"Charm in older houses often creeps in subconsciously in the form of older windowpanes, original walls and ageing floorboards," says Ottalie Stride, co-creative director of Albion Nord. "Conversely, newbuilds often suffer from a lack of imperfections, flaunting their shiny, new and perfectly flat materials – all of which subconsciously leave you feeling a little cold." In order to bring a warm, lived-in look to new build, introduce character via the furniture and furnishings – and consider the feeling you would like to create in your home. “Texture and layering is key,” explains Helen Westlake, creative director at Millier. "Wall coverings, artwork and curious objects all grouped together can create interesting moments and a more timeless and lived in feel."
Often, new build properties are finished to a very neutral palette to appeal to a wider market, but walls, floors and doors in neutral tones can often look quite bland. “Paint the walls in some of your favourite shades,” advises interior designer Gail Taylor. “But leave the skirting boards, doors and ceilings more neutral for great contrast.” Meanwhile, Ottalie adds: “Painting walls will immediately add soul, but suppliers like bauwerk are great if you want to achieve a plaster look for less. Equally, if the architerctural features are a little lack-lustre, paint them in the same colour as the walls.” Finally, Helen advises using wall treatments, such as tactile coverings or wallpaper, to bring depth and textural detail to a space, or add mirrored panelling to create the illusion of a bigger room.
If you have wooden floors, but don’t like the colour, Gail suggests employing a flooring company to sand down and re-stain it. “If possible, supply them with a sample so they can match the colour,” she says. “You can get this from any builders merchants by looking through the floors they supply and asking for a sample of the one you like.” Meanwhile, Ottalie advises using rugs to add texture, colour and pattern – as well as help denote different ‘areas’ in open plan living spaces, with Helen adding that soft furnishings will help to improve the acoustics, too. If you’re looking to change the colour palette of a space without changing the wall colour, she says, consider a wall-to-wall carpet instead.
Interior experts agree that what you decide to do with the windows will largely depend on the views and which direction the property faces. “If you’re overlooked,” says Ottalie, “sheer voiles will conceal the window and provide enough privacy, while still allowing light in. The result will still be soft and elegant.” Adding that clever window dressing is often the obvious solution, she recommends heavy linen curtains for an understated sense of luxury and warmth. Gail concurs, adding that it’s often typical for newer properties to be built close together. “A sheer panel can offer some extra privacy – plus, they’re relatively inexpensive, while still offering a modern and chic look.” To take it one step further, Helen advises layering window dressings. “Add long sheers to blackout blinds to create a sleek, light-filled modern space, and add extra interest with detailed tie backs, too.”
Experimenting with a mix of different styles of furniture can give a new build home more character. “While there should be consistency throughout the home, it’s nice to give each room its own identity,” says Ed O’Donnell, co-founder of Angel O’Donnell. “So, try not to stick with the same colour scheme and furniture style in every room.” Once the key pieces of furniture are in, says Helen, it’s easy to add character with a quirky or colourful occasion chair, and layer the space with accessories such as cushions and throws. “A large piece of artwork can instantly inject personality into any space,” she adds. Meanwhile, Gail points out that new build properties, in the most part, tend to be shorter on storage, which makes clever solutions crucial if you're to keep the property calm and clutter free. “Choose side and bedside tables with drawers, while under bed storage is ideal for out-of-season clothing,” she says. “Stylish baskets can be used to store things you don’t use very often and look much nicer than cluttered shelves crammed with stuff.” Finally, if you attempt to introduce antiques to a space, Ottalie advises using them as accent pieces in tandem with timeless, contemporary upholstery pieces. “Antique chairs and sofas can be given a new lease of life when you re-upholster them,” she says. Meanwhile, Gail warns against using pieces which are too large or too old – as they risk overpowering a space.
Adding texture is crucial, says Ed, as new builds tend to be very one dimensional and polished. “Introduce layers of texture where possible – think rugs, throws, cushions and even textured wallpaper, to add warmth and take away the new build ‘shine’. At a recent project on the Embankment, we used a textured grey wallpaper in one of the bedrooms to lift the space and give it more character.” Meanwhile, Ottalie advises breaking up large expanses of the same colour or materials but introducing natural, imperfect textures, such as a large, chunky sisal rug, or interesting upholstery. “Cushions and throws can be an opportunity to introduce colour and pattern, while well-chosen objets such as vases and sculpture can add character and form. Greenery in any room will also help bring it to life – we tend to use dried eucalyptus for longevity in an arrangement and a kentia or fig tree in a basket.” Don’t forget the possibility of adding character through new architectural details either, says Ed. “Joinery is a great way of creating depth to a new build property and helps to limit the amount of white space which can often leave a home feeling sparse and soulless. Experiment with textures and consider taking over an entire wall with cabinetry – you can also have some fun styling the shelves with interesting pieces that draw the eye and further enhance the character of the room.”
When it comes to kitchens, experts agree it’s crucial to consider the location and existing features of a new build. “An urban apartment would benefit from a more neutral palette and refined details, while more rustic character and brighter colours would suit a property in the country,” suggests Helen. “Always consider the ironmongery on cabinetry doors and have appliances fully integrated for a more refined look.” If you want to go more traditional, Gail has this to say: “Stick to a simpler moulding on the kitchen doors. A square shaker style moulded door will work well with the clean lines of a new build property. You can also go for a painted kitchen door front and tie together different periods by choosing a historical paint colour that has seen a resurgence – such as Farrow & Ball ‘Hague Blue’.”
“Swapping standard door knobs and handles to those with a more unusual finish is a bit like adding a great pair of earrings to a simple black dress,” says Gail. “Bronze is a firm favourite at the moment and if you select some with a more contemporary line, it tends to work well alongside the modern lines of new build.” Ottalie concurs: “Opt for ironmongery which is simple in form and unfussy in finish. Also, go for metals which patinate over time like unlacquered brass, bronze or nickel."
Instead of looking at them like a problem, Ottalie suggests using the perfect, white, straight walls as an opportunity to display furniture or art in a more curated way. “A large, contemporary artwork at the end of a corridor can suddenly look like a masterpiece,” she says. Gail agrees that one of the quickest ways to inject personality into your home is to fill it with your favourite things. “This can be done by hanging the artwork you love, framing personal photos and hanging them in groups, and selecting your favourite books and possessions to style open shelving.” Finally, don’t forget about lighting says Helen. “Low level ambient lighting can make any interior space feel warm and cosy. Table lamps, floor lamps and wall sconces can either be bold or offer subtle impact.”