Wall paneling ideas – the best designs to transform your interior whatever your style

Wooden wall paneling ideas to wake up your walls and expert advice on how to get it right

Wall paneling ideas - green painted paneling
(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

Wall paneling ideas aren't just for traditional country manors anymore but depending on the style picked, paneling can look fabulous in any interior setting, from period hallways and tiny downstairs powder rooms to modern living rooms and retro dining rooms. 

If you're after living room ideas, paneling is proving incredibly popular, providing a cozy and cocooning feeling in the room we use most often to unwind in at the end of a long day. Paneling is also well-loved in bathrooms and powder rooms, creating a bit of a barrier between splashes and the walls as well as creating a sophisticated backdrop in home offices.

Working in both residential and commercial design, interior designer Céline Erlam, co-owner of Indie & Co (opens in new tab). an interior design studio based in London that specializes in creating calm, natural and understated interiors, tells us how to get paneling just right at home, whatever style that might be. ‘When we design a home, particularly in England, one design element that’s often considered is paneling and it’s something that can be designed by the architect or by the interior designer,’ says Céline. ‘We love installing or enhancing paneling by either painting it in a color and/or adding wallpaper above it.'

Inspiring wall paneling ideas to add interest to any room

1. CONSIDER THE ERA OF THE HOUSE

A bathroom with New England paneling on walls and ceiling

(Image credit: Katie Charlotte c/o Cortney Bishop Design)

Although wall paneling is used throughout old and new homes, it's worth considering the era of your property before you decide on a style as some designs suit different architecture periods better than others. Modern homes tend to look great with simpler and more contemporary paneling designs as well as designs that fill the whole wall from floor to ceiling, creating the feeling of extra height. While Victorian and Georgian homes can take grander styles, wooden walls and paneling that just takes up the lower half of the wall.

'When thinking about designing paneling. It doesn’t matter what period your property is from, but It's important to do your research so you can ideally match the design of the paneling in line with the period of the house if you want something sympathetic,' explains Céline. 'This is always a key consideration in our projects at Indie & Co. as we want to be as authentic and as sympathetic as possible to the original architecture of the building.'

'But paneling can also work in modern homes, I would just keep it simple, and I would probably start with a traditional design and pair it back,' she adds. 'There are many useful articles online or I have two books I often look at; How to Read Houses (opens in new tab)by Will Jones and The Interior Design Handbook (opens in new tab) by Frida Ramstedt.' 

2. USE EXISTING PANELING

a bathroom with green wainscot panels and a cactus print wallpaper

(Image credit: Polly Wreford)

If you're lucky enough to already have traditional paneling in your home and you want to keep it, then it's worth copying the style if you want to continue it into other rooms. You can update original paneling in fun, contemporary colors or if it's just on the lower half of the wall, perk up the rest of the room with vibrant wallpaper ideas. Though if your interior paneling is original and in good condition, it's probably better to preserve it than paint over it.

'Use existing paneling and replicate it in other areas of the house - it can be a clever way to bring in harmony and continuity throughout the home, helping to connect different spaces,' says Céline. 'However, at the same time, there is no need to be a slave to it; just because you've decided to go for paneling in the hallway doesn't mean you need to continue it in the living room if it doesn't work with your scheme.'

3. LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION

a panelled wall section housing a bathroom's drainage pipes

(Image credit: Lisa Cunnane c/o Studio Hanson)

As well as era, certain rooms suit different paneling styles better than other. Traditionally, entrances and entertaining spaces had more ornate paneling ideas while the tucked away rooms like bathrooms had less fancy detailing, but that doesn't mean bathroom wall panel ideas lack substance! Intricate panel designs tend to suit more neutral, classic shades while modern styles can get away with more modern hues.

'For example, the hallway and living room are more likely to have grander or more sophisticated style paneling, and this would have most likely come down to a status thing; these were the rooms where guests were received,' explains Céline. 'Whereas a powder room or bathroom might suit simpler and more modest styles, so are better suited to a tongue and groove design.'

4. PICK WAINSCOTING IN HIGH TRAFFIC AREAS

staircase paneling ideas green hallway

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Wainscoting is paneling just on the lower half of the wall and it works particularly well in high traffic areas like entrance halls and for powder room ideas, plus you get to play around with color and wallpaper more, either sticking to the same tones or mixing it up a bit.

'Wainscoting over fully paneled walls works particularly well in hallways and powder rooms as a way to protect the walls from scuffs and marks,' says Céline. 'Usually painted in a more durable grade of paint such as eggshell - we like to use intelligent finishes - which are easily wipeable so easier to clean.'

