11 bathroom wall paneling ideas that add personality

Enhance bathroom spaces big and small with wall paneling. Wood clad and painted bathroom wall paneling ideas will add personality in an instant.

green panelled bathroom
(Image credit: Waters Baths of Ashbourne)

Give your space a new lease of life and invest in the latest bathroom wall paneling ideas for an instant uplift.

Guaranteed to add character to the bathroom, wall paneling is not just reserved for period homes, and this timeless feature is having a renewed moment in bathrooms everywhere. From traditional to modern spaces, paneled walls are guaranteed to bring lived-in charm. Not only will paneling disguise a multitude of sins – think uneven or badly finished walls – but paneling can even mask pipework, enhance smaller bathroom spaces and will give featureless rooms, or newly built build boxy spaces, decorative detail and interest.

Bathroom wall paneling ideas for a versatile finish

Classic, square wainscot or shaker style wall paneling and shiplap will of course slot happily into historic homes, but will look equally as good in newer properties too. A painted finish that incorporates baseboards and the wall creates a smart, seamless style. You can make wall paneling contemporary too with, slim vertical, ribbed or reeded texture, or try a geometric layout. Reclaimed paneling will help create a rustic retreat look and the unpainted wood will bring natural warmth and texture.

1. Incorporate a hook rail

Country style sink with panelling and hooks

(Image credit: Neptune)

Not just a pretty wall covering, this paneling features a practical idea too. The traditional style Wardley coat rack has been incorporated along the top length of the paneling to create handy hooks. Create a seamless finish by staining the same color as the panels. Just the place to add a small hanging basket to keep toiletries handy but tidily out of sight.

2. Make it rustic luxe

Rustic panelled bathroom

(Image credit: Aquabella)

Not one but two styles of paneling create a contrast of rough with smooth. The textured stone effect teamed with sleek, slimline wood taps into the trending Japandi aesthetic as Katie Fitzpatrick at Merlyn Showers explains, 'Some key features of Japandi design are neutral main colour palettes, accented with black fixtures and brassware. Japandi style also leans heavily on the use of wood, and the connection to nature, while also having functionality at the core.'

3. Pair with wallpaper 

Traditional panelled bathroom with wallpaper

(Image credit: Dado)

Paneling will add instant character to room that's lacking any period detailing or architectural features. Give a bathroom a traditional finish with wainscot inspired panels, layering with a baseboard and top trim for decorative flair. Adding a ditsy print bathroom wallpaper like Paisley from Dado, brings instant vintage charm and even more lived-in personality to the bathroom.

Provided you have a spongeable wallpaper and the room is well ventilated, there's no need to shy away from wallpaper in the bathroom, incorporate a low level backsplash to protect it from splashes by taps. You can always add a clear coat of flat varnish for added protection.

4. Take it horizontal

grey bathroom with horizontal panelling

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Shiplap, it's a signature style of designer Joanna and Chip Gaines on most their Fixer Upper renovation projects and looking at this bathroom, we can see why. Laying the boards horizontally will create an optical illusion by opening up a narrow bathroom. Large boards also help widen the space, just keep them painted white or in light tones.

5. Be inspired by biophilic design

Modern green panelled bathroom

(Image credit: Waters Baths of Ashbourne)

You can fill your bathroom with house plants to feel a connection to nature, or bring the outside in by introducing green, as Marianne Shillingford, Creative Director at Dulux explains, ‘green works in modern homes because it connects us to the fields, forests and open spaces that we lack in our indoor lives and gives us energy that is fundamental to human existence.’

Along with various green bathroom ideas, painting paneling a soothing shades of mid green creates both a relaxing and uplifting hideaway, as Katie Fitzpatrick, Digital Marketing Manager at Merlyn Showers says; 'there are many benefits to adding biophilic design to your bathroom – it can support cognitive function while boosting physical health, and psychological well-being.'

6. Create an industrial-chic design

Industrial style bathroom with reclaimed cladding

(Image credit: Dunellm)

Create a striking statement behind a sink using rustic or reclaimed boards. Treat wooden boards with a rich, dark stain to pair up perfectly with black metal accents and subway tiles for a modern industrial finish. Alternatively try reclaimed boards, the natural patina and silvered tones will create a characterful, rough luxe finish. 

7. Create an immersive atmosphere

Black panelled bathroom

(Image credit: BC Designs)

Dare to be dramatic with panels painted in darkest inky blue or black. The addition of paneling elevates the whole space, plus adds an instant lift by creating light and shade on what would have been a flat wall. Paint baseboards the same color for a seamless flow and to ensure the walls looks elongated. 

