Adding Character to a New Build

Building or moving into a brand new home is an exciting time, and there are so many advantages over an older home. But unless you're lucky enough to have had it architecturally designed, a new house can sometimes feel a little plain, lacking in charm, or, dare I say, soulless. At our recent styling evening in Havelock North, I was asked if I had any tips on how to add character and interest to a newly built house, so I have put together this blog post with some of our ideas.

There are actually plenty of ways to inject interesting elements that will add depth and interest to your new home, one of them is to add panelling to your walls. There are a number of ways to do this and it's amazing how quickly it will elevate a room with it's subtle layer of texture. Vertical panelling is a classic look that can be made to look both traditional or contemporary depending on how it's executed. Pictured above with lovely thick skirting boards, this panelling creates a classic look. Another fun way to use it is to run it part way up the wall, top with a dado rail, and either paint or wallpaper above. The powder room below has turned what was a small, plain room into a fun, personality-filled space. The thinner panelling is a nice contrast to the door and works well in a smaller space.

By square setting the panelling from the ceiling to the floor without any skirts or architraves, you create a contemporary look for your home. The entrance below has cleverly lined up the door and wall panelling for a clean, seamless look. This is trickier to execute, so although the first versions (above) are possible to DIY, I would recommend getting the experts to help you with this square set panelling. This look really needs to be decided on before the building stage, so talk to your builder early on in the process.

We often use vertical panelling in our kitchen designs. With very little fabric or furnishings in a kitchen, it's a nice way to introduce texture. The home below uses the panelling in quite a contemporary fashion, also running it up the walls and on the door in the hallway to create a sense of continuity.

Below are more examples of vertical panelling, this time using it in natural wood for a hit of warmth as well as texture. This sort of application doesn't have to be used everywhere in your house, instead use it to create a feature in key areas.

Another form of wall panelling that you're probably familiar with is board and batten. It features wide boards covered by long flat strips (battens) about 5cm wide. This is one of the oldest, most traditional style of panelling and is often used on the exterior of houses. If using it on the interior of your house you can create the same look by just attaching the thin strips over a conventional wall. I love the character it adds, and it can also be used on just the lower half of your wall with paint or wallpaper above.

One of my favourite wall features is box moulding. This is something you can do yourself if you're a clever 'diy-er', or have a handy man in the house. Keeping it white adds subtle texture, or paint it dark to make more of a statement.

Built-in furniture pieces are not for the faint hearted, as they become a semi-permanent part of your home once installed, but they help to add that architectural detail that may be lacking in your new build. If well designed and built they will be a fantastic addition to your home and are often great for utilising otherwise unused or awkward spaces. Built-in bookshelves are the most common piece we're asked for by our clients. The one below is so handy for storage and display, and they've included box moulding - win, win!

When you're installing a new kitchen, the cabinets are custom made to fit. But there's nothing to stop you fitting cupboards similar to the ones below along a hallway, in an entrance, or a kids' play room for valuable extra storage. If possible, take them to the ceiling so they look like they're supposed to be there and not an after thought that has just been tacked on.

The bookshelf below is our ideal living room built-in piece. Open storage for books and favourite pieces, closed storage at the bottom for things you don't want on display, and a space for the TV. This setup is also great for ensuring that the television is disguised a bit and not the centre of attention in your living room.

One of our most favourite ways to add interest to, and elevate a space, is wallpaper. Powder rooms, laundries, and entrances are great spaces for wallpaper. Because you don't spend a lot of time in any of the rooms you can get really brave, go bold and wallpaper every wall. Of course, if you're open to wallpapering all four walls of your living or dining room we applaud you, but even a single wall, like the bedroom below will create a lovely feature. This grasscloth wallpaper provides beautiful texture but is otherwise quite subtle.

If pattern is your thing there are a multitude of gorgeous wallpapers to choose from and we're more than happy to help you choose - patterned or plain.

In any good design, contrast is a key component. When you have a brand new home, we like to add some vintage or antique pieces to give the place some depth. I love this little vintage table (below) against the crisp, new white walls. Have fun hunting on TradeMe or your local second hand shops, or if you're really lucky you may have one or two special pieces you've inherited from your parents or grandparents. 

The antique dresser below has been repurposed into a vanity adding some weight and character to the brand new bathroom.

Interesting tiles in your kitchen and bathroom will instantly add character and style. I would strongly urge you to choose a beautifully tiled splash back over a coloured glass one. There are so many shiny, hard surfaces in a kitchen, and a glass splash back is just one more. Tiles can add texture and pattern, even a plain subway will be so much more interesting than flat glass.

