Wall panelling ideas to add character, cover uneven walls and insulate any room

Ways to use architectural panels to add country charm with tongue and groove or elude to grandeur with Jacobean panelling
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  • If you’re after a country house look or hoping to give a space more traditional charm, wall panelling or cladding is a great way to update a room. Adding wall panelling is a simple way to bring architectural shape to featureless rooms, while protecting walls from the general wear and tear of family life – making it as practical as it is stylish.

    In recent months the trend for wall panelling has gone stratospheric. With homeowners becoming bolder with their DIY and decorating projects.

    Wall Panelling Ideas

    Available in a wide range of mouldings, from subtle tongue and groove to grand period designs, there’s a panelling style to suit every bathroom, living room, kitchen… basically any room you can think of.

    Not only that, panelling is an ideal way to provide additional insulation, cover uneven walls – and even hide radiators or fireplaces. Discover our favourite wall panelling ideas, plus some tips on how to fit panelling in your home.

    1. Choose ribbed panelling that’s decadently detailed

    Black ribbed wall panelling behind grey freestanding bath

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Dominic Blackmore

    Mixing ornate ribbed and portrait panels makes the walls stand out. Perfect for spaces where you literally want to feel as if they’re closing in on you, for a cosy cocooning feel. Paint it dark grey, emerald green or navy – all on trend right now.

    2. Consider panelling as an alternative to tiles

    Wall panelling idea in monochrome bathroom

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Oliver Gordon

    Panelling is a great way to make a statement in a bathroom instead of tiles, and you can top it with a narrow shelf to provide storage for toiletries or candles that will make bath times all the more relaxing.

    But surely wood panelling will warp in a steamy bathroom? Not if you get a suitable material. ‘Panelling with a half-round bead profile can be made on moisture-resistant MDF sheeting,’ says Joan Madeley, co-founder of The English Panelling Company. ‘It looks like the real thing after painting, and is perfect for boxing in pipeworks.’

    3. Create a French cane room divider

    French cane panelled screen behind bed

    Image Credit: The White Company

    For a breezy, boho luxe look, back panelling with cane webbing. It works as a room divider to conceal an open wardrobe or it’ll create a statement feature in place of a headboard. A clear oil or varnish on a light wood panel complements the rattan finishes and white linens, but for a different decorative effect, they could be given a dark stain or painted black. Before stapling the webbing, make sure it is soaked in water first to make it pliable. If the panel can be seen from both sides, repeat the panel frame on the back for a neat finish

    4. Cheat with a wood panel wallpaper

    Faux panelled wallpaper in kitchen dining area

    Image credit: I Love Wallpaper

    When you want wood panelling without the cost or work involved, you can fake it altogether with a clever printed wallpaper. Slim slatted wall panels instantly conjure up a minimalist, luxe look but the pre-made panels come with a hefty price tag. Modern designs enable you to get the look without having to do the DIY involved, meaning walls are in immaculate condition – aside from a coat of wallpaper paste.

    The versatile wallpaper can be used to create a stand-out feature wall, as a central wall panel to frame furniture or a fireplace, or as a half-height wall in living rooms and bedrooms.

    Buy now: Contemporary Wood Slat in Light Oak, £22 per roll, I Love Wallpaper

    5. Incorporate open shelving into panelling

    Panelling and open shelving in green traditional style kitchen

    Image Credit: John Lewis & Partners, all from a selection of the ANYDAY range

    If you’d rather not have kitchen cabinets on the wall but you still need the storage, panelling will echo the traditional detailing of a Shaker kitchen without closing up the space with a cupboard. Painting the wall and shelving in the same colour as the bottom cabinets will create a seamless finish, also allowing the shelves and peg rails to almost disappear. An earthy green base will showcase colourful mugs and bowls.

    6. Immerse the room in one colour

    claret living room wall panelling

    Image Credit: Earthborn, woodwork painted in Nutkin Eggshell No 17, Country Homes & Interiors range

    If you’re going wall to wall in one colour, the addition of panelling will create an instant lift by creating light and shade on what would have been a flat wall. By painting all of the woodwork in the same colour, from skirting to architrave and the shutters in the same colour, it means come the night time, it will create a completely cocooning immersive atmosphere with this deliciously warm colour.

