Wall paneling: beautiful design ideas for every room and home

Discover how decorative wall paneling can add interest to bedrooms, living rooms and all types of spaces

Wall paneling
(Image credit: Iben and Niels Ahlberg/inagency.dk)

Wall paneling or molding is a desirable decorative feature not just in historic homes, but in contemporary spaces, too. Installing new wall paneling, whether it's shiplap, wainscoting, or a simple chair rail, can be a good way to return character to a home that has been stripped back, to fill in gaps in an existing scheme, or to help a new addition to blend in. 

Whether you're looking for classic wood paneling ideas for the bedroom, or for modern paneling looks to bring your living room or another area of your home to life, we've rounded up all of our favorite ideas, below. We've also covered how to choose the right type of paneling, different style considerations and how much wall paneling costs.

Use this wall panel design ideas and advice to add interest to your interior.
Find more design ideas on our dedicated page.

traditional bedroom with pink panelling, lamp shade, four poster wooden bed and black picture frames with flowers

(Image credit: Jeremey Philips)

How to choose paneling: for living rooms, bedrooms and other spaces

(Image credit: James Balston )

Not sure where to start when choosing paneling? How about the era of your home? Taking cues from the style and history (or lack thereof) of your house is an easy and failsafe way to ensure your paneling choice suits your space.

Ornate, heavy wood paneling would look natural in a Victorian home, but could out of place in something built in the last few decades. At the same time, shiplap suits contemporary, coastal, and farmhouse-style homes, but would be too sharp a departure for an elegant colonial built in the 1930s.

Cottage style living room with wall panels

(Image credit: Ian Mankin)

In addition to choosing wood paneling that suits the style and history of your home, there are other aesthetic considerations, for example, whether you should use paneling on an entire wall, or just a portion of it.

The degree to which you use paneling in the room will have a major impact on the visual effect.

For example, intricate dark wood paneling is not for everyone, and when used full height (see below) it can feel imposing. But there are more subtle options that go to chair rail height can be painted in a soft shade to add warmth and interest (above).

Where it is not used full height, paneling tends to look best instlled at either one-third or two thirds of the room’s height (below), although this may be influenced by features such as fireplaces or windowsills.

You should also consider the size of the individual panel frames. Larger areas look good with bigger frame sizes, while small, awkward spaces tend to suit reeded paneling or beadboard.

Is real wood paneling or MDF paneling best?

Solid oak paneling is expensive, and is typically only installed new in order to match  existing elements or suit historic requirements. In which case, it's often best to work with a specialist who can create custom trim.

Distinctive-Country-Furniture-oak-linenfold wood wall panels

Traditional oak linenfold panelling, Distinctive Country Furniture shows how wood panelling for walls creates a timeless look

Most wall paneling on the market today is made from MDF, with the intention that it is painted. Once installed and painted, it would be difficult to distinguish it from real wood wall panels.

Provided the walls are fairly level, installing MDF paneling is a relatively easy DIY job. If the walls are uneven or slanted, it's a good idea to consult a professional. 

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What much does wall paneling cost? 

The cost of wall paneling varies greatly depending on the type you choose. A simple picture frame molding kit can be as little as $10 per set, while solid oak shiplap can cost upwards of $30/sq.ft.

In general:

  • Expect to pay around $12-$30 per square food for solid oak paneling, plus installation.
  • Expect to pay around $2 -$15 per square foot for MDF paneling, which are best painted in water-based eggshell.

Graham & Brown wallpaper of the year Tori

Graham & Brown Tori teal wallpaper on wooden panels is the perfect example of decorative panelling 

(Image credit: Graham & Brown )

Buying reclaimed wood panelling

It is possible to purchase original wood paneling that has been salvaged from historic homes or even barns (typically called barn board).. While it adds authentic aged character, quantity can be an issue. Be certain of your room’s dimensions, and what proportions suit the style and period of your home.

Salvaged wood paneling can often be found through architectural salvage shops or antiques dealers. The same goes for barnboard, though it can sometimes even by found though homeowners and farmers who are removing or repairing an old barn.

Giving wall paneling a contemporary appeal

Whether you're looking to update the look of existing wood paneling in an old home, or add a seamless look to retrofitted paneling, paint is your friend.  While neutrals are always a good choice, a bold paint color can be especially dramatic paired with traditional paneling.

Points of caution with interior paneling? If yours is original and beautiful wooden paneling and in good condition, don't impulse paint it. First, make sure you're certain paint will give the look you're after. Then, if you're 100 percent certain paint is the way to go, make sure to prep your surface properly. Depending on how it's finished, that may mean sanding or deglazing it (or both!), then wiping it clean with a damp towel and a dry microfiber cloth. Equally, carved or intricate panel designs can be tough to paint since paint can easily pool in crevices, so use a light hand or hire a pro.

Green panelled walls in a master bedroom with a metal bed, yellow and pink throws, and patterned cushions

Painted wood wall panels give this bedroom a modern lift

(Image credit: Katie Lee)

Where to buy new wall panelling

  • Home Depot sells basic wood paneling like shiplap and beadboard, as well as picture-frame molding both in stores and online.
  • Lowe's. Like Home Depot, Lowe's sells a selection of popular wall paneling and trim.
  • Wayfair has a good range of wall paneling options, including more elaborate and decorative versions.
  • Architectural Depot. Looking for something a little more intricate or unique? Try Architectural Depot, where you'll find carved crown molding, chair rail, geometric wall paneling, reclaimed wood options and more.
  • Vant. If you prefer upholstered wall panels, Vant sells them in a beautiful range or fabrics (Ideal for city-dwellers looking to soundproof).

A short history of wall paneling

Pimpernel wallpaper in Aubergine/Olive, £72 per roll, Morris & Co highlights one of many gorgeous wall panelling designs available

(Image credit: Morris & Co)

Wall paneling originally served a practical rather than decorative purpose: in the days before insulation was used in buildings, applying an extra layer of timber would help to warm up rooms with cold stone walls, and would also cover up damp patches.

Early examples from the 13th Century Europe tended to be plain vertical boards, but over time wood paneling evolved to become an art form and was often carved with beautiful designs. Today, you can choose between traditional polished wood and colorful painted MDF.

Framed paneling became popular starting in the 14th Century, and was usually oak, which might be left plain or be carved with decorative detail. Elaborate linenfold designs, which resembled folded linen, emerged as a trend in the late 15th Century, while in Tudor and Jacobean times the fashion was for small squares or rectangles, with the wood either left unfinished or treated with wax or varnish. The paneling was often topped off with decorative carved capping.

In the Georgian era, paneling took on a more classic appearance, with larger, simple panels of painted softwood. Over the period, paneling for walls saw a change and full-height styles began to be replaced by dado-level paneling.

The Victorians continued this trend for shorter sections, although paneling did become less popular until the Arts and Crafts movement, where simple oak designs installed to eye-level were preferred.

More period design detailing: