Wall panelling in 8 simple steps

large front yard or garden of house
How to panel a wall like a pro Photographer: Polly Wreford | Stylist: Jen Haslam | Production: Sarah Keady

Adding character and charm, wall panelling has the potential to transform every room of your home, from the bedroom to the bathroom and in high traffic areas like hallways too.

DIY wall panelling hasn't just taken over people's homes, but social media feeds too. Just browse Instagram, TikTok or Pinterest and you'll see some rather incredible before and after reveals, showcasing just how effective these decorative wall coverings can be.

It's important to choose the style you think will best suit your home. Mouldings include grand period designs, tongue and groove, traditional shaker-style, Jacobean-style grid, or dado style. Decorative slat wall panels are also popular, such as this impressive DIY dining room wall.

But don't be put off if you've never done it before, with a little know-how, you can make decorative wall panels easily and quickly, and with great results.

What is the cheapest way to panel a wall?

One of the cheapest ways to panel a wall on a budget is to purchase an MDF wood panelling kit, such as this one from B&Q (£18). Ready-made kits like this contain 1.2m MDF strips (97mm x 9mm) and will cover approximately 1.2 meters squared. Simply cut to size and fit directly to the wall. Don't forget you'll still need to purchase No More Nails glue (or a similar brand).

The overall cost to panel a wall will differ depending on what wood you choose and how many walls you panel. A smaller space will be cheaper than panelling a whole room. It will also be cheaper to panel yourself rather than hiring a carpenter to do the work for you.

What are the most common types of wall panelling?

The most common types include:

• Shiplap panelling - originally used to waterproof boats, shiplap panelling is made of long, thin wooden planks that are usually arranged horizontally across a wall. The planks are tightly connected for a seamless finish.

• Slatted panelling - a modern take on the shiplap design, slatted wall panels feature slightly more visible gaps between each wooden plank. The wood and wall can be the same colour to create a textured 3D surface or different colours to make the planks stand out.

Wainscoting panelling - traditional wainscoting is decorative wood panelling along the lower wall that protects the wall from scuffs. It's a popular choice for hallways and stairs.

• Beadboard panelling - with larger grooves between vertical planks, beadboard panelling is easy to install as it often comes in large sheets that can be cut to size.

• Shaker panelling - one of the most popular DIY panelling styles, shaker panelling has wooden planks traditionally arranged in a square or rectangle that adds visual texture to a wall. It is often known as board and batten panelling, and can be configured in any design, height and width.

Follow our guide on how to panel a wall using MDF wood.

How to panel a wall

'Panelling adds warmth, depth and character to any space no matter the size,' says Craig Phillips, celebrity builder and expert. 'It truly transforms a room and is completely different to a typical feature wall.'

Before you begin, the essentials you will need include:

  • MDF wood panelling

  • A spirit level

  • No Nails Glue (or a similar brand)

  • Decorators caulk

  • Saw or cutter

  • A notebook and pen to jot down sizes

  • Paint

  • Sandpaper or an electric sander

  • Hammer

  • Pin

  • Tape measure

  • A calculator (we recommend trying this calculator and online visualiser to get the measurements correct)

how to panel a wall

Step 1: Planning

Panelling a wall is an exciting DIY task, but before you begin it's important to plan and prepare your wall first.

'As with most DIY jobs, preparation is key to getting the look you want,' Chris O'Boyle, trading director for Everyday Repair and Maintenance (EDRM) for Homebase, tells House Beautiful UK. 'Start by having a clear idea of what your panel walls will look like by sketching it down in a notebook. That way, you'll stay on track and know how many panels you need to complete your project.'

If you are choosing boxed panels, we recommend sketching out your design first. These can simply be rough diagrams to try and work out what you want.

Tip: Instagram is a great place to seek out inspiration if you're stuck for ideas. Use the hashtags #wallpanelling and #wallpanellingideas to see what other people have been up to.

large front yard or garden of house

Step 2: Measure your wall

When panelling a wall, you need to measure how many pieces of MDF wood you need (home retailers such as Homebase, Wickes and B&Q, or your local timber merchants will stock various types of wood). Once you have worked out how much you need, it's time to measure your walls. This is one of the trickiest parts of panelling, so take your time until you've got it spot on.

