How to add character to a characterless space

How to Add Character to a Characterless Space

Author: Lisa Soeno

I’m going to start off this post with one of the most-used questions on Love Island this year. What’s your type? Nope, not when it comes to potential love interests, but when it comes to houses.

If you look at my past history, my type has been old, characterful houses. My first home after Uni was a Victorian semi in arty and boho Moseley village near Birmingham. It had been thoughtfully refurbished so was the best of both worlds: original floors and fireplaces, with trendy additions such as exposed brick walls, a roll top bath and even a diddy spiral staircase.

We then lived in a granny flat at the bottom of a STUNNING behemoth Victorian property on prestigious Gardyne Street in Bronte, Sydney. It had high vaulted ceilings and huge windows. (Ok so the granny flat didn’t – in fact at times it was the opposite of desirable – but I daydreamt daily that we lived in the property above).

Then, back home to Brum, and into a 1930s semi. It wasn’t glam but it did have some quirky little details such as stained glass windows by the front door, picture rails, and alcoves either side of the fireplace.

Along came our little girl Lyra and we decided to move again. This time, my head ruled my heart and we moved in to a oh-so practical but oh-so characterless new build. It’s taking me YONKS to add character but here are a few ideas I’ve applied, and also some that I’m hoping to do.

Admittedly a lot of the homes featured below are gorgeous period properties, but they’re a brill place to take inspiration from.

How to Add Character {Have a ‘Hero’ item of furniture}

I went to a friend’s new (new build) house the other day and she had THE most amazing midnight blue velvet sofa. When you’ve got plain walls a quirky item of furniture can work wonders at adding interest and character. I’m still lusting over Nat’s Cox and Cox rattan chair, and wondering if I can squeeze an alphabet chest of drawers into one of the kids’ rooms.

How to Add Character {Paint the Walls a Bold Dark Hue}

Dark walls work SO well in small spaces and rooms that lack character. They hide a multitude of sins: inky fingerprints, begone! And you can go to town on the accessories, thus adding loads more pizazz: metallic nick nacks look even more fancy when set against a dark hue, and I love the appearance of rainbow book spines against an inky wall.

How to Add Character {Add in Wall Panelling}

In my spare room I have propped free-standing decorative panels behind the bed (idea totes stolen from Charlotte’s old master bedroom). It makes the relatively low ceiling seem so much higher. And in their Cheltenham house, Adam and Lizzie went the whole hog by incorporating built in wardrobes and a wall-panelled dressing table area along one of the walls in their master bedroom.

How to Add Character {Wallpaper Those Walls}

Love it or loathe it, wallpaper has saved my house from being a collection of white boring boxy rooms. I still love the palm print wallpaper in our bedroom and the animal portraits that adorn Jenson’s nursery wall.

How to Add Character {Texture, Texture, Texture}

It’s all about texture. In our open-plan kitchen/lounge I was conscious that I needed to use a range of textures to stop the bright-white space from feeling clinical. A matt black lamp, snuggly blankets, jute rug and herringbone lampshade added warmth and interest. Charlene applied the same approach in her dining room. (That rug! Those bricks! LOVE.)

How to Add Character {Use Mirrors}

Recently-built abodes can be poky and dark. Maximise the light by adding in a collection of mirrors in different shapes and sizes to bounce the light around the room, a la rvk_loves and her blinkin’ beautiful kitchen.

How to Add Character {Create a Gallery Wall}

Gallery walls are a super-easy and affordable way to add oodles of charm. My new fave feature in our home is a gallery wall behind the TV in our bedroom. I’ve incorporated a Rifle Paper card, one of Lyra’s school photos, a stylish map and a couple of prints. It has brought the wall to life and camouflages the TV. If you are round my house any time soon I will probably drag you upstairs to show it off.

Did you move into a characterless space and if so, how have you managed to add character?

What’s been your history when it comes to homes? What’s your type? (Say in Dani Dyer cockney lilt).

Author: Lisa Soeno
Lisa is obsessed with all things interior design. And Cadbury buttons.
Follow Lisa on instagram @lisa.soeno
This post may include affiliate links.
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17 thoughts on “How to Add Character to a Characterless Space

  1. Hey Lisa!

    I loved this post. I’m the same, always drawn to the old romantic (read: expensive to maintain) properties but when our daughter came along we also ended up in a characterless new build. Over the past two years we’ve managed to create a home, we aren’t there yet but so much happier. Some things we did include adding wood (or wood effect) flooring, putting up some industrial style shelves and making sure the furnishings and light fittings feel like us. Adding shutters made a massive difference too and makes us appreciate our home so much more. Is it our forever home? Probably not – I can’t beat the location and I’m finally truly loving living here. But the one thing I’ve struggled to compromise on is no woodburner. I had two in my last house but firstly, there’s no space for one here and secondly, new build houses are just too damn hot! I can’t last forever without one so imagine we’ll move in a few years. However for now, with such a young family we are in the best place. And although my type (on paper!) is a romantic place in the country, sometimes it’s good to try new things, maybe it could grow into love!

