other.

In terms of shopping for statement art prints, I’ve got a couple of posts that might help you. Click here and here for the best places to buy unique and affordable artwork.   

9. Make a statement with your bed

I love, love, love oversized fabric headboards and had an amazing bed ordered that got delayed and eventually cancelled due to Covid. I almost ordered this iron 4-poster canopy bed by Rockett St George to replace it but decided our cosy master bedroom couldn’t take it. (Next house, maybe!)

What we ended up doing was buying a bed frame and linen headboard separately from Loaf so that we have more flexibility if we want to change either of them in future.

10. Well-placed mirrors

It’s hard to beat a floor length leaning mirror when it comes to adding extra dimensions to a boxy room. I’ve got my eye on a couple of options from The White Company and West Elm for our bedroom once we come to decorate it.

11. Right-sized rugs

Our new home came with carpet which isn’t necessarily the best flooring to pop a Moroccan rug on but I’m hoping if I go big enough it will work. (She says, you’ll know if you follow me on Instagram that I have ordered and returned many a rug that didn’t look right so far!)

Geneva at Collective Gen has a great guide on rug placement for different rooms that I recommend you check out though.

12. Upcycling and mixing in vintage for an eclectic look

I absolutely love mixing the old with new when it comes to styling and like to inject each of our rooms with at least something that is a touch rustic. 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 braze enough!

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

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

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About Author

I'm a freelance blogger and writer who loves boutique hotels, brunching and shopping. I've been blogging for 11 years, visited 60+ countries and called London, Sydney, Melbourne and (oh so briefly) New York home at various points during the last decade. We purchased our first home during the pandemic & have been infusing it with a feeling of travel while we wait to see the world again.

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