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

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

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.

Read on to 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

Image credit: 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: 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. Keep it simple with Shaker

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

Image credit: Future Publishing 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.

4. Add grandeur with a Jacobean-style grid

Jacobean wall panelling idea in dark grey living room

Image credit: Future Publishing 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.

5. Panel over a structural feature

White living room with wooden panelling and hidden bookcase

Image credit: Future Publishing 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.

6. Panel up to a picture rail to add height

bedroom with wooden panelling painted green

Image credit: Future Publishing PLC/ Simon Whitmore


7. Protect walls with panels at dado height

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

Image credit: Future Publishing 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.

8. Recreate cabin cladding

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

Image credit: Future Publishing 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.

9. Incorporate a peg rail

White home office wall panelling idea with peg rail

Image credit: 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.

10. 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.

11. Fake it with wallpaper

light grey wall panelled wallpaper

When you want wood panelling without the cost or work involved, you can fake it altogether with a clever printed wallpaper. 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.

With the ease of wallpaper you can opt for a more elaborate wood panelling design, one that adds interest with ornate detailing.

12. 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.

13. 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.’

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

grey wall panelling on walls in navy blue kitchen

Image credit: Future Publishing 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.

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

White barn-style living room with wood panelling

Image credit: 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.

16. Paint half-wall panelling a light colour

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

Image credit: 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.

17. Make a feature wall out of reclaimed wood

Feature wall panelling idea in kitchen

Image credit: Future Publishing 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.

18. Paint panelling in blush pink for a modern twist

Pale pink wall panelling behind home office desk

Image credit: 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.

19. Frame a large window with panels

White bathroom with green wall panelling idea at half height

Image credit: 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.

20. Mix it up

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

Image credit: Future Publishing 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.

21. Incorporate the bath

neutral bathroom with wood panelling stone splash back and round mirror

Image credit: Future Publishing 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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