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.


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 | Kimberley Crisp + Liane Sanderson

When we first met our clients, Liane Sanderson (left) and Kimberley Crisp (right), Dael and I liked them instantly. Lovely, genuine people with big hearts, they truely appreciate the simple things in life and have created an enviable lifestyle for themselves. Kimberley and Liane already had a great sense of their own style, but just needed some help choosing paint colours and a few bits and pieces to enhance their home.

My favourite kind of home is one that tells a story about the people who live there, and Kimberley and Liane's certainly does that! We knew we wanted to feature it in our "favourite spaces" and share it with you, so once the paint had dried and the wallpaper was up we set off to visit the girls, with our awesome photographer, Florence Charvin, in tow.

When choosing colours for their home we took into consideration what they had inside in their textiles and accessories, as we wanted the house to have a sense of cohesion. We chose Resene Jungle Mist, a serene grey blue for the exterior of the house with Resene Smitten on the door. One of our hanging pod chairs provides the perfect spot to chill out on the front deck.

The couple bought their tiny Clive cottage two years ago after living for 16 years in a huge two-storey house in Napier. The maintenance on such a big property was a lot for two people, so the move allowed them to down-size and be closer to The Nest Kindergarten where Kimberley teaches, and Liane sometimes relieves.

The house is filled with furniture, accessories and momento's collected over the years. Liane has had the green velvet sofa for many years. Bags and baskets are a favourite item to collect, and may have something to do with their love of travel, as well as being great storage in the little cottage.

We used Resene Quarter Silver Chalice on the living room and bedroom walls. One of our favourites, it's a beautiful soft, silvery grey with no hint of brown or blue in it. It's a lovely neutral to use instead of white, and has just enough pigment in it to contrast beautifully with crisp white trims.

It's quite obvious when you're at their house that Kimberley and Liane love flowers, so Dael and I knew that a floral wall mural by Back to the Wall would be perfect on one wall. We chose a peony image by our great friend and photographer, Helen Bankers, to go on the wall at the end of the kitchen. In front sits a small dining table that can double as a desk, and the peony makes up for the lack of a window on that wall.

As well as working at The Nest, Kimberley and Liane have a Professional Development business and they regularly travel in their house bus, "Billie", taking workshops around the country. Kimberley works with other childcare teams teaching and inspiring them in all aspects of early childhood education. Liane has a background in landscape design and specialises in playground development and maintenance, as well as being in charge of the all the business administration.

Kimberley and Liane have travelled extensively around the world, to Budapest, Amsterdam, Asia, America and more. Travel is a hugely important part of their lives, but they are equally happy when they're at home in their little Clive community. "It's got everything we need here," says Kimberley. "The coffee cart across the road, the pub on the corner, two flower nurseries, some great shops, the bike tracks, and amazing sunsets". They also have their beloved pets at home - rescue dog, Lincoln, and two cats, Smooch and Sapphy - although Linc is also a regular passenger on Billie the Bus when Kimberley and Liane hit the road.

I asked Kimberley and Liane a few questions so we could get to know them better...

What do you love most about your home?

It's our little refuge from the world. We love all the tiny spaces and the indoor/outdoor flow. We can eat every meal outside on the decks or picnic on the lawn.

What has been the best find for your home?

The peony wall mural and the Axminster floral carpet that we had made into a rug in the living room.

Do you have any advice for others wanting to buy a house bus or camper?

Go with your gut and your heart, and get one with a permanent made-up bed.

What's your favourite time of day?

From 3pm - 7pm - the late afternoon sun, we both love sunsets.

Who or what inspires you?

Nature and animals, and people who live from their heart.

What are you reading/listening to?

Liane - reading: The Language of Miracles by Amelia Kincade • listening to: Ram Dass celtic harp
Kimberley - reading: all home & garden mags • listening to: The Genius of Play

Favourite summer meal?

Bruschetta, and to finish cherries and pomegranates!!!

Favourite drink?

White ginger tea, and as a treat, Bailey cocktails.

Favourite thing you own?

Billie the Bus, and Lincoln - although we don't own him, he owns us :)

Top of your wish list for your home?

A wood fired cedar hot tub.

Thank you so much Kimberley and Liane for welcoming us into your home and allowing us to share it.

You can see from our concept boards below that the girls have followed through with our ideas, including getting one of our amazing picnic rugs to throw out on their back lawn and take on the bus. We look forward to working with them further on their second bedroom/office, as well as their kitchen and bathroom area. Watch this space!

Wainscoting anyone?

Wainscoting - raised wooden panelling - is something I'm quite partial to. It adds personality and dimension to your walls, and although it dates back to colonial days, you can give it a contemporary spin by simplifying the design and/or having fun with the colour.

This original dark wood panelling is so beautiful and oozes old-world charm.

With the help of your joiner or builder you could bring your walls to life with any of these looks. Do you like these contemporary patterns below or are you more of a traditionalist?