The kitchen below belongs to our clients, and although they didn't build it, the house was still very new when they bought it. Because the kitchen was so new they didn't feel the need to rip it out and start again, but they did want to breathe a bit of life into it, and stamp their own mark on it. It was as simple as replacing the handles on the bottom cabinets with a more contemporary matt black version, and removing the top ones altogether for a cleaner look. We then replaced the glass splash back with the soft green subway tiles, and added the gorgeous fish scale tiles under the breakfast bar. You can see before photos in our previous blog post.

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Below is the view from the above kitchen, where I can illustrate two more simple ways we added some character to the simple white interior. Other than the furniture and accessories, the two things we love about this space are the curtains and the chandelier. There were initially plain white roller blinds over the large bi-fold doors, but by replacing these with beautiful linen curtains it helped to soften the room and add texture. Fixtures like lights are a brilliant way to spice up a simple interior. We used the stunning chandelier to do just this, as well as to help zone the living room in the open plan space. A similar light was used over the breakfast bar above.

Lastly, paint is an oldie but a goodie... it is by far the quickest and most cost-effective way to change and lift a room. A simple colour can make the world of difference! The use of the multi colours below creates the illusion of an architectural feature.

In conclusion, not everything above will appeal to everyone, and you obviously don't have to include each tip into your new build. But we do hope that you have gained some inspiration to take your shiny new house up to the next level.

We always love your feedback, so feel free to comment below on ways you have added interest to a new build. And if there is anything you would like our advice on, let us know, it could be the next blog post we write.

Favourite Space | Kelly Davis

It's great to be able to kick off 2018 with one of our 'favourite space' posts, and we know you're going to love this one belonging to Kelly Davis. Kelly and her husband, Julian (or Jules as Kelly calls him), own Davcon, a building company specialising in high quality new homes, home alterations, and commercial work throughout Hawke's Bay.

Kelly and Jules worked with architect, Graeme Weaver, when it came to building their own family home in the Esk Hills two years ago, which they share with their three young sons, Louis (10 yrs), and twins, Felix and Rocco (9 yrs).

Kelly's favourite space is her 'mustard room', a living room which she likes to call her own. A feminine space where she encourages children not to venture. With beautiful views to the outdoors, it enjoys the last of the day's sun, and is cosy in the cooler months with the help of the very cool concrete fireplace.

Although feminine, the room also has an edginess to it with it's bold mustard carpet and dark walls. Kelly always knew she wanted this room when they started the design, but her main fear was that it would end up looking like a bumblebee. With the help of two of her friends, Hannah and Ana, who also have great design sense, Kelly chose a charcoal paint colour to team with the carpet. The strong contrast is then softened with Chesterfield-style sofas, a Chiang Mai coffee table, and layers of cushions, candles, flowers and accessories.

Time for our Q&A's so we can get to know Kelly a little better...

Tell us about your favourite space, and what you most love about it?

I love my “mustard room” because it’s quite a feminine space, which surprises me when it has such bold colours. But with a house full of boys (even the cat’s male) I wanted a gentle, feminine area somewhere in the house, and it has evolved into that. I love having fresh flowers, lighting a candle, and just hanging out in it whenever I get the chance. It’s a “no wrestling zone”. 😊

What’s your favourite time of the day?

I love it in the afternoon when I’ve picked the kids up from school. If we have no after-school activities, I often go into the mustard room, as it’s the sunny part of the house at that time, and fold the washing!

A morning yoga class straight after the school drop-off is also a lovely time of day.

Who or what inspires you?

I love people who march to the beat of their own drum, whether it’s artistically or musically. People who just have that inner knowledge that what they’re doing is right for them, so they just go about doing their thing 100% authentically.

What are you reading/listening to right now?

When I don’t get sucked down the Facebook/Instagram rabbit warren, I’m slowly reading Brene Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness” – I love the research she’s done on ‘Vulnerability’; and our current bookclub book is a Maisie Dobbs' mystery (I think I’m on Chapter 2 - lol).

I'm listening to my kids; but I also love Imagine Dragons and have “Thunder” on repeat at the moment. 

Sweet or savoury?

Savoury – cheese & crackers over dessert any day. 

Favourite drink?

My brother Casey made espresso martinis on Christmas day that were a bit decadent.

Favourite thing/item you own?

