All About Interior Wood Paneling (2024)

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Wood walls have a long history. In early colonial times, boards and shingles that skinned over a house’s skeleton often formed the interior surfaces as well. Planks made up the partition walls. Later, vertical boards were nailed to studs, often with a decorative bead or chamfered V along their edges.

Walls that were not plastered were often paneled. While the wealthy had fancy woodwork, most homes featured flat-backed claddings similar to those used on the exterior—usually boards with interlocking “lapped” or tongue-and-groove joints to keep out water and cold winds. When factory millwork became available in the Victorian era, decorative beaded boards routinely covered walls in utility areas such as kitchens and baths.

Simple, practical, and attractive, such wall claddings are back in demand once more. Lumberyards and home centers are offering products that ease installation, and designers are specifying them everywhere from formal manses to industrial spaces to simple cottage interiors. Coming up here and on the following pages, TOH helps sort through the options.

Shiplap History

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“Shiplap House,” so named for this 1815 shed addition to an early-18th-century house in Annapolis, Maryland, showcases a well-preserved historical example of the flush, flat-backed siding. At the time, clapboards were the norm, their beveled profile designed to shed water. Shiplap boards had interlocking lapped joints along their edges to seal out the weather.

Do Your Prep Work: Important Questions To Ask

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The Cost?

Individual boards can cost under $1 per linear foot for unfinished pine, and up to $20 per linear foot for the reclaimed stuff. A standard 4-by-8-foot MDF beadboard panel runs about $30, while individual beaded pine boards go for about $2 per linear foot, unfinished.

DIY or Hire a Pro?

A good project for experienced DIYers. The biggest challenges are starting off perfectly level (or plumb) and working around obstacles such as windows and doors. Doing a ceiling? You may want to go pro.

Where to Buy It?

Home centers sell a variety of manufactured-wood and MDF products, sometimes as kits. You’ll find higher-quality wood cladding at lumberyards, though it may be a special order.


As long as wood cladding has been properly installed with sufficient room for expansion, it should last the life of the house. MDF may be more susceptible to dings and moisture damage.

Types of Interior Wood Paneling


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Here’s a look at some of the most popular types of cladding—how simple or detailed the profile is, and what type of finish you choose, all influence the overall effect.

SHIPLAP actually refers to a type of joint, rather than a decorative cladding treatment. Horizontally laid boards are rabbeted along their sides to interlock for a tight seal.

Today it is common to have them milled with a “nickel gap” of about 1⁄8 inch along the top edge to create a shadow line that highlights the individual boards. DIYers often install lauan or MDF strips on the wall with space in between to suggest shiplap.


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BEADBOARD is traditionally “stick built,” using 2 ½-inch-wide strips of wood with a beaded edge milled along the tongue side and a matching rounded (or a chamfered) edge on the groove side to hide the joint. These fit together to form one continuous wall covering.

Today wider planks with multiple beads, and plywood or MDF sheets with rows of beads milled in, replicate the look while saving installation time.


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V-GROOVE boards are milled with chamfered edges on both sides, forming a V shape when the tongue-and-groove (or shiplap) joints come together. V-groove planks in varying widths were a common wall cladding in colonial-era homes, often given a matte-paint finish. Like square-edged shiplap, they are prized today for their modern simplicity. Available in wood, MDF, and synthetic materials for various applications.


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BOARD-AND-BATTEN is traditionally built as a series of vertical boards overlaid with strips of 1x material, or battens, covering the joints. When it serves as siding, the lumber is often roughcut. Today plywood may be used indoors, with 1x strips installed every 8 to 10 inches, covering joints as they occur. A popular DIY shortcut is to adhere battens directly to the wall, then unify the assembly with trim paint.

Drop Siding

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DROP SIDING is a historical type of shiplap, typically featuring a cove along the top of the board to encourage water shedding. (Square off that curve and you have channel siding.) Because it is a flat-backed siding, it easily makes the transition to interior use, unlike beveled styles, such as clapboards. Millwork shops can add a bead along the bottom or any other custom detail that you like.

Rustic Planking

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RUSTIC PLANKING can be anything from barn boards to pallet wood to common lumber made to look old through a finishing process. Planks can be nailed up with little to no space end to end, but pay attention to staggering the joints. Boards may not have milled edges to conceal gaps, and will need space for expansion. Painting the wall black before installation will keep another color from showing through.

