When it comes to wall paneling ideas, there are many styles available to suit the age of your house and personal taste. Some incorporate a richer effect, such as hand-carved friezes and pilasters, others have a traditional aged and polished finish, and some, such as the Tudor linenfold, are highly decorative.
It is entirely personal, but a typical approach, just as with other wall decor ideas, would be to match the style of the paneling to the period of a house. Georgian houses, with their high ceilings, typically suit full-height paneling featuring simple rectangular shapes.
Houses dating from the 16th and 17th centuries will tend to favor paneling made up of smaller squares. A cottage, meanwhile, might suit plank and muntin walls, a technique that uses large oak beams as a frame with oak paneling in between. The Victorians typically opted for paneling at dado rail height in their houses.
Wall paneling ideas – 18 ways to enhance a wall
While wall paneling is often associated with period homes or traditional interiors, they are actually a really useful decor element for layering and adding texture to contemporary spaces, too. One of our favorite ways to make a home look expensive, wall paneling instantly elevates can be used in every room of the home, adding a depth and interest to the space. Painting paneling in dark colors, such as when decorating with green, adds a sophisticated aesthetic.
Below, we show you a whole range of wall paneling ideas to suit all room styles, purposes and sizes.
1. Introduce wood panels to a bathroom
Too much stone can feel cold and sterile – and marble is no exception. In this luxury bathroom, Fiona Barratt Interiors (opens in new tab) used wooden wall paneling to introduce warmth and deaden the echo of hard surfaces.
‘I also like to do marble half-walls with specialist plaster or other textured finishes above. The mix of materials helps break up the monotony of the stone,’ says founder Fiona Barratt-Campbell. 'Wall paneling is a great way add decorative definition. This is also a good resolution if rooms lack a focal point.'
2. Invest in a wall of paneling
Interior designer Veere Grenney (opens in new tab) created the ultimate luxury element for this serene coastal retreat – a bedroom storage wall complete with a contemporary open fireplace, which houses a real wood fire. ‘It comes into its own on stormy nights, when you’re relaxing indoors and looking out over the sand dunes,’ he says.
‘The surrounding wardrobes are disguised as wall paneling, so you’re not distracted by a series of heavy cupboards.’ The handle-free, painted-board doors are a modern variation on tongue and groove, in a cream finish that blends seamlessly with the calm, cozy décor. Something similar could be created by a joiner.
3. Mix mediums
‘Wallpapering is a great way to stop bathrooms feeling too sterile and for creating truly happy spaces, which I believe every bathroom should be,’ says Nicola Harding, owner of Nicola Harding & Co (opens in new tab).
Here the bath is positioned well away from the walls, offering protection for the beautiful wallpaper. If you’re still concerned apply Polyvine’s Decorator’s Varnish over wallpaper to prevent moisture ingress.
4. Give classic wall paneling a modern edge
In period properties, wall paneling ideas that match or complement the original style and architecture of the property are a wonderful way of marrying old with new. Alternatively, in a plain room that is lacking decorative details or any original architecture of its own, adding a paneled area is a clever way of bringing character to a featureless space.
Classic board and batten paneling is given a contemporary twist painted the same muted shade throughout, from floor to ceiling. Adding a modern statement piece of furniture in a bold, standout color will pop against the backdrop and looks striking styled up with artwork and colorful lamps.
5. Opt for practical paneling in high-traffic areas
Stair paneling ideas have a practical element in addition to their decorative effect. Wall paneling on the lower section of walls will protect plasterwork from scuffs and scrapes and using a wipe-clean paint finish means that fingerprints and marks that are inevitable in such a high-traffic area can be easily removed.
Using plain painted wall paneling on the lower section of wall offers scope for a more decorative treatment on the upper portion of wall space. Try a boldly patterned wallpaper to create visual interest that will draw the eye upwards, complemented by a colorful stair runner in a lively stripe.
6. Pretty-up paneling with decorative paintwork
Give plain white wall paneling a fancy twist by adding a repeat motif in a vibrant contrast color. Using a simple Moghul-style block stencil on plain areas of wall adds an ornamental element and will create a decorative backdrop that is easier on the eye than a busy wallpaper print.
Be sure to choose a practical paint finish for any paneled areas in the home. An eggshell or satin paint in a low-sheen finish is advisable, which is more durable than emulsion and can be easily wiped clean. Farrow & Ball recommend using their Estate Eggshell, a washable, water based satin that gives a soft low-shine finish on interior wood and metal. Alternatively, try Modern Eggshell for a mid-shine finish, or Full Gloss for an ultra glossy high-shine finish.