For a fully immersive space where you can escape, take it one step further and carry the color up on to the ceiling, including painting any woodwork too. Bring in polished metallics like brass and chrome, a mirror for sparkling highlights and lush green plants to bring the bathroom to life.

8. Use paneling to create a shelf

Modern green panelled bathroom with artwork

(Image credit: Bathroom Mountain)

Boxing paneling out from the wall may be a necessity to disguise any plumbing work, but you can use it to your advantage to up the style stakes in your bathroom. Add personality to the space and use the top ledge of paneling as you would a picture ledge to display prints and artwork, vases and accessories. 

Contrasting the modern with traditional elements — like paneling with a modern bathtub and abstract prints, is something we're set to see more of for 2022, as Darren Allison, Managing Director at BC Designs explains: 'This trend is about how you successfully combine the two styles. The secret to making it work is in the mix. Just remember, opposites attract! Traditional bath with modern and sleek faucet. Period faucets with a modern shaped sink.'

9. Update a bath

Modern scandi bath with panelled bath

(Image credit: Matalan)

Re-vamp a bath panel by cladding it in wood. Natural wood grain brings a little retreat vibe to this otherwise utilitarian space and turn up the temperature on a minimalist, neutral palette by using this organic accent. 'Materials such as wood, stone, marble and textures from hemp, rattan and wicker will be used extensively in bathroom design, not only as a way of bringing outside in, but also to soften the space, creating a warm and inviting room that has undertones of a cozy living room', echoes Barrie Cutchie, Design Director at BC Designs

10. Fake it with wallpaper

Panelled bathroom wallpaper

(Image credit: Minehart)

Want a short-cut to some period drama? Tap into one of the latest wallpaper trends and trompe l'oeil for a floor to ceiling Cream Paneling  effect. Not just an easy DIY task, but a budget-friendly solution too. Use it to create a stand-out feature wall, or take it to around half-height and top and tail with a wooden trim painted in the same tone for a neat finish. A vinyl wallpaper like this has water resistant properties so is ideal for humid bathrooms and is easy to wipe clean.

11. Add drama to a small cloakroom

Panelled cloakroom in green

(Image credit: The Luxury Bathroom Company)

Small bathrooms can be beautiful too, there's no need to limit your design choices in a downstairs cloakroom, if anything, it's the perfect place to get creative and experiment. Whether using tongue and groove or Wainscot style panels, leave space at the top, going half way or two-thirds up the wall for visual balance. Going for total color drench in such a deep hue is a bold move, but just adds to the impact. Brass faucet, lighting and mirror create a rich, gleaming contrast and give the whole look a modern spin. 

Paul at Sanctuary Bathrooms says: 'gold is certainly going to come back in 2022.  Customer are coming in looking for brushed brass items but then seeing gold fixtures and fittings and liking that more.'

Is paneling a good idea in the bathroom?

Although a humid space, paneling can indeed be used in the bathroom. Like most wood that's in contact with water or fluctuating temperatures, there is a risk of warping or shrinking however the right treatment will keep wood paneling protected and in good condition.

If you are building a base from the wall on which to attach panels, ensure any battens are treated and backboard is water resistant. Any unpainted wood panels should be coated with protective stain or varnish.

When it comes to painting wood paneling, start with a wood primer and then use specialist paint that has a durable finish. Emulsion won't withstand scuff and scratches too well, so if you want a matt finish, choose an eggshell paint, this low sheen option will be washable and suit both contemporary and traditional bathrooms styles. A satinwood is similar, still with a low to medium sheen level but the light reflective qualities will give a subtle lift over a flat matt finish. Finally, gloss will offer a highly durable, lacquered effect for a smart, high shine effect. Look for a water-based formula over oil for a faster drying finish.

Does paneling make a bathroom look smaller?

Paneling will ultimately bring the walls in but it can still be used to create an optical illusion and play with the proportions of the room. In a narrow bathroom, wide shiplap boards can be used horizontally to open up the space, just stick to a white or light paint color. Similarly, vertical tongue and groove can be used to elongate a room, particularly if you take them all the way to the ceiling.

Shaker style or narrow ribbed paneling will add a sense of intimacy but to painting in a pale hue will help to reflect the light. That said, dark colors can trick the eye too, and it’s not true that small rooms must be painted white to make a space look bigger, a similar effect can be created with dark colors too, by giving the space more depth as the color subtly changes through the day. Paint expert Annie Sloan explains; ‘ Pale colors will emphasise the light in the room, but dark colors will blur the corners and edges creating the illusion of space’.

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