    7. Tap into rustic beauty

    Rustic bedroom wall panelling

    Image credit: Future PLC

    Embrace the soothing properties of this natural material. Whether you choose to clad your walls with reclaimed timber or new wood, panelled walls are a great way to boost a flat space. A shiplap wall behind the bed is a striking alternative to a statement headboard. The natural patina and silvered tones of antiqued or reclaimed boards creates a characterful, rough luxe finish.

    8. Use panelling in place of a headboard

    Grey panelled headboard in purple bedroom

    Image Credit: Earthborn, panelling painted in Scuttle Eggshell No 17; walls painted in Dried Petals Claypaint, Country Homes & Interiors range

    Looking for an upgrade for a divan bed? Take a twist on the traditional wooden headboard with a striking panelled section. Make it a super-sized statement by taking the panelled piece right up to the ceiling. Painting the wood in a deep charcoal not only helps envelop the sleeping space, it gives a smart finish worthy of a boutique hotel.

    Pile up the back of the bed with cushions for a comfortable place to rest your head when it comes to the Sunday lie-in.

    9. Create a serene dining space

    Pink panelled dining room

    Image credit: Habitat, Mickey Rattan pair of dining chairs, £140; Elmley shade, £60, Zela New Century Round Dining Table, £180

    A space of contrasts, the soft pink colour on the wall instantly gives this minimalist dining space more warmth. Using a shade that’s a level up from neutral creates a cosy counter point to the sleek flooring and cool grey wall opposite.

    The smart panelling, sleek Scandi dining table and black framed legs bring a chic element to the room whilst the blush tones work perfectly with the natural materials of the rattan dining chairs, pendant shades and organic finishes of the wobbly ceramics.

    10. Marry old with new

    wooden bathroom vanity unit  green wall panelling and starburst floor tiles

    Image credit: Future PLC/ David Giles

    Add timeless touches to create a vintage look with your wall panelling. Wall-to-wall white is the base note for this bathroom, but it’s the half-painted chalky blue panelling that gives it its edge. Juxtapose shabby chic features with black modern accessories. A gold baroque-style mirror adds a hint of vintage charm.

    11. Keep it simple with Shaker

    White home office with wall panelling behind wooden and black metal desk and chair

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Dominic Blackmore

    Ideal for small rooms, this classic, unfussy design will subtly smarten up any space. It’s great for making white rooms look less bland and won’t steal the limelight away from any statement furniture.

    These strips of 4 inch MDF have been butted up to make rectangles, and pinned to the wall before painting. You could also build out to create a display ledge or bookshelf.

    12. Add grandeur with a Jacobean-style grid

    Jacobean wall panelling idea in dark grey living room

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Dominic Blackmore

    This large-scale grid adds impact when used over the full height of a wall. It’s a historic style, but simple enough for modern spaces, too. Paint it in a flat eggshell, continued onto the skirting, and match it to your floor for an immersive effect.

    Adding beading onto the edge of the panelling creates an elegant feel. Here, we’ve used 6 x 1inch panel framing with inset quadrants of around 40 x 40cm.

    13. Panel over a structural feature

    White living room with wooden panelling and hidden bookcase

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Dominic Blackmore

    Clad an unused chimney breast by building out a frame, and covering it in two styles of panelling. Dividing the panels at dado height will provide a small ledge for a display.

    Here, we’ve used panels measuring around 50 x 50cm, created by attaching strips of 2 x 1in timber. The dado shelf is in 2 x 1in timber with a small moulding attached. Below the dado, we’ve added 2 x 1inch timber with 2 inch gaps.

    14. Panel up to a picture rail to add height

    bedroom with wooden panelling painted green

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Simon Whitmore

    Use wall panelling on one feature wall to create a ledge for display bedroom knick knacks. Taking the height up to an existing picture rail helps to seamlessly transition the design into the decor, whether there’s a natural break. Enhance the look with a splash of colour, in this green bedroom idea the use of a statement hue helps to highlight the wall panelling.

