With the average age of Kiwi first-time house buyers having risen to 35, there has never been so many of us renting. But even if you have got on the ladder, the immediate dilemma you face is the same: how to create the cool, comfortable pad of your dreams that in no way resembles your student flat with its K-Mart flat packs and beer stains on the sofa.

So, what can you actually do to upgrade your living space, if you don’t have Kevin McCloud on speed dial and are not, as yet, a millionaire? We spoke to a number of interior experts and sought out their top tips to help first home buyers, apartment-dwellers, and those flatting who are looking to raise their game.

Take down those posters, throw out the paper lamp and follow The Speakeasy’s guide to turning your flat or first home into a space you actually want to be in. The first part in our five-part guide focuses on one of the most important rooms of all – the lounge.



Choosing your first home is one of the biggest decisions you will ever make. Picking an area, then finding the right sized house that will accommodate you and your family (or future family) in the coming years, and finally settling on a property, is a huge process. It’s daunting. It will be stressful, exhilarating, time consuming but most of all, it will be highly rewarding.

So you’ve settled on a house and are now ready to move in and make it home. The house is bare and needs to be furnished and decorated from top to bottom. You may know what you want your space to look like, but your wallet may not be there to support your vision. The best thing about buying your first house is being able to furnish and decorate it exactly how you want.  We want to take the hassle out of that by bringing you a bunch of tips and tricks that will help make your house a home but won’t break the bank in the process. In bringing you these top tips we sought out the advice of top Auckland interior designers and ran their tips past a couple that had just moved into their first home – Tom and Claire.

1) Plan ahead

The lounge is probably where you’ll spend the bulk of your budget, and outside of maybe the bedroom this is where you’re likely to spend most of your time. This is why both our interior design experts and our new home owners agree that it’s important to segment your purchases over multiple months. So where to begin? Expensive and time-consuming tasks such as decorating your very own home need careful planning and budgeting. You cannot simply dive in and ‘wing it’. Write down all the items you currently own, write down all the items you need, and write a wish-list of things you would love to own in the future. Start with the things you simply cannot live without: a place to sit, a small coffee or accent table, and a source of light.

Once you have your bases covered you should look at adding that big ticket item that most of us simply cannot live without – a television! Deciding which TV to buy isn’t always an easy decision so we’ll cover it in detail later in the article. Once you’ve got your TV sorted, we recommend checking out the Samsung Q9F if you truly want to make a statement, you can keep adding to your space with rugs and pillows, artwork, and accent chairs. Once your bases are covered, you can start splurging a little more on smaller accent pieces (but not the other way around). As one of our experts mentioned, “When you have a budget, one of the traps that people always fall into is buying things for the price, rather than buying things that are of a high quality. But if you buy good things, they will always be with you. If you buy the bad couch, for instance, you will always want to replace it as soon as you can.”

2) Accessorise well

There’s no way around it, good furniture is expensive. Now there are two approaches that you can take here. After consulting both our designers and couple we’ve settled on a simple rule that you can follow when decorating a lounge: When matching furniture together, look into what style the pieces: mixing sleek modern tables and Art Deco chairs, for example, is likely to clash. If you can’t drop money on furniture, this is where accessorising well really pays off. Building up a collection of objects that you love is where that ‘house becoming a home’ cliché becomes true. Whatever your living situation, we suggest investing in inexpensive cushions, side tables, and lighting fixtures. And while you’re at it you might want to think about creating a feature wall. Championing one wall and using lots of different size and style of images is a modern update that can add real character to a living room.

3) Maximise daylight

“Light and lighting is a really good investment that can really add to a space and be beautiful as an object in itself,” our experts suggested. Removing doors that separate the lounge from the rest of the house is an easy way to make the space feel bigger and more open-plan. Our designers also pointed out that it is often quite hard to do curtains in a way that doesn’t block most of the daylight, and first-time buyers usually have smaller spaces anyway. Instead, they suggest taking down curtains to get the best light into the living room and using simple but elegant blinds instead. Tom and Claire followed this advice, mentioning that the impact was immediate and that the room feels brighter, bigger, and more inviting as a result.

4) Buy plants – Lots of plants

One design motto that was met with a little trepidation from our first home couple was that you can never have too many plants. While our experts stressed that plants and flowers can brighten up a room and bring a space to life, our couple mentioned that they’d had mixed success with actually keeping them alive. If you are looking to add some life into your living room, then we suggest experimenting with different varieties of house plants that vary in style and shape. Some hardy, attractive, inexpensive houseplants include ivy, spider plant, aloe vera, rubber plant, sansevieria, zamioculcus zamifolia (‘zz plant’) and any succulents or cacti. And try growing your own herbs, too – it’s easy, cheap, adds greenery to your kitchen and jazzes up dinners. What’s not to love?

5) Declutter

Perhaps the strongest recommendation that we were given by the interior designers that we talked to is to try and “celebrate the nicest bits of your possessions rather than trying to fit everything in”. In other words, when it comes to making your living room pop, it’s often best to start from scratch and trade in all that junk that you collected as a student. It’s best to have a big – and ruthless – clear out before you try and transform a room. “Clutter always makes everything look less sophisticated.” Tom and Claire agreed that it’s important to think about upgrading your furniture and décor for some higher quality pieces as you’re now looking to settle into the space and lay down roots. Out with the old, in with the new we say.


