Panelled walls can be seen anywhere, from film and television sets to historical houses, pubs, restaurants and, of course, domestic interiors. To discover the history of panelling, we actually have to look back to the 15th century when there was a real turning point in the way that wealthy English homeowners decorated their spaces: panels, generally made of oak, were used to clad the interior walls of houses for insulation purposes; panelling at this time was expensive and so also provided the perfect opportunity for owners to display their wealth. Over the years, the fashions for different types of panelling have changed, along with the types of wood used and the way in which the wood is treated, either with a wax, a stain or through the use of paint.
Whilst there have been periods in design history which have seen the popularity of panelling wane somewhat – the middle part of the 18th century saw some homeowners preferring to cover their walls with fabric or hand-printed wallpaper – panelling has always remained a great option for immediately adding texture and interest to walls. When looking at today’s panelling, put all thoughts of heavy, dark-stained wood to the back of your mind, as there are now so many different styles available to suit almost all tastes, from the classical or highly decorated through to a pared-back Shaker style, or even beautifully-crafted bespoke options.
Whilst being a great way to decorate a room, panelling can also be a good option if your plastered walls are a bit uneven and in need of concealment. Panels also have a cosseting effect on a room by offering additional insulation and sound-proofing. If you are thinking of using panelling in your home, you may wish to consider the period of your home to help determine the style of panelling which will be most sympathetic to any existing period features (although you can of course rip up the rule book by mixing styles by, for example, introducing modern touches to older style properties). There are many online companies specialising in Jacobean, Regency, Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian style panels, along with others which offer more contemporary options; spend time researching the best look for your space. To help you on your way, we have explored some of the different ways in which panelling can be used in the home to great effect:
1 Running both ways
Cranbrook rough boarding shiplap in Silver Birch, £175 for 3.3 square metres, Neptune (this product can be hand-painted in a selection of Neptune paint colours at an additional cost)
Depending on your preferences, the proportions of a room, and the effect you wish to create, many types of strip panelling can be laid either horizontally or vertically to suit. By drawing the eye across a wall, horizontal panelling can be an incredibly effective way of creating the illusion of width in a room; vertical panelling can have the effect of making the walls of a room look higher. Here we show how one type of panelling has been used across an entire wall of a bedroom in a horizontal orientation to give a perception of additional width and, in the second image, how the panelling has been used vertically across a much smaller area to create an interesting headboard in this low-ceilinged room, which gives the illusion of greater room height.
2 Playing with proportions
Left image: Georgian panelling, from £10.75-£16.50 per unpainted 60x80cm sheet (depending on quantity ordered), The English Panelling Company
Right image: Panelling painted in Sinner No. 238, £28 for 1 litre of wood and metal paint; bath painted in Floris No. 27; both Mylands Paints. Bath, The Cast Iron Bath Company
Panelling can be used to break up a section of a wall and to alter our perception of the height of a room: a large space with high ceilings can be made to feel more intimate by running the panelling from the floor to a particular point on the wall, with a painted wall above, ensuring that the eye is drawn to the lower part of the room (panels that run either 1/3 or 2/3 of the height of the room usually look most elegant); on the other hand, considered use of panelling can create the perception of greater height in spaces with low ceilings. In the images above you can see how panelling has been used to transform two bathrooms: the vertical panelling has injected character and an illusion of more space in the attic bathroom shown in the left-hand image whilst, in the image on the right, the geometric panelling has been installed in a way that draws focus to the lower part of the wall in this lofty bathroom.
3 Pretty panels
Left image: Angelique Damask PDG1036/05 in Indigo, £65 for a 10m roll, Designers Guild
Right image: Atacama BP 5805, £89 for a 10m roll; woodwork in Strong White No. 2001, £60 for 2.5 litres of Estate Eggshell; both Farrow & Ball
How about mixing things up by using panelled sections filled with wallpaper? In the left-hand image, we can see that Designers Guild have done just this. The same technique can work well in spaces where you might want to inject some pattern to particular areas, rather than wallpaper being used from floor to ceiling; in the right-hand image Farrow & Ball’s beautiful floral wallpaper has been used in framed sections across the chimney breast, with mouldings used to create the panelled effect.
4 The great pretenders
Left image: Elitis La Belle et La Bete wallpaper, £250.77 for a 10m roll (100cm width), Beut
Centre image: Old Gloucester St. 0251OGTOME wallpaper, £80 for a 10m roll, Little Greene at John Lewis
Right image: Wemyss Elements Wooden Panel wallpaper in Silver, from £60.25 for a 10m roll, wallpaperdirect
Don’t fancy installing actual panels…then why not cheat? There are many fantastic wallpapers available which capture the character of wooden panelling and yet simply require the skilled hand of a decorator to hang. Printing techniques have advanced so much over the years, that some of today’s panel-effect wallpapers look incredibly realistic. Whether you’d like to channel the intricate decoration of the Rococo period, the elegancy of Georgian panelling, or find the rustic, reclaimed look appealing, there should be a wallpaper design that’s right for your project.
5 The reclaimers
Reclaimed wall panelling, from £53 per square metre, Bert & May
Using reclaimed, or weathered panels, will guarantee you a unique finish with that frequently desired pre-loved look. There are so many reclamation yards across the UK selling old wooden panels and, whilst they are hugely popular with designers of retail spaces and restaurants who may use them to clad bars or to create interesting backdrops within shops, they can just as easily be used in the home too.
6 Mirror, mirror on the wall
Rupert Bevan bespoke mirrors
Mirrored panels can create all the elegance and glamour of bygone eras, notably the Art Deco period, and also help to reflect any available light around a room. Whilst you can create a panelled effect using clear pieces of mirror, further interest can be added by using glass that has been specially treated; designer Rupert Bevan is renowned for creating bespoke antiqued mirror panels which are worked on by hand to produce the level of patina chosen by clients.
7 Over to the dark side
The Sebastian Cox Kitchen by deVOL
Designed by Sebastian Cox for deVOL, this kitchen is bold and dynamic in the way that it plays with the high contrast of dark panelled areas alongside areas of panelling in a pale wood. Whilst the panelling runs across the oven-hood and all of the cabinetry, panelling has also been used over a section of the ceiling to provide further contrast against the pale walls.
As the kitchen forms part of a large barn conversion, there are multiple light sources which ensure that, in spite of the dark elements, the space still feels light and airy.
8 Period style
All woodwork in French Grey No. 18, £60 for 2.5 litres of Estate Eggshell, Farrow & Ball
9 Modern Jacobean
Panelling painted in: Aubusson Blue chalk paint, £18.95 for 1 litre, Annie Sloan
You can also see in our lead image at the top of this feature that Little Greene have successfully used this same style of panelling across a wall in a bedroom to add depth; their choice of this grey paint feels smart and contemporary.
There are numerous sources for quality Jacobean style panelling; The English Panelling Company, have a fantastic range of panelling, including Jacobean panelling, and their team are happy to advise customers on how best to use it in their homes.
Credits for lead image: Scree (227), £59 for 2.5 litres of Intelligent Eggshell, Little Greene
The designer of this bedroom has layered classical and modern elements to create a beautiful space which is full of character. The panelling forms an important part of building up this look: adding long batons along one section of wall immediately creates visual interest in the room and, whilst this could have been painted in just one single colour, the bold use of two colours gives the space a more contemporary feel. The two paint colours work perfectly together, and the floral detailing in the artwork echoes the colours chosen for the panelling.
As you can see from the above, the scope of what can be achieved with panelling in your home is limited only by your imagination.