How to Add Character to Basic Architecture: Wall Paneling
There are a lot of homes, both old and new which lack innate architectural character and charm. These could be McMansions, tract homes or even “just too-quickly-built” new-builds. Our fixer upper is one of these. Sure the living room has big windows and wood on the ceiling but besides that it’s pretty basic, with nothing really ‘special’ about it. No built-ins, no interesting mouldings, and it’s filled with basic, cheap windows and doors. Every finish is generic and it needs some architectural help, beyond just decorative furniture and accessories. Nothing is special about most of the rooms and I don’t want to fill it full of “stuff” just to mask the fact that it was cheaply built with generic hardware store finishes. And I know I’m not alone. All of us want houses full of charm and character, but often we buy based on other things – location, size, school district or budget. Tiny adorable vintage bungalows don’t fit a lot of our lives/families and often what does – the more spacious, cheaper, mass-produced houses are the ones that lack the character which gives a house some innate charm. It’s the Basic B of housing problems and we are here to help. Listen, just because your house was built “basic”, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.
Today we are kicking off this series, ‘How to add character and charm to your “basic” home’, starting with Wall Paneling.
Wall paneling has proven to be so impactful, immediately. It’s insta-charm, but does more for a room than just baseboard (which we’ll get to). We’ll cover most of the many options, with links to the best DIYs out there, and links to purchase the supplies to ‘get the look’ if applicable. We are hoping this can be a resource to anyone, with any style of house, because applying paneling to the walls can instantly transform it from being basic to interesting. Investing in upgrading the architectural elements in your home is a good place to put your money. As someone who’s job it often is to focus on the “stuff” in a room, I will tell you that if you take some time to elevate the architecture of the room itself, then you don’t need as much “stuff” to make it beautiful.
So let’s get into the many different ways that we can bring character to a home through Wall Paneling.
Applied Box Moulding:
This is one of the most simple and easiest of the options that we have in this category. It consists of adding strips of wood to your already existing walls (either with glue or nails) and then painting the entire wall to match. You can customize not only the size of the boxes, to be squares rectangles or a combo of each, but also the thickness of the boards that you add to the wall to achieve just about any look.
Jenna of pulled together this very easy to follow DIY with a step by step guide to help you get through the process. You’ll notice that before adding the strips of moulding she did face her walls in plywood which is something you will need to do if you have textured orange peel walls like she did. Her wall width was around 156″ wide and approximately 9ft tall, which brought her total cost for the project materials to $95 – pretty darn affordable for a drastic transformation. If you aren’t looking to DIY then this is something that you could easily have a contractor or handyman do in a weekend.
Here are a few options of the materials that can get you started – unfinished pine, painted trim board which could save you some time if you already have white painted walls, and then an entire wall panel that is precut and finished so that you don’t have to do any of the measuring and cutting yourself.
1. | 2. | 3.
Up next we have applied moulding, which leans a bit more formal and decorative than the previous option but can be just as easy to install on your own to achieve the look. Again, you have the option to customize the size of moulding as well as the size of the rectangle, square or shape that you install it in.
pulled together this very easy DIY for adding this type of moulding to your walls and the last picture is really selling it you guys – gone are the boring white walls in trade for something filled with character. Her wall was around 152″ wide and the project supplies totaled around $160.
For the supplies below we found some that are completely finished so that you don’t have to do any cutting or nailing together like in the DIY. Just pick out how many you want for your wall, nail or glue them up, give them a coat of paint and you are good to go.
1. | 2. | 3.
But if you have more of a budget or want to go custom then head to a moulding store (we love Imperial moulding in the valley) and choose the profile or profiles you love. Bring in a photo and they can help lead you in the right direction. There are so many options – both modern and more traditional. We recently did this in a bathroom (that we have yet to reveal) and we taped it out on the wall, measured obsessively, did a meticulous drawing and our contractor installed it.
When you hear the words vertical paneling uttered together in the same sentence it conjurs up bad 70’s shiny fake wood basement memories. But vertical paneling, when done the modern way, can bring a lot of character to a room, through texture. For this post we are focusing on the painted version, but will address a wood grain version in a follow up post.