    1. Hey Jess! Two log burners?! You were spoilt! They are the DREAM.

      Love the sound of all the touches you’ve added to your new build. X

    2. Hi Jess, I completely understand your point about the woodburner but have you looked at electric fires. They’ve come a really long way in recent years and can be a great focal point in a room and can add that warm glow on winter nights and you can have the ‘fire on’ without any heat!

  2. Hi Lisa
    Great post! We have lived in our characterless new-build for 3 years and so far have only decorated the kitchen / dining room. We painted it all in Farrow & Ball Strong White (which actually has more of a grey tint and that’s why we chose it) We have wallpaper on one wall. We bought an antique welsh dresser which is duck egg blue for the dining room which looks awesome and is definitely the statement piece. Just the rest of the house to do now which is all a very boring shade of magnolia!

    1. Just googled Strong White – such a nice shade! Also loving the sound of your ‘hero’ piece of furniture 💕

  3. We live in a mid 90s build and “on paper” it’s perfect: massive driveway, garage, good size garden, walking distance to playing fields, town and train….notice I haven’t mentioned the actual house?! It’s only on the 2nd attempt at thorough decorating that it’s getting some character.

    Obviously all ideas totes stolen from these pages and recommended insta accounts!

    1. Ha ha! the house itself is an afterthought…Yey that it’s getting some character. Decorating is such a long process isn’t it?! x

  4. Great post!

    We’re in a 1930s semi with lots of great quirky features, but what with extensions and loft conversions at various points in its history the original features have been lost in some of the rooms (the one that I’m most miffed about is the lack of fireplaces!)

    When we had the most recent extension done I was actually happy to discover that our budget meant retaining more of the original rear wall than had originally been planned – it allowed me to keep the built in cupboard that was one of the things I loved about the house when we saw it. Upstairs we have a selection of mostly white, mostly boxy rooms, and I’m slowly adding interest with paint, furniture and artwork – taking advantage of 1. My sister being an illustrator, 2. Some of the good inherited furniture and 3. Living within walking range of a great emmaus shop and the Annie Sloan shop.

    This week I’m doing a quick update to our en-suite, which is 100% not what I would have chosen. It involves a small amount of f&b vardo blue (I’ve only used half a tester pot!) a new mirror and I’m currently debating tile stickers.

    1. They got rid of the fireplaces?! Sacrilege!

      I know exactly what you mean about quirky little details like your built in cupboard. How nice that you got to keep it.

      Good luck with the en suite makeover! Exciting! X

  5. Great timing! I am in the process of selling a small Victorian terrace which has several cast iron fireplaces, still has the original doors, and picture rails and cornicing – and buying a 30 year old square house with a lot of space to fill.

    I have started to think about mood boarding and have a few ideas. I really like cornicing and would like to have this downstairs in the new house (just a very simple style) to help the rooms feel less square. As you have mentioned above – I would like to be bolder with colour, focus on adding texture to make rooms feel cosy, make sure rooms have a focal point (for the right reasons!).

    It’s going to take time, but I’m really looking forward to this challenge. As if I don’t already spend enough time on Pinterest and Instagram…

    1. Such an exciting challenge! What on earth did we do before Pinterest and Instagram?! Good luck with the move x

  6. I live in a granite house built in 1812. At times I feel like I’ve got a bit too much too much character.
    How I long for a flat wall to put wallpaper on, or anything which doesn’t need to be customised in some way to fit whichever awkward space (anyone know where I can buy freestanding wardrobes about 5 1/2 ft tall???).
    These are all great tips to stamp a bit of personality into whatever canvas you’re working with!

    1. Sarah O I had never thought about it this way! You’ve got the opposite problem to me 😂

      What about getting a kids’ wardrobe? They’re usually shorter than the average and you can get some lovely ones from La Redoute/Maisons du Monde/White Company x

  7. Loved this post. We’ve just moved into a mid-90s house which has very spacious rooms and lots of light, but definitely needs time and tweaking to make it feel like our own (and to get rid of all the slightly different shades of brown paint and carpet…) Love these ideas for putting your stamp on somewhere without a huge expense!

    1. Brown paint?!!!

      Sounds like your new home has loads of potential though.

      Yey, hope the post was helpful x

  8. Love this article! Been in a new build since November and love it, but have been trying to add character, as we moved from a cottage. Have used mirrors around the house but wo love trying the other ideas here. Thank you

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