5. PLAY WITH COLOR

a basin with three quarter paneling behind it

(Image credit: James Merrell)

Paneling creates the opportunity to be playful with color and pattern and provides a great way to mix the old and new. Traditional paneling in a vibrant hue works so well, and by picking one tone and using it on the painted paneling as well as the wallpaper above (no matter the pattern), helps add personality while keeping a sense of harmony. Shiplap paneling is a more modern and simple design, which looks good painted in either a classic white shade or something a bit brighter and bolder.

'Keeping the paneling the same color as the wall can give a great subtle texture to the space. Or for those who are feeling more daring it's a great opportunity to be more playful with color and can look fab mixed with the right wallpaper,' adds Céline. 'We love the combo of Midbec’s Apelviken wallpaper (opens in new tab) with Oval Room Blue (opens in new tab) from Farrow & Ball.' 

6. DISGUISE DOORS

Blue paneled living room with yellow sofa

(Image credit: James Merrell)

Everyone loves a hidden door; they conjure up images of mystique and magic; hidden dens behind a wall of books, disguised as a library, or under stair cupboard doors that elegantly blend into the staircase, creating a clean and clutter-free look. This playful house in Martha's Vineyard shows off hidden and panel-disguised doors perfectly.

'Paneling is a great way to hide coat storage and doorways leading to guest powder rooms off hallways and under the stairs,' says Céline. 'If paneling is used throughout and on all the walls, the doors disappear right into the paneling, becoming part of it.' 

7. EXECUTE IT PROPERLY

wall paneling with orange strip in a living room with zebra print carpet and retro accessories in a Hollywood Regency style

(Image credit: Michael Sinclair)

Unless you're prepared to do the job yourself as part of a weekend project – which is perfectly possible – find someone who really knows what they're doing as you want your paneling to line up properly, fit with the era of the house and ultimately, look perfect.

'Find a good joiner or a handyman who should easily be able to install paneling using MDF tongue and groove and moldings and always ask to see samples,' Céline says. 'For those who are up for a challenge, it's not a hard job to do yourself and there are dozens of DIY tutorials to be found on youtube. If you're not using an interior designer or architect make sure you plan the design of your paneling well by drawing it out first and checking that your layout is the right proportions with even spacing.'

How can I make my panel walls look good?

Maisons du Monde Mia-black-and-golden-metal-clock-with-blue-panelled-wall-and-brown-geometric-rug

(Image credit: Maisons du Monde)

Wall paneling has really made a comeback over the past few years in interior design trends and because it comes in a variety of styles, there's a paneling idea to suit most schemes.

If your home already has paneling and you want to bring it to life, then consider painting your paneling in a bold hue and match that exact color to the remaining walls or woodwork too for a dramatic effect. And if you're after a hit of pattern, either wallpaper the remaining walls above in something jazzy or create a two-tone effect by running a line of tape and opt for contrasting paint colors on your paneling.; this works particularly well if you're after a very modern, graphic look.

Does wall paneling make a room look smaller?

staircase paneling ideas wooden panels

(Image credit: Acupanel)

Wall paneling doesn't necessarily make a room feel smaller. It depends on the type of cladding you get and how you choose to install it. Darker finishes, whether original wood or paint ideas can make a room feel small. But you can also install light-coloured cladding to open your room up.

There are advantages to darker tones and woods though as they can can be used to make a room feel cozier and more intimate. 

Consider adding vertical planks of wood to a wall; it could help the space seem larger as they'll draw the eye upwards towards the ceiling.

As the Houses Editor on Livingetc, Rachel has been obsessed with property ever since she was a kid. With a diploma in interior design and more than a decade working on interior magazines under her belt, she feels very at home sourcing the best contemporary houses the world has to offer for Livingetc. It's not just the day job either, she admits she's spent a scary amount of her own time researching schemes for her own renovations - scrolling Instagram, stalking Rightmove and Modern House, flicking through magazines and snooping in other peoples' windows - so she really does live and breathe houses on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Before Livingetc, Rachel had a stint finding homes for Ikea Family magazine where she was lucky enough to gallivant around the world on shoots meeting and interviewing interesting people, all with a very keen eye for blending high-end design with everyday items from Ikea. It inspired her to not be afraid of mixing new and old, expensive and affordable, vintage and modern and so Rachel's current Victorian terrace in north London is very much an updated, contemporary take on a period property; think open-plan modern kitchen with concrete floors, feature fireplaces and her grandmother’s paintings on the walls. Rachel is currently crushing on reeded glass, large gingham prints, squishy curved furniture; like Buchanan Studio’s Studio chair, and vintage wall sconces; she especially adores Retrouvius for sourcing antique finds and feels inspired by Lonika Chande, Beata Heuman and Matilda Goad and already can’t wait to start planning her next home, wherever that might be.