• Use your tape measure to work out the full width and height of the wall you are deciding to panel.

• Decide how many panels you want. Some prefer panelling only half the wall, while others love the full panelled look.

• Remember to account for top and base panels (the frame) as well as vertical and horizontal panels.

'It may sound obvious, but make sure you measure your walls accurately. To ensure your panels are even and give you a neat finish, write down all your measurements clearly and carefully, down to the last millimetre,' says Chris.

And, always double check your measurements to ensure it'll fit like a glove. 'Measure your wall. And then measure it again, just to be sure,' advises Craig. 'It's crucial that your measurements are correct and that your panel sizes are even and fit the space perfectly. Work out the distance you would like to have between each panel – this will help determine how many panels you'll need.'

Step 3: Cut the panels

Now it's time to cut the panels, which is dependent on the size of your wall, or how much you want to panel. You can either cut the panels yourself or ask a professional (B&Q will cut MDF wood for free, depending on how many you have).

'Using a saw and mitre box at a 90-degree angle, carefully cut the panels that will be horizontally placed according to the measurements,' explain the experts at Richard Burbridge. 'Repeat this process for all of the vertical panels, then lightly sand the ends until smooth.'

man cutting through block of wood using saw, close up of hands
Jackyenjoyphotography - Getty Images

Step 4: Sand and smooth your walls

Next, it's time to sand and smooth down your walls. You can either use sandpaper or an electric sander if you have one to hand.

'Prepare your walls before attaching the panels by sanding and smoothing them down. This removes any lumps or bumps which may otherwise show through,' adds Chris.

how to panel a wall
ezza116 - Getty Images

Step 5: Apply the panels to your wall

Start by adding the frame. First with the base panels, followed by the top. Place your panel onto the marked wall and use a laser level to ensure the panel is straight. Apply strong adhesive to the back and apply to the wall – be sure to press down firmly and leave to dry.

Continue to add the vertical panels first, followed by the horizontal panels.

Craig recommends sticking the panels to the wall using No More Nails glue but for extra security and hold, Richard Burbridge recommends using both nails and adhesive.

Tip: Use a pipe and cable detector before nailing or drilling into any walls. If you are unsure it is safe to nail into your wall, opt for a strong adhesive instead.

slatwall deep walnut at naturewall
Pictured: SlatWall Deep Walnut at Naturewall Naturewall

Step 6: Fill in any gaps

Once you have applied the panels to your walls, go over them with decorators caulk to patch up any unsightly gaps, cracks or holes. You may need to fill some in the sides, depending on whether any gaps appeared (don't worry as you can cover this with paint).

'Don't panic if some of your panels are a couple of millimetres short, simply fill them with Polyfilla before sanding to create smooth, seamless joins,' explains Craig.

Once filled, sand this down to complete the look.

kitchen wall panelling in blush pink and navy
Champions (UK) Plc

Step 7: Prime your panels

Next, prime your panels using a wood primer (such as this Dulux white wood primer) to give your paint job a professional start. See below how our primed panels looked when we tried it.

'Paint primers act as a base coat, creating the foundation for a flawless paint job. It creates a foundation for brilliant colour and a smooth seamless paint application,' say the experts at The Paint Shed.

'In most cases, we recommend using one coat of primer before two coats of your chosen paint to achieve a professional finish. For porous surfaces (wood/masonry) or to cover dark colours, a second coat of primer may be required.'

primer painted on wooden wall panels
Primer painted on wooden wall panels Lisa Joyner

Step 8: Paint your wall panel

Now it's time for the fun part! Before painting, ensure that the adhesive, decorators caulk and filler (if used) is fully dry and has set. You may need to coat your walls twice to ensure the primer is completely covered.

To achieve an Insta-worthy look, opt for scene-stealing shades of inky blue, green or blush pink. Scroll through some of our favourite looks for inspiration below...

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