The baby grand my cousin gave me is a great love and I am so grateful to him for giving it to me, but my friends might say the mustard carpet because they know I’m a bit precious about it! I invited people to a New Year’s Eve party but told them in the invite they weren’t allowed to eat or drink on my mustard carpet, and a friend cheekily replied, ‘unless the food is of the yellow variety, as in pineapple or papaya!’.

Kelly knew there wasn't the space for a seperate music room in their plans, so she had Graeme Weaver include a nook in her front living room especially for her piano.

Top of your wish list for your home?

A lot of landscaping! Along with a pool and some outdoor furniture to go with it.

Thank you so much Kelly and Jules for allowing us into your amazing home and letting us share a little piece of it. To all our readers, make sure you check out some of Davcon's other projects if you're looking for a first rate building team.


Kelly's mustard room was truely special, but quite frankly the whole house is incredible. We couldn't resist showing you a sneak peek of another of our favourite rooms - the dining room which overlooks Esk Valley...

The cat was also super cute! He co-ordinated beautifully with the mustard room, but was quite partial to the large green rug in the other living room.

Let's finish with a quick tip... we love a large rug to ground furniture and help zone a space. A cost-effective solution for this is to get a piece of carpet cut to the right size and have the edges bound, as Kelly has done here. Also, if you're not brave enough to carpet your room in mustard (or olive green), a large rug is a great alternative.

Renovation & Conversation Evening

Last week we held an evening at our workspace with our friend Laura Jeffares. Our aim was to let our guests know a bit more about our businesses, and for them to leave with a few interior styling and floristry tricks that they could try themselves at home. Dael and I work in a very cool old warehouse in Ahuriri, Napier which we share with a number of other small businesses. The building has an industrial vibe, and this combined with Laura's amazing floral arrangements made for a great venue.

A gorgeous big floral display greeted guests outside our building | photo: Florence Charvin

The lady herself, Laura Jeffares, next to one of her arrangements | photo: Florence Charvin

The entrance to our work is through an old shipping container which we lined with greenery. Inside guests were welcomed by the dulcet tones of super talented local musician, Sarah Wiig.

One of our favourite artists, Rae West, arriving through our shipping container entrance | photo: Florence Charvin

Sarah Wiig sings as our guests arrive | photo: Florence Charvin

Another of Laura's creations in a Bibby + Brady vase | photo: Florence Charvin

Even Sarah's mike and music stand didn't escape Laura's touch | photo: Florence Charvin

Upon arrival guests were treated to a glass of delicious Rod McDonald wine, and there was a spectacular 1m long grazing platter that was created by The Mad Platter - a relatively new local business that is growing in leaps and bounds.

Beautiful bouquets by Sarah Till of My Flower Cart were available to purchase | photo: Florence Charvin

The incredible platter provided by The Mad Platter | photo: Florence Charvin

Sister-n-laws, Kylie and Birgitte, are The Mad Platter | photo: Florence Charvin

One of the best parts of our job is being surrounded by so many clever and interesting people. We had an incredible group of women at our event, both helpers and participants, as well as our guests.

Our fabulous friends and helpers, Kathryn (Savve) and Sally | photo: Florence Charvin

Birgitte explains more about her and Kylie's business The Mad Platter | photo: Florence Charvin

Dael and I have worked with Laura Jeffares a lot over the years. She is highly talented when it comes to floristry, styling, and hair, specialising in weddings and events. If you're interested, book her now, as she gets super busy over the Summer months.

Laura demonstrates a simple floral display using flowers from My Flower Cart | photo: Florence Charvin

photo: Florence Charvin

Laura demonstrates how to use oasis when putting together an arrangement of foliage | photo: Florence Charvin

Dael and I wanted to explain a bit about how we work and show some "before" and "after" images of our work. We shared some of our top interior design tips, and finished with a quick demonstration and explanation of how to style a console table.

photo: Florence Charvin

Thank you to everyone who attended our Renovation & Conversation evening, we had a fantastic time with you all. We will be holding more of these events in the future (including one next month in Gisborne), so keep an eye on the blog and our social media for up to date information. Please let us know if you have anything in particular you'd like to hear us speak about, or if you're outside of Hawke's Bay and would like us to visit your town. You can get in touch with us here.

A special thanks to all of our amazing friends who helped make this evening a success - Laura Jeffares, Florence Charvin, The Mad Platter, Rod McDonald Wines, Sarah Wiig, Sarah Zonneveld, Sarah Till, Kathryn McGarvey, Sally Barnett, and our awesome landlords, Band.