Members of The List by House & Garden share their top tricks for adding character to a new build

Ten experts share creative solutions to add flair and personality to new builds
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Interior designer Charlotte Boundy's kitchen with a painting from Collins & Green Art.Mark Anthony Fox

Newly built houses and flats have many desirable traits. The comfort that comes with well-insulated walls and double glazing certainly isn't lost on people who have rented their fair share of draughty and damp properties. But one thing these modern homes can lack is the character and decorative panache that come with older buildings. Thankfully members of The List by House & Garden have a handful of creative solutions to add flair and personality to new builds and make them live up to their full style potential.

Art and antiques

Visit any large country house and you'll notice that art plays a key role in the character of the space. So if you are trying to emulate the feel of these more traditional interiors there is no better way to start adding charm and personality than filling your walls with artwork.

Choose vintage artwork

“I am a big advocate of incorporating vintage artwork into a newly built home,” says Julia Collins, Founder of Collins & Green Art. “Not only does vintage art bring traditional charm to the home but it is also a more cost-effective way to add a pop of colour or interest to your walls. Your choice of artwork can incorporate items of sentimental value or tell a story about your life, with these personal touches bringing warmth and character to your interiors.”

A collection of paintings from The Picture Gallery add charm to this kitchen design.

Be imaginative with how to display your paintings

"Art instantly adds character, depth and richness to your interior," says art dealer, Gini Temple of The Picture Gallery. It is also key to be imaginative with how you display your paintings. I love to see a painting leaning casually on a kitchen shelf or propped up within a bookcase. It has a relaxed, lived-in look that can add a more traditional feel to a room."

Visual texture is key

"Visual texture is key to adding more traditional charm to a modern home," says Art Consultant and founder of The Art Buyer, Helen Armon-Jones. “On neutral painted walls choose unglazed original paintings for the ultimate hit of rich texture. A visible swash of the paintbrush brings individuality and allows you to express your unique style. If you have a wallpapered room, don’t be afraid to experiment with an eclectic art collection to create a layered look of surface textures.”

Avoid dressing new builds completely in a period style

“There is no reason why a modern building can't house antiques if you use them correctly,” explains Founder and Creative Director of Kelling Designs Emma Deterding. “Avoid dressing new builds completely in a period style, but use them as statements throughout the home to create points of interest. Strong fabrics on upholstery and simple furniture items are the way to go. And don't just think of Victorian or Edwardian styles, remember mid-century pieces are period too!”

Details, details, details…

How to add character to a new build? It's all in the details. From panelling and moulding to silky accessories and paint colours these small changes can have a big impact on the feel of your space.

Clearwater's Cheney Textured Countertop with Integrated Double Basin, The Clover Basin, Metallic, Millenium Tall Bottle Tap.

Add accents of traditional colour and materials

“Updating brassware and hardware such as taps, accessories and door handles is a simple but effective way of updating a space without completely overhauling the design,” says the team at Clearwater Interiors. "Finishes such as brushed brass or nickel have a classic look and are popular in period properties and new homes alike. Colour can also play a significant role in adding traditional charm to a more modern home. Choosing heritage colours in soft, chalky finishes will add depth into a space that carries a traditional character to an otherwise contemporary property."

Enhance your space with decorative mouldings

"Introducing moulding to the walls, complemented by high skirting and a simpler cornice can instantly add character to an interior," says the team at Meraki Design. "Try utilising the cornice as a curtain pelmet to add a well thought out detail that connects the space but is still clean and contemporary.”

An example of panelled walls in a sitting room designed by Stella Mannering.

Eleanor Walpole
Add panelling to your walls

For Stella Mannering, panelling is a sure-fire way to bring that traditional charm into your newly built home. As she explains, “Panelling will not only make your space look beautiful but will create a homely feel too by keeping your space toasty and quiet by acting as an extra layer of insulation. Panelling can also be used to add a splash of colour into your home, and can be finished in an opulent heritage paint shade to insert richness into the space.”

Chevron floors

“Natural oak boards laid in a chevron pattern add warmth and character to a room but also pay homage to traditional design elements,” says the team at Wolf Lewitt Interiors. The elegant pattern is sure to elevate your space from the floor up.

Colour drenching

As Louise Lythe and Sadie Bengali of David Collins Studio explain, colour drenching – where you use your wall colour on multiple surfaces – can dramatically impact the feel of your home. “The tone and way you use colour gives personality to a space and evokes a range of emotion, from serene, dramatic to whimsical. Using one colour adds an element of cosiness and cohesiveness to a room. Bold colours can help to focus and define a space or object – whether it's upholstery, artwork or architecture.”

Embrace silk linings and decorative trims

Home accessories with a more traditional feel can be a great way to start playing with your home's aesthetic. Lampshades with beautifully applied trims, ruche or fringes can pay homage to traditional design principles, making them ideal for adding depth and character to the clean lines of a new build. Floren's lampshades stand out not only due to the fabric but also for their fine detailing. As the brand explains, “Each shade is lined with silk, and the struts or ring are silk-covered, giving it a subtle yet luxurious feel reminiscent of classic decor styles.”

We hope the article helped you learn how to add character to a new build. To get more advice from members of The List, visit our website.