With this one you can customize the size of the plank which drastically gives you a different look. You can see in the first example that the boards are fairly narrow (probably around 4″) where as in the last example they are much wider which gives it a more modern look. Traditionally you will see vertical paneling around 6″ – 8″ like you see in the second and third pictures which is a great width to add some character into your space.
used this type of paneling to cover up and refresh her fireplace wall (bye bye brick) and the results are pretty amazing. For her DIY she used 3 sheets of 4’x8′ 1/4″ plywood which brought the project supplies total to $60 for the lumber.
For the supplies you have a few options. You can buy large sheets of plywood or bender board (#1 and #2) and have them cut down to any size you want which works well if you plan to do wide strips of paneling or an irregular pattern. Or you can buy 6″ or 8″ common board (which basically is the cheapest type of board) at that width that you can then butt end to end on your wall and paint.
1. | 2. | 3. | 4.
We linked up #3 for the easiest/cheapest DIY option, but you will definitely need to paint it. Although, I personally think that you don’t need to sweat it too much if you have that 70’s paneling in your house – if you don’t have the budget to remove it, I think that painting it will look great. Go for a modern color – either a bright white, gray or something saturated or dark. AKA stay away from anything too 70’s or 80’s in color (beiges, browns, powder blues …. ).
Board and Batten:
Board and Batten is one of the oldest and most traditional types of wall paneling which you often see on the exterior of homes. The construction typically consists of a wide “board” and then a smaller more narrow “batten” that is installed over each of the seams creating a stronger and more energy efficient structure. When used on interior walls like the example below you don’t need to have the larger “board” but instead can fake the look with small strips installed vertically.
used the method for a room in her house by installing 1″x3″ boards vertically from floor to ceiling and then painting them. Her wall was around 136″ wide and to get the look she used a total of 8 boards bringing her approximate cost for the wall to $40 in supplies.
We did a wider version of this (in a wainscot version) at Sylvia’s house because it was desperate for some character and I can personally tell you that it worked wonders in the space.
We used 4″ pine, but since she had a textured wall we applied sheets of plywood underneath. We documented it here.
Similar to the previous examples you have a few different options for width depending on the look that you are going for. #1 and #2 could be installed directly after being purchased for a slimmer “batten”, where as #3 could be installed for a wider look or could be cut down to any width based on what look you are going for.
1. | 2. | 3.
We referenced wainscoting in the previous example but we wanted to call it out as a stand alone option as well. The term wainscoting refers to any type of wall treatment that goes a portion of the length of the wall. So while some people think wainscoting only involves beadboard or v-groove, the “half way method” can be used for any wall treatment and boy does it look good with this pink tub.
To help you out we created this little cheat sheet to give you an idea of the traditional heights of wainscoting as well as a few of the different options for capping it off. We used both v-groove and beadboard wainscoting in our house and I love how much character it added to the spaces. When it comes to finishing off the top of the wainscoting you have SO many different options and what we represented above in the graphic is just to give you a jumping off point – a standard cap leans more modern and simple, a standard + decorative moulding which can help the look lean more traditional, a picture ledge which is a lip that comes out 2″-3″, or a cove shelf which could come out as far as 8″-10″ and would allow you to lean or stack items on it.
We sourced a variety of samples for you to really illustrate how many options you have with this, although these 4 pictures only touch the surface of how custom you can get with it. I love #3 where they used a v-groove wainscoting and then finished the cap with pegs for storage and decor, but how cool is #4? You could do a version of that, with a thin block moulding, only on the bottom half to really give the room instant style – especially if you have a new build.
Our friends over at did a very simple board and batten wainscoting which only cost them $57 total for the lumber materials in their hallway which was around 256″ long. The before and after pictures are pretty amazing and I love the simple detail that it adds to a typically drab space.
As mentioned, you can use just about any of the treatments in a wainscot height but we pulled together a few options to get the board and batten look that Young House Love did (#1), a tongue and groove panel which is what we did in Charlie’s room (#2), or you can purchase a completely finished panel that just needs painting and adhering to the wall (#3).
1. | 2. | 3.