    15. Protect walls with panels at dado height

    Blue wall panelling in dining room with bleached wood table and chairs

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Dominic Blackmore

    This style is practical in hallways, where walls can get knocked in passing, and in dining rooms, where pushed-back chairs hit the wall. Plus, as it only covers the lower third of the wall, it won’t dominate.

    Create the perfect backdrop by painting the walls, shutters, panelling and architrave in the same colour. Consider a striking Dining room colour scheme, to add life with bold, beautiful colour.

    16. Recreate cabin cladding

    Wood panelling feature wall behind bed in bedroom with grey curtains and blue bedding

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Dominic Blackmore

    Swap a headboard for the Scandi-style simplicity of paint-washed pine planks, fixed vertically behind the bed. They’ll look great paired with a modern platform bed and linen bedding. Sand any rough knots in the wood, and protect with matt varnish. Here, raw pine 6 x 1in tongue-and-groove panels are nailed to wall batons.

    17. Incorporate a peg rail

    White home office wall panelling idea with peg rail

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Simon Whitmore

    The style of panelling in this study is the easiest to achieve. All it involves are attaching a few strips of wood to the walls to create box shapes and painting everything the same shade.

    A horizontal piece of wood provides a perfect opportunity to incorporate a peg rail as the wall has been reinforced. It’s a great way to sneak in a little extra storage for hanging coats or other bits and pieces.

    18. Cheat wall panelling with a head board

    Wall panelling headboard in white coastal-style bedroom

    Image credit: Chris Snook

    If you live in rented accommodation or aren’t ready to commit to wood panelling in your room, you can always fake it with a headboard like in this simple white bedroom idea. This bleached rustic design is far wider than the bed and adds an extra layer of texture and colour to this room.

    However, what is even handier is you can easily attach accessories to it, without permanent damage to your walls.

    19. Add wood-effect tiles instead

    Wood-effect tiled splashback panel in rustic grey bathroom

    Image credit: Future Publishing PLC/ Polly Eltes

    At first glance, this modern panelling looks like wood – but it is, in fact, porcelain. Advanced manufacturing techniques make it possible to create super-realistic tiles with the fine detail and texture of wood, and without the concerns about warping in a bathroom.

    Running them horizontally and matching them to the floor tricks the eye into thinking the room is wider than it is. However, it can sometimes make a ceiling feel lower, so be careful about using it in a small room.

    20. Add character to a room devoid of features

    Jacobean wood panels painted taupe in neutral dining room

    Image credit: Future Publishing PLC/ Alun Callender

    Here, Jacobean-style panelling adds some period drama to a dining room. It’s full of character and a little more formal than tongue and groove. Run the panels only a third of the way up the wall to make a ceiling seem higher.

    ‘Panelling looks at its best if it is one-third or two-thirds of the way up the wall, or full height,’ says Jon Madeley, co-founder of The English Panelling Company. ‘If panelling runs only half-way up the wall it can run the risk of making the ceiling look lower than it is.’

    21. Use wide floor-to-ceiling wall panelling for a contemporary look

    grey wall panelling on walls in navy blue kitchen

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Paul Raeside

    Panelling is a great way to add character to a modern kitchen. The wide tongue and groove panels give this room a polished contemporary look.

    Full wall panelling is great if you are looking to cover up uneven walls. It also works a treat here in disguising the pantry door.

    22. Use white tongue-and-groove panels for a coastal look

    White barn-style living room with wood panelling

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Polly Eltes

    Whitewashed panels like this summon images of seaside beach huts. The thin panels crisscrossing over the walls and ceiling give the room a rustic appeal which can be easily maintained with just a lick of paint. It also works wonders at bouncing the light around a room.

    23. Paint half-wall panelling a light colour

    Hallway wall panelling painted in grey with boot rack and wall hooks

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Polly Eltes

    As we’ve mentioned, panelling half a wall can run the risk of making a ceiling look smaller than it is. Avoid this by painting the panels in a pale shade such as this grey, but keep it slightly darker than the wall.

    Make any radiators or pipe work blend in by painting in the same shade as the panelling, to avoid detracting from the panelling itself.

    24. Make a feature wall out of reclaimed wood

    Feature wall panelling idea in kitchen

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Polly Eltes

    Reclaimed wood can be a gorgeously eco-friendly way to create a feature wall in a kitchen. It can be a little more expensive than other forms of tongue-and-groove panelling, if you purchase it from a specialist.

