Bathroom paneling ideas – 10 innovative ways to dress your walls

Create an elegant space for luxuriating with these bathroom paneling ideas

bathroom paneling ideas
(Image credit: Catchpole & Rye/Drummonds/BC Designs)

Bringing with it centuries of history, bathroom paneling ideas offer a straightforward way to instantly elevate your bathroom's design. Whether laid in tongue and groove, square panels or shiplap, bathroom paneling can work to exaggerate the size of your home's smallest room, as well as adding interest and warmth.

Bathroom paneling is the perfect partner for a whole host of bathroom ideas, from traditional and high-end, to rustic, vintage or even beach themed decor. Go full height and embrace period charm, or opt for the paneling at wainscotting height –up to the dado rail – and pair with patterned wallpaper for a more contemporary edge. 

‘Adding wood paneling to a bathroom is a great way of adding texture and color, which in turn can add a warmth to what otherwise can be quite a clinical and cold room,’ explains Barrie Cutchie, designer at BC Designs.

Bathroom paneling ideas

Historically, paneling ideas for walls were a functional addition to the home, a way to help insulate wattle-and-daub or brick walls against the chill. However, as with all functional additions to the home, it quickly became a decorative feature too, with carving and patterned layering coming to the fore. These earlier additions were often made of dark wood, typically oak, and impose the grandeur you would expect from a stately home. For the majority of us, this look does not suit our more humble properties, and if it does, it is unlikely to suit our bathrooms.

Modern bathroom wall paneling is usually less ornate than historic examples, typically made from MDF or other affordable woods. 'MDF is ideal for bathroom paneling as it does not expand and contract anything like as much as softwood does so none of the endless redecoration every time the heating is switched on in the fall,' advises Jon Madeley, founder of The English Paneling Company. 'It is crucial, however, that a high quality board is used and it must be moisture resistant.' 

While modern homeowners typically plump for bathroom wall paneling ideas for their aesthetic look, the bathroom paneling also still bring with it insulating properties . 'Bathroom paneling can be fixed to battens and the space between insulated (always incorporate a vapour barrier on the warm side). This may be particularly useful in an older house with solid walls as even 25mm of insulation can make a dramatic difference to the warmth of a room,' continues Jon.

1. Opt for classic tongue and grove for an elegant look

white paneling in bathroom with blue and white striped wallpaper and chequerboard tiles

(Image credit: Bc Designs)

Tongue and groove paneling is the classic choice when considering bathroom paneling ideas. Installed as individual panels, they get their name from the fact that each plank features a the small tongue that fits into a corresponding groove on the next plank. Whether installed to full-height or to wainscotting height and paired with paint, wallpaper or tiles, bathroom paneling offers an affordable way to decorate your space while also adding warmth and character to your bathroom. Laid in vertical panels it elongates a room, emphasising its height, yet if laid horizontally it lengths the space, ideal for pairing with other small bathroom ideas or powder rooms ideas.

2. Create a geometric feature with square paneling

square gray paneling in bathroom with rolltop bath and window

(Image credit: Future/Polly Eltes)

Square panels are another popular choice of bathroom paneling ideas, creating an elegant focal point. Unlike tongue and groove, they are best kept to one or two feature walls or used exclusively below the dado rail as, if used on all four walls can feel overwhelming and create a claustrophobic atmosphere in smaller rooms. Traditionally, square paneling was created as wooden panels that would be attached to the wall, however, the look can equally be achieve by laying strips of timber in a square pattern. 

'It is also important to consider your paneling color and style, and how you will contrast it. For example, if you are going with a darker or busier wallpaper or paint , contrast it with simple and clean white tongue and groove. Alternatively, if you are keeping the walls bare and white, you can have a bit more fun with intricate paneling, such as square paneling designs – you could even paint the trim a contrasting color,' says Jennifer Markowitz, founder at JNR Designs.

3. Pair with wallpaper for photo frame look

Gunter and Co Home Master Bath

(Image credit: Future)

Combining bathroom paneling ideas with wallpaper is a great way to add sophistication to a bathroom – and there are so many different wallpaper ideas to choose from. Here, the gaps in the paneling have been infilled with wallpaper to create integrated works of art. 

For a more minimalist bathroom look while still embracing the elegance of paneling, mouldings are also a great option that can also be paired with wallpaper for the same framed effect.

4. Use white paneling for a serene space

country bathroom ideas

(Image credit: Catchpole & Rye)

White bathroom ideas instantly create a space of serenity and paneling is a great way to achieve this look. Pairing rustic shiplap panels on walls and ceiling with sophisticated square paneling below the dado rail creates an elegant yet laid-back look that is perfect for relaxing. Opting for white bathroom paneling ideas also provide a great way to increase natural light in the bathroom too.

5. Use bathroom paneling ideas to maximize small spaces

small bathroom painted in a dark purple color

(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

Bathroom paneling ideas are perfect for small bathrooms as they can work to emphasise the room's proportions. To do this, try pairing different types of paneling on different walls. Use square paneling on the room's shortest walls to exaggerate their length, then opt for vertical tongue and groove paneling on the room's longer wall's to emphasize the room's height. 

The illusion continues with paint. Dark colors are usually a no-no for small spaces, however, when used correctly they can create a cozy atmosphere that's perfect for luxuriating.

Paint paneling a warm aubergine shade, such as Farrow & Ball's Brinjal to create an intimate environment within a cottage space, then balance with a lighter shade above the picture rail which will brighten the room and draw the eye upwards, exaggerating the room's height. 

6. Divide a bold print with bathroom paneling

Drummonds sink with Zuber wallpaper

(Image credit: Drummonds)

Wainscoting is a favorite technique to pair with other bathroom paneling ideas. Installed below the dado rail, it provides texture and character that can be complemented with patterned tiles or wallpaper. Paneling is the perfect partner for decorative wallpapers enabling you to enjoy a bold print without it overwhelming the room. 

