Ways to Dress Up Your Walls

Don't settle for plain drywall. Here are some easy ways to add instant appeal to your walls.
Neutral Victorian-Style Bathroom

Neutral Victorian-Style Bathroom


By: Lydia Somerville
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Plain drywall walls are a standard feature of most American homes. But they are a blank canvas for much more interesting design ideas achievable with paneling and trim.

Wainscoting, or paneling that comes partway up the wall, is an easy way to add architecture to an otherwise unremarkable room. In a formal house, large flat panels of wood, either painted or stained, can be dressed up with detailed trim for an elegant look.


Fully paneled rooms are often found in historic homes — and are a great way to get a dose of established, traditional style in a contemporary home. If budget permits, adding paneling in a lovely wood like butternut, walnut or even limed oak adds incomparable depth and warmth to a space.

Libraries are an obvious place to use paneling; and it creates an atmosphere than men in particular seem to love. But paneling can help achieve a clean, contemporary look as well.

8 Ways to Enhance Your Walls

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Dramatic Detail

This eye-catching design features white wainscoting and ceiling panels that pop against a bold canvas of royal blue. Covering a majority of your wall with wainscoting evokes a sophisticated sense of traditional style.

Photo By: HOWARD TUCKER 216-696-4616

Modern Motif

Paneling doesn't have to be confined to farmhouse design. This modern bedroom showcases a stylish accent wall that is simple and masculine.

Airy Aesthetic

Grand columns and wainscoting take this living room to the next level. For a chic design, use white detail against subtle colors to add elegant dimension. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Dunier of Dunier Design

Rustic Family Room

If the budget permits, paneling is a great way to get a dose of traditional style in your home. Rich woods create an inviting space that is luxurious and laid back. Photo courtesy of CEDIA

Warm and Inviting

Interior designer Joelle Nesen blended rustic contemporary wainscoting and molding with sleek modern furniture pieces to create a vintage vibe that's inviting. Don't be afraid to mix and match design styles to personalize your space.

From: Joelle Nesen

Cottage Character

Add instant charm to a boring wall by staining wood paneling in a warm tone. The golden hue in this cozy bedroom evokes an inviting sense of comfort and cheerfulness. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Greeley of Kathryn Greeley Designs, Inc.

Romantic Bathroom Retreat

Ellaborate details and charming use of color set the tone for this formal, Victorian-inspired retreat. Trim and molding add architectural dimension that enriches the luxury experience.

Classic Paneling With a Twist

White paneling is a traditional approach to dressing up walls. This media room features paneling that is applied horizontally and vertically to add variety to the classic design. Photo courtesy of CEDIA

Photo By: HOWARD TUCKER 216-696-4616

"Just like with ceilings, I love the chance to use something besides Sheetrock on walls," says Doug Davis of Tracery Interiors. "Horizontal 1x6 tongue-and-groove planking with a little bit of space between the boards (install with tile spacers for a quick way to get this look) makes a room feel warm and interesting."

Houses from the Arts and Crafts period often have heavy, dark paneling and woodwork, and they're usually very plainly trimmed. A cabin or lake house is a great place to use this look to reinforce the simplicity of a rustic design scheme. Similarly, beach houses with simple white-painted paneling have an airy, low-maintenance vibe.


In a bungalow or cottage, beadboard wainscoting adds texture and dimension without diminishing the casual charm of this style room. Striped rugs, slipcovered furniture and beadboard wainscoting combine for a no-fail recipe for breezy style.



Photography courtesy of Meg Braff

Photo by: Barbara Mangini

Barbara Mangini

Photography courtesy of Meg Braff

More Design Ideas

In a traditional house, there's nothing more charming than a trellised room. Originally popularized by legendary decorator Elsie de Wolfe in her Trellis Room at New York's Colony Club in 1907, treillage, as it was known, is the practice of covering the walls of a sunny room with lattice, bringing a note of the garden into the house.

Among current design stars, New York decorator Meg Braff is an expert in the use of Chinese Lattice wallpaper to achieve the effect of a latticed room without the labor.

Decorator Tom Sheere's breathtaking renovation of the Lyford Cay Club in the Bahamas includes a dapper bar area wrapped in Tom's Lyford Trellis wallpaper for Quadrille.

A cost-effective alternative for paneling is to apply a grid of 1x6 boards to a drywalled surface, suggests Doug. Paint the grid one color and the wall surface becomes the "panel" and the boards, stiles and rails will instantly come together to mimic a high-end treatment.

For the do-it-yourselfer handy with a miter saw, adding distinction to any room is as easy, and inexpensive, as buying a few lengths of trim and measuring out your room-transforming design.

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