Types of Wood Paneling Material


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Most cladding is made from one of these; here’s what to consider with each option.

You can find solid-wood tongue-and-groove or shiplap boards in a range of species, from budget-friendly pine and poplar to pricier woods like redwood, cedar, and cypress. Since wood expands and contracts over time, it’s critical that it is given room to move during installation. It may be heavier than manufactured products, so it needs proper fastening and likely another pair of hands to install. Thin plywood sheets milled with bead or V details, and lap joints at the ends, are more stable, less pricey, and go up fast.

Ask for a stain-grade clear wood that’s smooth and free of knots for the optimal paint job-and for staining, of course. Otherwise, knots need to be filled, sanded, and primed before painting. You can leave wood bare, but it will be susceptible to dirt and stains. A coat of water-based polyurethane or wax will protect it, while highlighting the natural color.

Salvaged Wood

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Reclaimed wood boards can be found in a variety of species and dimensions, whether rescued from old barns or factory floors. The wood is unmatched in character and saves trees from being cut down, but it won’t always be in ready-to-use condition. Salvaged boards should be cleaned, planed so they lie flat on the wall, and ideally kiln-dried by a dealer; otherwise, they may warp. Kiln-drying also eliminates any insects hiding inside. May be prefinished and/or milled into any style of wall cladding you want.

Reclaimed wood is a good candidate for a distressed or weathered paint finish, or a stain that doesn’t completely hide the wood grain. Often, reclaimed wood is left as-is, but old paint could be lead-based, so make sure to seal it with a water-based polyurethane or shellac before working.


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Milled sheets of MDF are a popular choice among DIYers, since they are budget-friendly, and manufacturers are able to achieve a convincing bead or groove. MDF is also more stable overall than wood during swings in temperature, but if it gets wet it can soak up moisture like a sponge, swell, and crumble. Some companies offer moisture-resistant MDF for wet-area installations. Standard MDF also off-gasses formaldehyde when new. For wall cladding, MDF is most commonly used as battens or sheets.

Smooth MDF takes paint beautifully, and since it cannot be stained, it typically comes preprimed. If you’re priming it yourself, be sure to use a shellac primer on all six sides, paying special attention to any cut edges; avoid water-based primers, which can cause cut edges to swell.

Installation Advice

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Things to know before you begin, whether you DIY or hire a pro.

  • Wood needs room to move > Always leave at least a 3⁄8-inch gap for expansion along all four edges of a wood-clad wall: That means above the baseboard, where it meets the ceiling, and at both corners where the adjacent walls begin.
  • Construction adhesive is your friend > It can provide up to 30 percent of the bond, so you need fewer nails. With lightweight material, it may be all you need.
  • Start with a flat surface > On uneven plaster or masonry walls, begin by hanging a grid of strapping, shimming as needed to make a completely flat surface. Nail vertical boards to horizontal furring strips or plywood.
  • The first board must be level, or plumb > Don’t rush installing that first board; if it isn’t level (or plumb), you run the risk of every piece after it being crooked. If walls aren’t plumb or floors level, you may need to scribe the board to fit.

Shown: TOH general contractor Tom Silva puts up beadboard using high-tack panel adhesive.

Design Ideas

Pro design advice for how to use wall claddings to your best advantage.

  • GO WIDE When using shiplap and V-groove, Georgia-based designer Katie DeRario suggests sticking with 10-inch-wide planks so they look more like paneling and less like siding, which is typically narrower. Similarly, with beadboard, she prefers 3 to 4 inches between beads for a more modern look.
  • EXPLOIT OPTICAL ILLUSIONS As a general rule, running planks vertically adds height visually, while horizontal boards can make small rooms look more expansive. “But it also depends on how you enter the room and what is in your line of sight,” says Massachusetts-based designer Jonathan Raith. That means a typical hallway can look extra-long when lined in horizontal planking.
  • MIX AND MATCH WITH CAUTION With so many styles of cladding to choose from, it’s easy to go overboard. Raith suggests keeping it simple. “I wouldn’t mix more than two in one room, and I wouldn’t do more than three in one house,” he says. “And it’s critical to use them thoughtfully and proportionately in the space.”
  • LET THEM WORK HARD If you use wall cladding in just one space, a mudroom or a laundry is a great place to put it. “Mudrooms take a lot of wear and tear,” says DeRario. “Kids kick off their shoes and backpacks, and wood walls hold up a lot better than drywall.” Plus, you can install hooks anywhere that’s convenient, rather than planning around the wall studs.