We know the story, you’re done with Uni and hoped to own your first home by 25 but instead you’re stuck in a shoebox in Kingsland. But even if you’re dealing with typical renter’s woes—your landlord won’t let you paint, your kitchen’s older than dirt (or the colour of it)—there are ways to make your rental look and feel like home.

1) Layer as if there’s no tomorrow

It’s a dead giveaway that you’re renting if your living room is stark and bare and it looks like you just moved in, even if you’ve been calling your place home for years. Adding depth to the room through a picture on a wall, extra throws around the sofa, or even items stacked high on a cabinet. When staged the right way, it comes across as lived-in and charming, not cluttered and chaotic. “Textiles are the easiest way to make a space feel like your own,” mentioned one of our experts. “Scatter some cushions and drape a throw or even a sheepskin rug over a chair in living spaces.” Contrast the colour and pattern of your textiles for a fun, modern look.

2) Add extra storage with wall-mounted shelves

Floating shelves are the answer to your prayers. They’re easy to install, fit into a number of places (good for future moves!) and can hold anything from books to whatever else you want to store. In the living room, use them for knickknacks from your travels, candles, or framed art.

3) Buy items that can come with you to your next place

Sure, it’s tempting to buy a piece of furniture that fits exactly in your living room or bathroom, but the truth of the matter is, that piece might not work out in your new pad. The rule when decorating your living room especially is to save on bulkier items as they are harder to transport from one place to the next. In place of that, invest in one or two big items like a quality television or sound system that you’re likely to take with you.


A room’s focal point is its most emphasised feature. It’s the thing your eyes are naturally drawn to when you walk into the room. And everything around the focal point compliments it. In a living room, the focal point is usually the television – and this applies equally to first homes as it does to flats. As such, it’s important that you pick a TV that works for your home, that you can decorate around, and that you actually enjoy using.

While picture quality is still the most important element to consider when picking a TV, people are increasingly concerned with how the set fits with their room’s styling – a trend we really get behind. Here are the main points to consider when shopping for a new set, as well as the TVs best suited for your living room.

Things to think about before looking at TV’s

  1. How big should my TV be? For your lounge TV, a 50 to 65-inch screen will mean everyone gets a great view – or perhaps go even bigger for a more spectacular viewing experience. Ultimately, it’s all a matter of personal preference
  2. How far from the couch it should be. The easiest rule of thumb: multiply the diagonal size of your TV by two – that’s how many centimetres your TV should be from your couch
  3. Who will use it? The whole family or just yourself? The more people watching, the bigger the TV you’ll need
  4. What will you be using it for? Netflix? Watching the rugby? Gaming? Different TVs are suited for different purposes
  5. What devices will you be connecting up to your TV, and what ports do they use?
  6. What’s your budget?

Things to think about while choosing the TV

Now that you’ve gotten this far, it is important to point out that now is a great time to look at upgrading your TV as 2018’s models are largely much cheaper than the equivalent models from last year were when they came out, if that makes sense. Premium TV’s are now affordable for both first home buyers and people living in rented houses or flats. Here’s a few key considerations about the TV itself that should help you make your decision:

  • Contrast: Bright whites shouldn’t have any signs of green, pink or blue in them, while blacks should look solid and not washed out, grey, green or blue.
  • Colours: Look at how bright and solid they are; how noiseless their edges are; how ‘dotty’ richly saturated areas are and how natural skin looks, especially in dim scenes.
  • Fine detail: How much texture does the screen give? Does a tree look like a green lump, or can you see the individual leaves?
  • Edges: Check for ghosting, bright halos and jaggedness, especially around curves.
  • Motion: Check moving objects and quick camera pans for smearing or blurring, trailing, jerkiness and fizzing dotty noise.


Samsung’s flagship QLED ‘Q9F’ is an interior designers dream, combining the latest technology with sophisticated style. It sets new standards in a number of key display areas, works well as a gaming screen, is uniquely watchable in a typically bright living room environment, enjoys minimal intrusive cabling, and enjoys a gorgeous industrial design.

While there is a lot to like about this statement television, what makes it really stand out to us is that you can control what it does when it’s sitting idle. The Q9F provides you unprecedented control over how your TV looks, functions and performs, even when sitting idle – a wall mounted QLED’s Ambient Mode mimics that pattern behind it meaning that you don’t have to settle for a large black rectangle dominating your lounge. The price might be a downside for some, but as with any premium product, you get what you pay for.

The Q9F is available in 75″ and 65″ models.

The Samsung NU8000 is a premium 4K/HDR television offers seriously bright, colourful screens, and delivers some of the fancier aspects of the company’s high-end QLED’s but at a much more affordable price. The company never skimps on design, but the NU8000 is a particularly good looking TV. Thanks to it’s space-saving edge-LED array, it’s got a stylishly think profile from the side and has a near non-existent bezel means that it offers versatility when it comes to placing the TV in a living room.

The intuitive large screen TV has advanced smart browsing with voice control and offers the latest colour technology for enhanced 4K picture quality and pristine contrast. It’s voice activated controls, ‘SmartThings’ app, and sleek remote are also winning features. Being a mid-range TV it’s not faultless, and the edge-lit LED panel might be as issue for more discerning customers – though the vast majority of us won’t notice at all.

The NU8000 is available in four sizes up to an incredible 82″.

You can follow the rest of The Speakeasy’s five-part guides to turning your home or flat into a space you actually want to live in, in the ‘Spotlight’ section of our site.

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