7. Keep it low-key with country-style cladding
Opt for simple tongue-and-groove paneling to create a more relaxed, country-style vibe. An easy option for a competent DIYer, tongue-and-groove paneling simply requires a batten framework on the wall as a fixing point, with timber panels simply slotting together and nailed in place.
Paneling makes a clever cover-up for walls that are less-than perfect and will conceal bumpy plasterwork or peeling paper. Finish off wall paneling by adding a slimline shelf trim on the top edge. A narrow ledge can be a lovely decorative feature styled up with treasured finds and favorite ornaments.
8. Try problem-solving paneling in small spaces
In bathrooms and downstairs powder room, where plumbing and unsightly pipework can pose a problem, wall paneling offers an easy solution. Awkwardly-positioned plumbing work can be concealed by a built-in framework that can be clad or paneled to offer a decorative top treatment.
Another advantage of boxing-in pipework in a bathroom is that it often creates ledges, shelves and cubbyholes that can be utilized for storage, creating space for storing towels, toiletries, loo rolls and cleaning kit.
9. Paint on architectural details
For a rustic, homespun feel, clad walls in irregular-width planks and paint on decorative details. Using the same mustard yellow for the faux dado rail border and the stencilled frieze helps to bring the space together.
10. Treat wall paneling like a piece of art
Without a focal point, such as a fireplace, modern rooms can lack character. One way to address this is by creating a feature wall of decorative paneling. Setting it in a wooden frame elevated the panels into artwork and the wood theme continues here in the choice of furniture.
11. Add detailing with paint
Dado rail paneling was traditionally used to protect the walls from chairs knocking against them, but there is an aesthetic at play element, too. The painted border here helps to create the illusion of further paneling detail without the expense of the real thing.
12. Create a super-sized headboard with paneling
Add an extra dimension of softness to a luxury bedroom by having a three-quarter height wall of fabric-backed panels behind the headboard, as shown in this scheme by Helen Green Design (opens in new tab). An additional bonus is the sound insulation it offers from the world outside.
13. Fake wall paneling to add instant character
Instead of the real thing, opt for a wallpaper idea such as this design by Andrew Martin (opens in new tab). The intricate grain details and clever use of shading create an authentic wood paneling look ideal for a more contemporary setting.
14. Create a contemporary feel with fluted paneling
Fluting is a trend that we've picked up on recently. It's often used in architecture to create texture and interest, and here it's been added as a partition wall to create a character feel within a modern dining room that's limited on architectural detailing. The warmth of the wood used for the paneling makes a minimalist decorating scheme instantly more welcoming, too.
15. Fix paneling widthways to exaggerate a room's proportions
Fitting wall paneling horizontally will make a room feel wider or longer, making it a great trick for tiny rooms, such as a small bathroom. Painting bathroom paneling ideas in a pale color will further emphasize the room's proportions.
If using wall paneling in a bathroom – or any space with lots of moisture in the air – choosing a material that can withstand the atmosphere is a must. Wood will warp, so should be avoided.
16. Make wall paneling the focal point
Wall paneling ideas can be a work of art in itself – and it needn't be solely architectural. Here, bespoke paneling made from wood is the accent wall of our dreams, created to dominate and set the tone for this living space.
17. Create a country feel with decorated wall paneling
If you are searching for decorating ideas for period homes, there's no doubt that wall paneling ideas will be high up on your wish list. Old properties tend to have uneven walls, which a skilled carpenter can regulate with a skilled approach to create the paneling. However, if you like your cottage's irregularities, hanging a wallpaper with a paneled effect can be an excellent compromise.
And if you choose one with an extra decorative detail, such as a floral motif, you will have the chocolate box effect that's so sought after.
18. Play with paneling in the bedroom
Paneling is a popular way to add character to your walls and there are plenty of techniques to try. Consider cladding half or three-quarters of the height of your walls and painting the wood in a contrasting color. Test out the shades in your room before committing, to see what they look like in different lights.
The paneling here is finished in Paint & Paper Library’s Blue Gum, which looks much brighter as light floods the space, complementing the headboard and curtains. The shiplap bedroom wall idea not only adds an interesting visual element but is practical, too, as it allows the wiring of the light and touchscreen below to be hidden and has created a shelf for pictures above.
Is paneling cheaper than drywall?
Wall paneling does not tend to be cheaper than drywall because of the careful trimming of the wood that you will need to do. And, unlike drywall, paneling isn't necessarily designed to be sound-proofed. Instead, paneling for walls is often purely decorative – and that's where its value lies.
Lisa is a freelance journalist who has written about interiors for more than 25 years and has worked on all the major homes titles, primarily Ideal Home, but also including Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors, Style at Home, Livingetc, Woman & Home, Easy Gardens and Good Homes magazines. Lisa writes about interior design and decor ideas for Homes & Gardens.
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