Wet-Area Options

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What to use when moisture is an issue.

On bathroom and even kitchen-sink walls, wood planks and plywood sheets stand up to moisture better than standard MDF, which can swell with water. Vinyl beadboard made for wet areas isn’t convincing, though painting it can help. Solid-surface versions made for bath and shower enclosures are too costly to cover full walls.

While there is water-resistant MDF, TOH senior technical editor Mark Powers prefers to stick with wood where walls could get wet. “Any wood cladding will fare fine with a coat of paint or water-based poly-urethane,” he says.

A new product with promise: Boral’s TruExterior Beadboard siding, made of polymer-bound fly ash. The material is lightweight and easy to work, inexpensive, impervious to water, and doesn’t off-gas.

From about $2 per linear foot; Boral for stores.

DIY Made Easier

Prefinished Pine Board

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Off-the-shelf products save time, money, and installation headaches. Here are a few to consider.

These shiplap boards have a distressed red finish reminiscent of old barn wood. Six 8-foot-long pine planks come in each pack, so all that’s left to do is trim them as needed and glue and tack them up.

UFP Edge 1″x 6″x 8′ Barn Wood Red Shiplap Pine Board, $72 per pack; The Home Depot

Prefab Panels

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These interlocking reclaimed-wood panels are meant to cut install time by 90 percent. The maker claims a typical 8-by-10-foot accent wall can go up in about an hour.

Prefab Wood Wall Panels in All Natural Pallet Wood, $12 per square foot; Sustainable Lumber Co.

Plank Kit

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The kiln-dried boards in this kit come in random shades and lengths up to 2 feet. Each pine plank comes with its own unique markings, without the hassle of prepping salvaged wood.
Nuvelle Deco Planks in Picket Fence Sun Baked, $100 for a 10-square-foot case; The Home Depot

Preprimed Shiplap

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If you plan to paint your cladding in place, primed boards get you there a bit faster. And these pine planks have a nickel gap already milled into the joint, so you don’t have to fuss with spacers.

1″x 6″ Shiplap Paneling Nickel Gap, $1.89 per linear foot; Stonewood Products

Interior Wall Paneling Design Ideas

Cottage Appeal

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White battens pop against sunny-yellow walls, adding texture and dimension, and accentuating high ceilings. Running a couple of horizontal bands saves them from looking like stripes.

Similar to shown: 1″x 4″x 10′ poplar batten, $9.29; Lowe’s

Bold Accent

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This feature wall of custom-milled nickel-gap shiplap packs a lot of design punch. Though shiplap is often considered rustic, bright-blue paint and sleek furnishings make it feel modern.

Similar to shown: Poplar Ship Lap 5⁄8″x 4 15⁄16″ (1⁄8″ gap), $2.42 per linear foot; Cortland Hardwood

Aged Patina

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This finish was actually a happy accident: The homeowners regretted painting the natural cypress planks, and started scraping with a putty knife. They liked the distressed look so much, they added glaze to give it depth.

Similar to shown: Cypress Shiplap, 1″x 10″x 8′ boards, $22.51 each; Follen

Refined Pine

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Tongue-and-groove boards milled with two beads flanking a cove detail go from knotty to natty with a warm, neutral paint job.

Similar to shown: 3⁄4″-thick Pickwick Tongue-and-Groove Premium Pine, from $1.29 per linear foot; Stonewood Products

Sleek Look

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A smooth face gives reclaimed planks a more sophisticated finish, as do cool colors like gray and blue. Using them on one wall creates an eye-catching focal point.

Similar to shown: Reclaimed barn wood, $8 per square foot (unmilled); Salvage Solutions

Ceiling Upgrade

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Extending beadboard onto the ceiling and alternating its direction in squares adds architectural interest. Battens covering the seams create a pleasing panel pattern.