Next up we take the vertical paneling concept and turn it horizontal. And before you all comment below and ask, “Why aren’t you calling it shiplap? “I watch fixer upper and I know that is shiplap”. Shiplap, while it is technically horizontal paneling, is only one type of horizontal paneling. Shiplap traditionally has a space in between the boards (and is designed to easily fit together) where as horizontal paneling (like vertical) can be installed butt to butt without a space based on the look that you are going for.
Jenny from showed the world how easy and simple it can be to get the “shiplap” look by using bender board in her approximately 5’x7′ bathroom which in total cost her under $100.
As far the supplies for this one, you can go for a plywood panel like #1, which you have cut down to whatever size board you want, use #2 like Jenny Komenda did above, or for the more rustic shiplap look #3 which is pre-finished and ready to install is a great option.
1. | 2. | 3.
V-Groove paneling which falls under the vertical paneling family is a type of paneling where the edges of the boards have been shaved so that when it butts up to another board it forms a “V” shape in the groove. We used it in our master bathroom above as well as around our kitchen island and I love the look of it. It’s traditional with a twist and gives you more of a defined line than just butting two boards up against each other.
Although all of the examples above show it installed vertically you can install it horizontally like did in her bedroom. In full disclosure we aren’t 100% sure that what she used is v-groove but it does have that look and the step by step guide is a great tutorial for the look. The entire wall was around 162″ wide and the project supplies came in at around $175.
Just like with the other options, v-groove comes in a variety of widths. When it comes to installation you can either purchase it in individual planks which you interlock like #1 and #2, or you can buy an entire panel that is precut with “V” shapes in it to give you a similar look once it is painted.
1. | 2. | 3.
Beadboard paneling which is what we used above in Charlie’s room is a very traditional wall treatment but one that will always be timeless. It consists of a strips of wood with small “beads” in between each board. Beadboard which comes in a variety of widths as well as styles is often popular in bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways as it serves as a very durable option for your walls and you can accent above it with a different paint color if you decide to do it as wainscoting like we did above.
gave a major re-haul to her closet with some prefab beadboard panels and trim moulding and now the space looks brand new. The panels which are painted and sealed in white come as a solid monolithic sheet and cost her about $190 for materials.
Like the other options you can buy either a pre-finished slab (#2), or in individual planks (#3), or if you want the look for a rental or small space (like a backsplash) they even make textured beadboard wallpaper that can be painted and looks just about as real as the wood versions. For those of you wondering, we used the plank version in Charlie’s bedroom, which ran us about $350 in materials (we purchased from Imperial in the valley and it is real wood, but the sheets may have given the same look).
1. | 2. | 3.
Modern Abstract Paneling:
Our last inspirational example which we get might be completely not to some peoples tastes is what we have dubbed “modern abstract paneling”. Yes, it might be a little bit crazy, but these out of the box patterns definitely bring some character into a room without a lot of work. Most of these are a version of the “board and batten” concept but have just been installed in more intricate patterns and designs.
Essentially with all of these you are adding a simple tonal texture to your walls. Texture adds character and while some of these wouldn’t work in every style of home, there are versions that could work in yours. You play with the width, pattern, orientation and height. If you are a ‘save time, spend money’ person then you can easily hire a handyman for this (You don’t need an expensive contractor), but if you are a ‘save money, spend time’ person, then hopefully those DIY options and links have helped.
In case we lost you somewhere in between 1 and 8 here is a little cheat sheet of “8 Ways to Add Character to Your Walls”. Print it out, frame it, give it to your handyman, take it to the hardware store, and give your walls some character.
So, I am sure you have some questions for us – leave them below and we will try to get them all answered.
I have three questions for you:
- Can any of you give a rough labor price of these types of treatments? I realized as we were pulling this post together that every time we’ve done one of these treatments it was packaged in with a larger contractor job so I can’t even give a ballpark of how much just paneling one room would be. I think that all the readers would love to hear how long and how much the labor costs, in addition to the pricing of the materials.
- What is your favorite? Are you a more traditional bead board person or would you consider box moulding?
- Lastly, we aren’t moulding or paneling experts so if there is something that you can share – either advice, resources, other DIY posts, secrets, etc that you think could be helpful please leave them in the comments and we can try to update the post where applicable. Essentially we’d love to crowdsource as much helpful information as possible so that this post can be a reference for all of us.
Oh and let us know if you are into this series because if so, we have a lot ideas to share.