    However, if you are willing to do a bit of rummaging at a salvage yard and put in a little elbow grease with a saw and sand paper, it could be a great way to score serious style points on a budget.

    25. Paint panelling in blush pink for a modern twist

    Pale pink wall panelling behind home office desk

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Dominic Blackmore

    Tongue-and-groove wall panels are perfect for painting in a whole range of colours. The sky is the limit on your colour choice, but on-trend options include pale pink and dark charcoal grey.

    If you’re considering panelling as a DIY project, these boards are very easy to put up. As the name suggests the boards are designed to slot together and are ‘secret nailed’ to supporting patterns.

    The newer lookalike versions consist of sheets of MDF with the v-joint profile already routed. They’re stable and can even be fitted to a wall that’s not perfectly flat.

    26. Frame a large window with panels

    White bathroom with green wall panelling idea at half height

    Image credit: Future PLC/ David Giles

    A large window shouldn’t get in the way of adding wall panelling in your bathroom. Jacobean style panels do a great job of mimicking the shape of the window and framing it.

    Faking the panel look is easier than it looks – simply use thin strips of MDF to create a grid. Space the strips out as close together or far apart to achieve the size of panel you’re going for and paint in one colour to achieve the look.

    27. Mix it up

    corner of a country living room with wall panelling and a leather armchair

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Polly Eltes

    Add further character to walls by mixing up wood panel finishes, from top to bottom. This charming country living room captivates with a fusion of fixed vertically planks on the lower potion of the wall, with a wider set Jacobean-style grid above. The decide adds interest and height to the lower level ceiling, perfect as for a small living room idea in a country cottage.

    28. Incorporate the bath

    neutral bathroom with wood panelling stone splash back and round mirror

    Image credit: Future PLC/ Brent Darby

    Looking for a stylish bath panel idea? Consider this smart way of seamlessly incorporating the bath into the surrounding wood panelling. The dado-height wood panelling (seen reflected in the stylish round mirror) is echoed by the bath panel which helps to unify and define all surfaces, the panelling is even channelled on the cupboard doors for further effect.

    Wall panelling – everything you need to know

    What are the benefits of panelling?

    Besides looking fabulous, panelling is a quick-fix solution for older walls in less-than-perfect condition. As long as the plaster isn’t blown, and you’ve dealt with any damp, panelling can be popped right over existing walls for an instant neat finish. In the bathroom it makes a warmer alternative to tiles.

    Does wall panelling have to be made from MDF?

    Wood is the traditional material used for wall panels but if you’re going for a more modern painted finish, MDF is much better value and is actually a very stable board. In high-moisture environments, like bathrooms, it’s essential to use Moisture Resistant (MR) MDF.

    Proficiently painted with an eggshell finish, it will cope admirably with splashes, but not total immersion, so don’t use it in the shower.

    Can I install wall panelling myself?

    It depends on ability but there are plenty of panelling kits designed specifically for DIYers. These tend to be MDF-based (solid timber requires professional skills/ tools) and can be simply glued onto the walls using a ‘No Nails’ type adhesive.

    Things can get complicated if there are tricky alcoves and windows to work around, so it may be worth hiring a local carpenter or handyman to ensure smart results – use Rated People to find local trades.


    Image credit: Future Publishing PLC/ Brent Darby

    What height should wall panelling be?

    The top of the panelling should sit either a third or two-thirds of the way up the wall. Dividing the wall in half can make the ceilings fell lower. do work with existing architectural features – running panelling up to a picture rail is very effective – and think about the height of windows and sanitary ware. Don’t forget to include access panels to any isolation valves or cisterns for plumbing maintenance.

    How do I make DIY wall panelling look professional?

    Most panelling specialists supply matching dado rails, which can be used to hide a multitude of levelling sins, leaving a crisp connection between panelling and wall. Installing skirting over the top of panelling will do the same at floor level.

    How do I paint wall panelling?

    Depending on the style of panelling, it is usually best to paint it all in one colour, especially if you have used MDF pieces, to make the whole wall look like one piece of panelling.

    Additional words: Nicky Phillips

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