Similar to shown: Ultra True Bead MDF Paneling, $33 per 32-square-foot panel; The Home Depot

All About Interior Wood Paneling (2024)


All About Interior Wood Paneling? ›

Deformation. Although wood paneling, just like wood flooring, needs to be given several days to acclimatize in the room before being installed, it will lose its natural moisture over time. This will result in the panels shrinking, which will create noticeable gaps, and, in severe cases, the panels can even split.

What are the disadvantages of wood paneling? ›

Deformation. Although wood paneling, just like wood flooring, needs to be given several days to acclimatize in the room before being installed, it will lose its natural moisture over time. This will result in the panels shrinking, which will create noticeable gaps, and, in severe cases, the panels can even split.

What is the best wood for interior panelling? ›

What wood should I use for panelling? Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) is the most common type of wood panelling used for interior walls in hallways, living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms. When painted using paint for MDF panelling, wall panels give spaces a really textured, architectural look.

What is usually under wood paneling? ›

Most wood paneling has drywall behind it, especially in modern homes. Some older homes won't have drywall behind the wood paneling since the panels are usually much thicker in these homes. Having drywall is important as it provides a base for the wood paneling.

Is it cheaper to use drywall or paneling? ›

The more thickness vinyl panels possess, the higher the price would be. When you compare the price of vinyl wall paneling with drywall, you will come to know that the cost of wall paneling is higher than the drywall.

Why did wood paneling go out of style? ›

Wood paneling was popular from the 1950s through the 1970s for being low-cost and easy to install. Like the ranch house, it fell out of popularity when it became too common, but now it's back on the scene.

Is wood paneling still in style? ›

Wood paneling has gone around and come back again. Often replaced in the period from the 1980s onward, wood paneling is now in vogue again, though in a modified form.

What is wood paneling on walls called? ›

Wainscoting is a broader term referring to decorative paneling used for centuries as: a) a wall accent; b) insulation and; c) to prevent (and cover up) damage to walls. It typically is made of wood, and covers the lower three or four feet of an interior wall.

What is real wood paneling called? ›

Shiplap. Shiplap is probably the most common type of wall paneling. It was originally used on house exteriors, but has become increasingly popular indoors, particularly with homeowners who want to create a cozy farmhouse look. Shiplap wood boards overlap each other and are nailed through the front of the boards.

What color looks best on wood paneling? ›

The best paint colors with wood paneling are earthy and neutral shades. Working with neutrals gives you a greater range of accent colors, styles, and decor ideas.

What colour is best for wood paneling? ›

White. White is always classic and is currently all the rage. It can give your wood-paneled wall the “pop” to stand out in a great way. Use black, navy or dark grey as furniture and wall decor accents and you can't go wrong.

Should panelling be darker or lighter than walls? ›

Homeowners often wonder if their chosen panelling colour should be lighter or darker than the main walls in the room. This generally depends on the space and can come down to a number of factors including the depth of colour already on your walls, how large the room is and how much natural light the space receives.

Can you put wood paneling over drywall? ›

The easiest answer to the question would be a simple yes. However, there are some things that you'll need to consider before learning how to install paneling over drywall. The largest concern for most homeowners is the fact that installing wood paneling over drywall will mean that walls become larger.

Does wood paneling have studs behind it? ›

When looking for wall studs behind a wood panel wall, look closely for colored nail heads in the grooves of the panels. Any nails you find probably penetrate a wall stud behind the paneling.

How do you attach wood paneling to drywall? ›


Secure the paneling to the wall with panel adhesive and finishing nails. Load a caulking gun with a tube of panel adhesive and apply a small dab of it on the wall about every 10 inches. Place the panel on the wall and press it into the adhesive.

Does wood paneling make a room look bigger? ›

Does wall panelling make a room look smaller? It's not a hard and fast rule no, but it can be used to make a room feel cosier and more intimate. That said, if you're adding vertical planks of wood to a wall, it could help the space seem larger as they'll draw your eye upwards towards the ceiling.

Does panelling make a room look bigger or smaller? ›

Panelling can definitely add grandeur to a room as well as making a space look bigger. This can be achieved by applying vertical panelling to make a room feel taller. Fitting wall panelling horizontally will make a room feel wider or longer. These are all great tricks for small rooms.

