Achieving a cohesive, attractive interior means combining ‘interest, contrast and texture,’ says Robyn Park of Robyn Park Interiors. She explains how panelling can be a great way to do this, and how it’s having a big moment in the interior design world, including for self-builds
There are many styles of panelling available, the most popular being wainscoting and boiserie, using decorative moulding with an ‘ogee’ or ‘beak’ profile. Wainscoting refers to panelling that is only used on the lower half, or three quarters, of the wall space, while boiserie refers to full height panelling from floor to ceiling.
For panelling, you firstly need to have a dado rail, usually in a wider moulding, to dictate the top line of a wainscot design, or the mid-section of a boiserie design. Aim for the top line of the panelling to sit at approximately one metre from the floor. Properties with higher ceilings can afford to go a little taller to create the right proportions for the room. Then you can design your panel boxes around the dimensions of each wall. As a rule of thumb aim to have a gap of 100 mm from the edge of one piece of moulding to the next. In terms of the size and number of panel boxes, you will never get the same size or amount on each wall, but keeping the proportions of a 100 mm gap will keep things feeling cohesive. Remember to always mark out where you intend your panelling to go, as you may have to move sockets or switches to install the mouldings adequately.
Once installed, consider the decoration of your panelling. For boiserie, having one colour over the entire moulding will create a seamless yet textural aspect, but it certainly doesn’t have to be that way. You can play with colour to make your panelling stand out from the main wall, or even use each panel box to house a wallpaper that incorporates the colour palette of the room. For a more understated approach wainscoting, often used in hallways and stairwells, can provide a protective function by using a washable paint finish that will safeguard your walls from scuffs and marks over time. You can complete the panelling with a contrasting paint colour or even add wallpaper above the dado rail line for a more dramatic finish. Wainscoting can be used in almost any style of property; it continues a feeling of grandeur in stately homes, adds character to new builds, and provides depth and distinction in open-plan areas.
If decorative detail isn’t quite your bag, then perhaps consider tongue and groove, shiplap or board and batten panelling.
Tongue and groove is a classic style that fits well into the farmhouse aesthetic, giving a timeless and practical look within any and all rooms of the house – even the ceiling! Use this style in full wall height to draw the eye upwards and give the illusion of space in smaller homes. It is also great when placed at half height level and can be especially striking in kitchens and bathrooms. Just be aware of using wood planks in areas where moisture is high as this will cause the wood to swell and warp over time.
For the minimalists out there, shiplap is a sleek alternative. Often using primed MDF planks, they are installed in the same way as tongue and groove to add texture and interest by creating dainty vertical line detailing via the shadow gaps between the planks. Shiplap can run horizontally or vertically, whether that be as a feature wall or surrounding an entire room for a modern ‘cabin’ vibe. Aim for a plank width of around 100 to 150 mm, keeping the gaps between each plank as minimal as possible. Using tile spacers for this can be great for uniformity. Once decorated, run a thin item (such as a lolly stick or skewer) down the length of the plank edges to remove any paint build-up.
Lastly, board and batten is probably the most cost-effective, and relatively simple, panelling for DIY enthusiasts. Using lengths of thin wood or MDF, these can be nailed or glued to the wall in a vertical pattern, spaced relatively far apart, and topped with a horizontal top and bottom baton. This is a great style for a bedroom main wall and can be fitted from the floor to above the headboard or all the way up to the ceiling. Want to include a little more personality in this style? Try adding a shelf ledge at the top for extra styling items, or even small detail mouldings, like a quarter dowel, to each plank edge for a more classic aesthetic.
Always use a spirit or laser level: no matter what age your property is, it is safe to assume that not every wall will be straight and/or flat. When fixing your panelling with adhesive be sure to choose one suitable for your material to avoid any staining or failure of adhesion. Once completed, always caulk the edges for a seamless finish before decorating. And no matter what style you choose, always paint the skirting board in the same colour as your panelling. A bright white band at the bottom of a beautifully panelled wall detracts from the detail and beauty of your new addition.
Robyn Park is the founder of Robyn Park Interiors