Wall panelling is cheaper and easier to fit than tiles and less frustrating than hanging wallpaper.
It’s versatile, coming in many styles and sizes, ready to paint to match your interiors. It also adds a very sophisticated finishing touch.
You’ll need basic DIY skills and a couple of days to fit it — and you might have to swallow a few preconceptions about faux period panels.
They are usually made of MDF, for a start, and you glue them to the wall.
But once painted, they look very effective in both traditional and contemporary settings.
Wall panelling has been around since the 15th century when rooms were lined in timber planks to keep them warm.
By the 17th century it was an intricate art form, seen even in grand homes including the Palace of Versailles.
The English Panelling Company sells a range of period-style panelling, including open-backed options which are simply fretwork applied on the wall, which makes fitting over light switches and power points easy.
You glue the panels to the wall and they are made of moisture-resistant MDF, which company founder Jon Madeley says is the best option for any room because of its smooth finish.
“It gives a far superior paint finish,” he adds.
For bathrooms and kitchens the panels can be fitted directly on to tiled surfaces, giving an instant update, although with open-backed panels you will need to glue a thin layer of MDF to the wall first.
For lightweight open-backed panels Madeley says any PVA glue works fine, but for heavier solid panels it is best to use UniBond No More Nails or Evo-Stik Gripfill, both sold at Screwfix and other DIY stores.
Fit mirror glass into panelling, for a stunning and practical effect that seems to increase the size of the room
The average cost of The English Panelling Company’s panels works out at about £26 per square metre, says Madeley.
This doesn’t include glue or paint but still ends up being cheaper than many wallpapers.
Another firm to check out is Fine Panel which also specialises in moisture-resistant MDF panels, supplied primed and ready to paint with eggshell or satin/silk emulsions.
They come in a range of traditional symmetrical designs. The best-selling option is dado-height panels but other sizes are available.
If you really can’t get your head around gluing MDF to your walls you could go for stylish yet inexpensive tongue-and-groove cladding, available at most DIY stores.
Wickes has a range of pine cladding planks that slot together, priced from 75p. You’ll have to cut them to size, seal and prime them before painting.
Do them in white or off white and leave them a little rough and ready for a rustic New England vibe.
You can glue panels directly to the wall or screw them to softwood battens if your walls are uneven.
Find a step-by step guide to fitting wall panels provided by Wood Campus, the UK timber industry’s free information and learning site.
Interior designer James Arkoulis, co-creative director of Chiswick-based Howark Design is a big fan of panelling and he recently used it in the attic bedroom and bathroom of a client’s home in Cornwall.
“It is something that we come back to again and again,” he says. “Especially tongue and groove, which works so well in contemporary family homes. It is clean and simple — and it really adds character.”
For the Cornwall project, Arkoulis hired Wandsworth joiner Lethbridge Lines to make tongue-and-groove panels out of hardwood, at a cost of about £210 per square metre, but in his own home he freshened up the laundry room with pre-cut MDF panels.
“I think it is a great idea,” he says. “It was really easy to do and really cost effective.”
As a fan of colour, Arkoulis tends to paint panelling in strong shades to make a feature of it, but he thinks it would work equally well with neutrals to give “a bit of a Scandi feel”.
If you want to take it to another level you will need the help of a carpenter to fit mirror glass into your panels.
The effect is stunning and, as ever, the optical illusion of mirrors works a treat to “increase” the size of your room.
You could just mirror panel one wall and leave the opposite wall plain if you prefer fewer mirrors.