'Wall paneling is a hot trend at the moment and it’s easy to see why – it’s a modern, easy to care for stylish wall covering with a wide choice of different styles and periods,' says James Lentaigne, creative director at Drummonds. 'Paneling is a simple and relatively inexpensive way to create a statement look in a bathroom and can be re-painted at regular intervals to create a different feel. From a practical point of view, it also has the benefit of hiding a multitude of sins – like uneven walls and unsightly pipework. It's also much easier to install than bathroom tiles.'

7. Plan a place to perch with paneling and a window seat

country bathroom with blue and white blind and wallpaper

(Image credit: Warner House)

You wouldn’t think twice about wallpapering a bedroom or living room, so why not the bathroom? The injection of pattern can completely reinvent a tired space. For classic elegance, try embracing the chinoiserie trend – with a sinuous design in blue and white, it oozes historic charm. Pair with traditional square bathroom paneling ideas in a warm, yet neutral color palette to prevent the print from overwhelming the space. 

'Typically, paneling is painted or stained the same color as the other architectural trim in the space such as the crown, base mold, chair rail, door and window casings. This provides design continuity in the room and provides a nice backdrop to do something creative “above the chair rail” like installing a beautiful wallcovering or painting an interesting color,' advises Gail Jamentz, principal at Soul Interiors Design.

8. Embrace the rustic bathroom-look with reclaimed weatherboard paneling

rustic weatherboard paneling in bathroom iwht vintage sink and reclaimed dresser

(Image credit: Future/Brent Darby)

While not a traditional choice for paneling, bathroom paneling made from reclaimed wood is perfect for country bathroom ideas, it is also a great way to increase the sustainability credentials of your bathroom design. It is also perfect if you're trying to incorporate beach bathroom decor into your scheme.

When adding bathroom paneling ideas to your space, it is important to remember that the wood needs to be treated with a primer, sealant and suitable glue in order to prevent the paneling warping or rotting due to the moisture levels in the room. 'While these panels are water resistant enough to be used in bathrooms, they are not totally waterproof and so should not be used in shower enclosures,' says Period Living editor Melanie Griffiths. If you're looking for wall-coverings for shower enclosures. 

For a more waterproof wall-covering for your shower enclosure, shower tiles ideas are a much better option. 

9. Add full length panels for a space inspired by history

full length purple panels in bathroom with ceramic sink and WC

(Image credit: Heidi Caillier)

Bathroom paneling ideas are a quick and affordable way to get a high-end look in your bathroom. Saving on wall coverings can give you the opportunity to splash-out on the details that will really make the space sing, like this marble washstand in a bathroom designed by Heidi Caillier. Marble bathroom ideas are a great way to give your bathroom the luxury-look.

'I love paneling for powder rooms and smaller bathrooms, it can add so much design interest with such little budget and time,' says Georgia Zikas, Founder at Georgia Zikas Design. 'Consider paneling that is going to complement the size and height of your room, and don't be afraid to have fun with colors and styles. It doesn't always have to be white or cream. This is a great opportunity to have fun with a contrasting color in your overall design scheme that you can use in a bigger way, which will feel less of a commitment than say, painting your entire kitchen that color!'

10. Invest in exposed wood panels for spa-like atmosphere

exposed wood paneling in bathroom above sink with cabinet

(Image credit: Neptune)

Evoke the serenity of the natural world by incorporating raw materials into your design. Unpainted wooden bathroom paneling ideas brings natural beauty to the space, evoking a spa-like ambience that is perfect for pairing with the rustic edge created by farmhouse bathroom ideas

'Many of our clients seek to introduce natural elements into their homes from living plants and natural lighting, to wood paneling or stone flooring. This "biophilic" approach to design is more than just an aesthetic choice; connecting with natural materials supports our mental and physical well-being,' recommends Patrick Planeta of Planeta Design Group'If you prefer a more natural look for the paneling, stain and seal with a marine sealant for a watertight finish.'

Can I waterproof paneling?

Yes, you can waterproof paneling so that it can be used to achieve your bathroom paneling ideas. However this needs to be considered from the outset rather than just applying a sealant at the end.

'Adding wood paneling to a bathroom is a great way of adding texture and color, which in turn can add a warmth to what otherwise can be quite a clinical and cold room. Wood paneling works well as a wallcovering on any walls that do not come into direct contact with water, so the shower area is out. It is also important to invest in the right glue; one that is suitable for both interior and exterior use and is capable of dealing with the moisture and humidity changes that occur in the bathroom,' advises BC Design's Barry Cutchie. 

What can I put on my bathroom walls instead of tiles?

You can put wall paneling on your bathroom walls instead of tiles, plus the finished look will be a lot more high-end for a fraction of the cost. 

'Tiles are often very expensive to purchase and once installed cannot really be altered if fashion changes or if you simply fancy a change – after spending all that money you feel obliged to live with them come what may! A bathroom with paneling on the other hand can be radically transformed with a lick of paint. It is also usually much cheaper per square metre than tiles - especially the designer brands,' says Jon Madeley, founder at The English Paneling Company.

Holly Reaney
Content Editor and Sub-editor

Having graduated with a first class degree in English Literature, Holly started her career as a features writer and sub-editor at Period Living magazine, Homes & Gardens' sister title. Working on Period Living brought with it insight into the complexities of owning and caring for period homes, from interior decorating through to choosing the right windows and the challenges of extending. This has led to a passion for traditional interiors, particularly the country-look. Writing for the Homes & Gardens website as a content editor, alongside regular features for Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors magazines, has enabled her to broaden her writing to incorporate her interests in gardening, wildlife and nature.