Wainscot panelling and panelled walls

Notes on panelling – techniques and history

May 1, 2024

The history of panelling

Wainscot Panelling, or Wainscoting, is a style of panelling which developed off the back of early panelling methods.

In its first instance, wainscoting was developed as a practicality. It provided insulation and covered up any damp that infiltrated cold stone walls. Yet, it was soon recognised as a decorative technique, adding detail and warmth to a room. In the 13th century, Henry III imported wood from Norway and used it to line rooms at Windsor Castle. As time went on, decorative panelling, or wainscoting, turned into a fine art.

Linen-fold panelling was a decorated and embellished style that became popular in the 15th century. Boiserie panelling, which is ornate and intricately carved, became favoured in French interior design in the late 17th century. This type of panelling lined walls, doors, cupboards and shelves influenced the wainscoting style.

During the English Renaissance, wood panelling became simpler in design, marking a semblance to the wainscot style. In grand houses, applied pilasters appeared to provide an architrave which elegantly concealed the join between panels. Applied pilasters then became a common feature of classical Georgian interior architecture, punctuating walls to emphasise window positions and bring structure to a large space.

Close-up of a wooden panel with intricate carvings, featuring detailed scrollwork on the upper section and vertical fluted designs below.

Plate 1: Linenfold Panelling in a hallway

Image of breakfast room in Historic House

Plate 2: Example of a more simple, Georgian panelling style

A partially open wooden door leading into a room with patterned wallpaper, dark flooring, a mirror, and a lamp, framed by elegant wooden wall panels.

Plate 3: An example of 18th century, Georgian style Panelling

Image of blue console table by Artichoke

Plate 4: Wainscoting

During the 18th century, a new panelling style came into fashion: Wainscot panelling. Danish Wainscot oak panelling was characterised by only covering the lower section of a wall, leaving a dado above rather than floor to ceiling, or indeed the ceiling as well. Wainscot oak produced large, knot-free boards that were attractive and easy to work with, making it more favourable than oak grown in Britain.

Wainscoting is still a popular panelling style today.

Panelling with sunk framed squares, or rectangles, was popular in the 16th and 17th century and is particularly appropriate for restoring a country manor house. The period of a building influences its proportions both externally and internally, and such considerations are central to our design process at Artichoke.

Nowadays, it is possible to panel or wainscot walls in a variety of beautiful woods from across the world. Panelling can be made to suit both traditional and modern interior decoration. Using stains and polishes will age and give character to any wood. In softer rooms, such as bedrooms, fabric panels can be used to add texture and grandeur. In formal rooms, adding marquetry into panels can be striking and ornate.

Wainscoting lends well to darker, smaller rooms, where full walled panelling may be too oppressive. Leaving the top section of a wall to be painted or papered, offers an opportunity for colour and pattern alongside a traditional panel.

An elegant bathroom with floral wallpaper, featuring a vintage wooden secretary desk and a white pedestal sink. a tiled floor and rich green drapery add to the lavish decor.

Plate 5: An example of wainscoting in a bathroom

A sophisticated bathroom featuring a pedal sink, a built-in bookshelf filled with books, arched ceiling, and a padded bench in a blue and white color scheme.

Plate 6: Painted Wainscoting in a traditionally styled bathroom

If you own a listed property, it may be appropriate to speak to your conservation officer or take advice from Historic England. In cases of preserving and renovating authentic panelling, working with a specialist is recommended.

As experts in historical architecture and period joinery, Artichoke can offer trusted, bespoke panelling and wainscoting design. Working closely with our suppliers, we have access to some of the world’s most beautiful timbers and veneers.