Panel beater: How best to embrace the latest interiors trend
PUBLISHED: 07:27 28 March 2018 | UPDATED: 18:43 28 March 2018
Wood-panelled walls no longer have to be the reserve of posh libraries, National Trust hallways or the assembly hall at Hogwarts, as Richard Burton discovered.
The modern styles that have seen panelled walls make such a comeback have moved way beyond the dark mahogany tongue-and-groove styles our parents grew up with.
These days, the look is less about traditional formality and more about using period authenticity to bring warmth, texture and detail to a room. Not to mention the fact that it can save hours of stripping, hanging and painting.
And while there’ll always be a market for reclaimed original boards from the 1950s and ’60s, these days there are cheaper and simpler ways to get the look – and spread it throughout the house.
Charlotte Cosby, the creative force that’s helped to define the looks on show at, among others, Farrow & Ball’s showroom in Market Place, St Albans, says she’s seen panelling grow in popularity as more and more people experiment with colour and texture in more unexpected ways.
“It can inject personality and interest to your décor as well as bringing texture and detail to otherwise ordinary spaces,” she said.
“Panelling walls are surprisingly flexible, they can be used in period properties as well as contemporary properties and in a variety of rooms. Darker panelled walls are a great way to create a cocoon-like space and colours like Book Room Red, Brinjal and French Gray are an ideal choice for social spaces, particularly when illuminated by candlelight.”
She says using panels on the lower half of a wall can create an interesting colour-and-texture combination that can make a room feel bigger and more airy and panelled bathrooms are popular because they are often the rooms where people are less afraid to inject colour on to walls.
“Panelled walls bring a variety of atmospheres in to your home, they will immediately add texture and detail to the room,” she adds. “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.”
Local interiors blogger Rebecca Sterling, who has long regaled readers with tales of renovating her Kings Langley home, said only this week she favoured Farrow & Ball’s Amonite as it “feels perfect for the panelled walls, a little more traditional but still versatile enough to go with a whole host of other colours”.
Most interiors experts agree that it can add immense warmth to a space without the fussiness wallpaper can sometimes bring. It also has textural qualities that add character, particularly if it’s a wood with an interesting grain, such as walnut or bamboo or something salvaged from a construction site.
Some go for the classic elements that add traditional elegance, especially those involving ornate designs in rare woods as a serious backdrop for, say, hanging fine art.
But such has been the growth in demand for more affordable options that one traditional timber furniture maker’s experiment with producing it in MDF sheet form was so successful, a new company was formed on the back of it.
The Stroud-based English Panelling Company quickly became the largest of its kind in the country – with a substantial client base in Hertfordshire where there’s no shortage of quality new homes and traditional ones looking for upgrades.
“In the past couple of years it’s really taken off. There was a time when everyone wanted to go for traditional tongue-and-groove boarding but people have become far more adventurous with rectangles and squares and creating feature walls,” said founder Jon Madeley.
“In fact, at one stage, I’d have said that, for every one sheet of our Jacobean panelling, for example, we’d sell 100 of the tongue and groove. Now it’s more 70-30.”
Part of the popularity is the ease in which it can be cut to shape, boxed and sent by overnight courier. Jon’s firm has recently taken orders from London interiors firms working on Hertfordshire projects and dealt directly with the likes of Oakridge Homes in St Albans, Watford Construction, CS Building and Design in Harpenden and Eden Developments on projects in Hatfield.
“We tend to use the moisture resistant type, which keeps it flexible for bathrooms and provides better paint finish – it doesn’t suck up the paint like the Weetabix from some DIY stores. Besides, the cost difference from the top to the bottom end of the range is minimal.”
And, if you fancy something even simpler, there’s a whole range of wood-effect wallpapers out there, which allow you to recreate, say, a country house library in a style that can be easily hung and wiped clean.
They range from distressed timber designs from Andrew Martin at £66.20 to a more basic wood-effect in grey textured vinyl from £9 from B&Q.
But if you’re prepared to spend and really want something different, you can go the whole hog and recreate a mountain range formed by volcanic activity over millions of years as Moko interiors have done; creating, for example, a series of hand-crafted panels depicting the peaks, slopes and valleys of the Matra Mountains in their native Hungary.
A panel on panels…
Wall panelling was originally used as a way of keeping buildings warm in the days before insulation became commonplace. An extra layer of timber would be added to cold stone walls – often covering damp patches in the process.
Plain, vertical designs, usually full height, were introduced in the 1300s but a century later, framed designs became more popular, usually in oak and often bearing elaborate designs, such as those resembling folded linen.
A fashion for small squares and rectangles emerged in Tudor and Jacobean times, with the wood either waxed or varnished.
It wasn’t until Georgian times that it took on a more classic appearance, with larger, simpler panels of painted softwood reaching dado level.
The trend continued with the Victorians and, while it fell out of favour for a period, was revived by the Arts and Crafts movement, usually in simple oak designs.
These days, many designers faced with full-height walls tend to see them as either an opportunity to create drama or experiment with softer shades to counter what can be something rather imposing. And all this, of course, assumes a house isn’t listed and such changes don’t fall foul of conservation laws.