Does wood paneling increase home value? ›

Wood paneling won't decrease your home value if incorporated properly. Having wood paneling in your home won't increase its value by an exorbitant amount, but it will definitely be one of its main selling points. It will also help contribute to the property's overall aesthetics.

Does wood paneling decrease home value? ›

In a house where wood panelling is part of the original design and character, removal would generally lower the value.

How do you modernize old paneling? ›

One of the easiest, quickest wood paneling makeover ideas? “A fresh coat of white paint,” says Bee Heinemann, an interior design expert and marketing director of Vänt Wall Panels. Start with a good primer to cover all that panel and wood grain, then add a few coats of a vivid white paint.

Is wall paneling in style 2023? ›

Wall paneling became popular throughout 2022 and continues to remain in trend as we enter 2023. Eye-catching and affordable, wall paneling is a great way to instantly transform your home, adding character, texture and depth to any type of property from the period home to the modern and contemporary.

Should I paint or replace wood paneling? ›

Wood paneling can make a home feel warm and comfortable. However, if your house is full of paneling that is dated, damaged, or made of an inferior veneer, it's worth considering an upgrade. Since removing it could be costly, consider a coat of paint.

What can I do with outdated wood paneling? ›

The first option for updating wood paneling is often paint, which can immediately turn off many home improvement enthusiasts. However, there are a wide variety of ways to update outdated paneling, from wallpapering to covering with a wall liner. It first needs to be prepared before the makeover.

Does wall paneling add value? ›

Adding panelling to your home not only increases the value and allows the contribution of a more durable space, but it is also extremely aesthetic and creates unique opportunities when painting and decorating.

What's the difference between wainscoting and paneling? ›

Wainscoting vs. Paneling? In a nutshell, wainscoting is a type of decorative paneling. Whereas paneling can be placed from floor to ceiling — or even on the ceiling — wainscoting is typically limited to the bottom half or three-quarters of a wall.

Why do people put paneling on walls? ›

It's a great way to add aesthetic appeal, create focal points, and improve the overall look of any room. We see often see it in commercial and hospitality settings, but it's been overlooked by many for residential use.

Is wood paneling expensive? ›

You can expect to pay around $12 to $33 per square foot for most unfinished wood panels, but you'll need to stain the panels yourself. The cost to paint or stain panels ranges from around $24 to $27. If you opt for pre-stained wood panels, you'll pay around $20 to $40 per square foot.

Which wall panel is best? ›

MDF Panels

Touted as the best material for wall panelling, MDF offers a wide array of benefits. MDF stands for Medium Density Fiberboard which is strong yet can be easily moulded and finished to create artistic wall panel designs and patterns. If you love simple, clean designs then this MDF panelling is a must-have.

Can you paint wood paneling? ›

Painting wood paneling is a simple way to change the look of a room. A fresh coat of paint quickly updates old wood paneling or wainscoting for less than the cost of replacing the walls.

How do you brighten a room with wood paneling? ›

Sheers are ideal for brightening a room with dark paneling – opt for cream or ivory sheers that will give the room a fresh, crisp feel. If you're worried about privacy, pair the sheers with shades or blinds and only lower them when necessary. Artificial light can also help balance the dark look of the paneling.

Is eggshell or satin better for panelling? ›

If you're updating your walls with wood panelling or looking to refresh your current panels, you should always go for an eggshell finish as it has less of a sheen than silk or satin paint. Dulux Heritage Eggshell is the finest quality paint for wood and metal.

What color looks good on light wood? ›

According to design experts, the best wall colors for light hardwood flooring are cooler white, neutral off-whites, and soft grays. Avoid warm neutrals with yellow or brown pastel undertones that clash with warmer light flooring tones.

What size is best for wall panelling? ›

You want 9mm thick boards as this will give you the best panelling effect, 6mm is too thin and 12mm is too thick.

How do you make paneling look seamless? ›

Hiding unsightly seams is as simple as applying a premade joint compound over them. With careful sanding, the compound creates a smooth surface you can easily refinish with a new coat of paint. You don't even have to tear down paneling to start remodeling!

Do lighter color walls make room look bigger? ›

Lighter paint colors like off-whites, light neutrals, pales, and pastels give the illusion of larger, brighter rooms.

Do you have to fill in the grooves on wood paneling before painting? ›

Whether you're going for a smooth or grooved look, any seams between panels also need to be filled in. For this, you should use caulk instead of spackle.

Do you glue or nail paneling? ›

Also, paneling may be applied with nails or panel adhesive. The advantage of using adhesives is that the panel surface is unmarked by depressions that result from the use of nails and, therefore, adhesives typically give a better appearing job. Trim molding may also be applied with paneling adhesive.

Can you fill in grooves on wood paneling? ›

Fill in the paneling grooves with joint compound. Allow the joint compound to dry. Apply additional coats of joint compound, if needed. Sand the paneling with 100-grit sandpaper until the joint compound is smooth and flush with the paneling.

Can mold grow behind wood paneling? ›

Mold typically grows around basem*nt windowsills or behind paneling. Removing existing mold requires cleaning with a scrub brush and soap and/or bleach. In many cases it may be necessary to remove drywall or wood paneling to access the problem.

Should you use anchors in wood paneling? ›

Nails and screws are not made for walls such as drywall, paneling and tile. They can easily slip out of these walls without the additional reinforcement that an anchor provides. There are many varieties of drywall anchors that keep hanging hardware firmly in place.

Do you use screws or nails for paneling? ›

Nails are more flexible and will give a little more with hardwood flooring, so they're often the choice for panel installation. Because the wood expands and contracts as a reaction to moisture, nails provide a more flexible fastening job.

What is the best adhesive for paneling to drywall? ›

Decorative paneling and tile boards can accent a space in your home, and can easily be installed with a construction adhesive. To get the job done, we recommend using LIQUID NAILS® Heavy Duty Construction Adhesive (LN-903).

Is real wood paneling outdated? ›

Once thought to be outdated, many types of wood paneling are now helping to makeover an old space. Utilized for accent walls and ceiling applications, old wood paneling makes an unmistakable statement – and is an eco-friendly choice!

Are wood panel walls outdated? ›

However, this decorating style is now considered old-fashioned. Several people do not like the look of wood paneling on their kitchen, hallway, or living room walls if it is damaged, outdated, tacky, or made from a cheap veneer.

Is wood panelling a good idea? ›

Wooden wall panelling is an excellent way to add personality to a room and it does not have to cost the earth. It can be used to add Georgian-style grandeur to a room, or lend a feeling of cosy cabin chic.

Which is better drywall or paneling? ›

Advantages of drywall:

Faster installation than wall paneling. Can be repaired easily if damaged. The surface can be painted or wallpapered any colour.

Does wood paneling go over drywall? ›

The easiest answer to the question would be a simple yes. However, there are some things that you'll need to consider before learning how to install paneling over drywall. The largest concern for most homeowners is the fact that installing wood paneling over drywall will mean that walls become larger.

Is wood paneling tacky? ›

Like many home decor trends, however, wood paneling lost its popularity over the years. Now it's viewed as a cheap, dated and downright tacky wall solution for homes.

Should panelling be lighter or darker than walls? ›

“The amount of light in a room and the direction that the room faces will have an enormous effect on a colour's appearance and this is particularly true for panelled walls. “Darker panelling can create a stunning, dramatic effect whilst lighter colours can create a calm ambience, perfect for rooms with lots of light.”

Is panelling still in fashion 2023? ›

Wall paneling became popular throughout 2022 and continues to remain in trend as we enter 2023. Eye-catching and affordable, wall paneling is a great way to instantly transform your home, adding character, texture and depth to any type of property from the period home to the modern and contemporary.

Does wall panelling add value to house? ›

Adding panelling to your home not only increases the value and allows the contribution of a more durable space, but it is also extremely aesthetic and creates unique opportunities when painting and decorating.

What is the best color for wood paneling? ›

White is always classic and is currently all the rage. It can give your wood-paneled wall the “pop” to stand out in a great way. Use black, navy or dark grey as furniture and wall decor accents and you can't go wrong. Add some simple greenery to complete your look.

Can you fill in paneling grooves? ›

You will need to use joint compound (also called drywall mud) or spackle to fill in all the grooves in the paneling to meet the rest of the surface.


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