Victorian Wall Panelling Explained

What is Victorian Wall Panelling? And How Can You Recreate It Yourself At Home? Read on – Victorian Walls Explained. 

The Victorian era spanned 1837 – 1901, it was a pretty special time for us Brits. Queen Victoria reigned supreme and the British Empire expanded rapidly, we became the world’s first global industrial leader, through the production of coal, iron, textiles and steel. There were revolutionary scientific breakthroughs, sweeping progress and political reform. The first telephone and telegraph were introduced, the iconic Big Ben was cast in 1856, the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin was published in 1859 and most importantly Victorian wall panelling was established. Way more exciting than the industrial revolution – we’re sure you’ll all agree.  

Queen Victoria -photo credit – https://www.history.com/topics/19th-century/victorian-era-timeline

Did The Victorians Invent Wall Panelling?

Nope. The Victorians did not invent wall panelling despite what the Victorian ghost in your attic might tell you. Wall panelling dates back as far as the 13th century!

In those times there was actually a need to have your walls panelled, in order to keep out damp and provide much needed insulation as homes were constructed using stone – which as you can imagine was a bit draughty. The popularity of wall panels began to flourish, not to name drop – but even King Henry III wanted in on the wall panelling action. He even imported the wood all the way from Norway to adorn the walls at Windsor Castle – which is no mean feat when you consider shipping containers weren’t really a thing back then. 

Panelling soon turned into a fine art, new techniques emerged and before long all manner of embellishments were incorporated into wall panelling. They evolved from pretty standard wooden panels to intricate and ornate designs. However, wall panels reverted back to more simple and muted designs by the time the English renaissance came around. But when the Victorians had a pop at wall panelling, well, things got very interesting. 

Victorian Interior Design

It is difficult to categorise the Victorian era for one singular element of interior design style. When I think of the Victorian era – I imagine a city filled with smog, the clangs of manufacturing machinery and sewage – which isn’t exactly the aesthetic most people want in their homes. Putting my warped imagination to one side, I began to explore the history of Victorian interior design further, this is what I discovered.  

There were so many elements that were taken from earlier periods that it is almost impossible to label the Victorian era with one predominant design feature. In fact there are many!

Much like now, bold colours and rich prints were very much favoured in this period. Travel was more widely available to those that could afford it, so you would find far-eastern influences and design elements in fancy Victorian homes. The industrial revolution enabled mass production and as such some interior products became more affordable, this resulted in homeowners adorning their homes with rich textiles and furniture. One of the most prominent developments in this time period was the Arts and Crafts movement, spearheaded by designers such as William Morris with a heavy emphasis on the medieval style of architecture. 

Victorian interior design with wall panelling from Decoist – https://www.decoist.com/victorian-living-rooms/

In A Nutshell The Victorian Style Embodies: 

Medieval Influences

When most people hear the term medieval – they think of castles, banquets and jousting, or perhaps that’s just me. In fact the medieval era was famous for its quatrefoils, heraldic motifs and fleurs de lys. It’s iconic bold and dark colours – ivy greens, dark rich blues and ruby reds were regularly used. Wallpaper was mass produced in flock and damask styles, softer yet complex designs were also incorporated using flora and fauna prints.

Ornately carved furniture was a key design element, as were ottomans and encaustic floor tiles. Distinguishable Victorian features with nods to the medieval period were stained glass, cast-iron fireplaces and patterned tiles. 

Medieval Quatrefoil courtesy of http://www.ontarioarchitecture.com/quatrefoil.htm

Gothic Revival Architecture

Gothic Revival, think less Tim Burton and more Bram Stoker’s Dracula – well the castle anyway. Gothic Revival Architecture was another key element in Victorian design, when you think of this style you often imagine beautiful spires, vaulted ceilings, intricate ironwork, buttresses, pointed arch door surrounds and windows.

The pointed arch is the most identifiable feature of the Gothic Revival style; these were used on windows, porches, dormers and doors. 

A stunning example of Gothic Revival Architecture – https://victorianweb.org/art/architecture/homes/styles.html

When we think about Victorian interior design style, we often imagine grand decor brimming with rich colours and clever geometric patterns. It is evident that in this period nature and geometry gave inspiration to design, which has echoed through the ages and inspired many of the modern panelling techniques we see today. 

Did the Victorians have wall panelling?

Yes they did, typically Victorian walls were panelled up to the mid area of the wall and then capped off with a dado rail. The dado rail was installed to protect the walls from chair backs because apparently slamming the back of your chair into a wall was a way to pass the time back then.

The interior design style in Victorian homes can be best described as busy, Victorian walls were famed for their rich patterns and complex decoration. Notably geometric designs and stripes were a key feature with Victorian wall panelling, alongside wall mouldings and decorative ceilings. 

Dark and Rich Victorian Interior Design – https://roomforhistory.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/manhattan-girl-in-brooklyn/

What Did Victorian Wall Panelling Look Like?

As mentioned before the wall panelling styles in Victorian homes were an amalgamation of earlier styles, it was commonplace to see Stuart and Georgian panelling adorning the walls. The wall panelling style most commonplace in a Victorian household were wall panels shaped in a series of small rectangles, evocative of the Victorian window shutter designs.

Due to Victorian houses having such impressive architecture and furnishing there was no real requirement for the panelling to be as excessive, the Victorian wall panelling style is best described as formal. Despite the formal style of wall panelling in the Victorian era, they certainly went bigger with their Cornice and skirting boards. The Victorian style of Cornice is instantly recognisable due to its many ridges and deep inner coves.  High skirting boards were very popular at this time and they perfectly complemented the wall panelling and dado rails – giving an elegant and grand appearance to the room. 

Victorian Kitchen Interior Design from Louise Booyens Interiors – https://www.louisebooyens.com/post/interior-design-style-victorian

Are Victorian Walls in fashion?

Very much so, a quick search for ‘Victorian wall panelling’ on Google pulls up hundreds of websites and businesses offering this service. Wall panelling has seen a real resurgence in the last 12 months, so it’s no real surprise that Victorian walls are making a comeback. 

What style of panelling are Victorian walls?

Victorian of course, it can be identified as panels of either small rectangular shapes or strips which cover up to the mid portion of the wall. Dado rails are a key feature but you don’t have to use them if it’s not the aesthetic you are trying to achieve. They do however add a lovely flourish to the panelling aesthetic. 

What type of wall panelling did the Victorians have?

The Victorians used wooden wall panelling as that was the only material available to them. Nowadays there is the much more budget friendly alternative, namely MDF Victorian panelling.  Which is unfortunate for the Victorians because they could have saved themselves a lot of money. 

A Victorian Hallway from Love To Know – Love to know – https://interiordesign.lovetoknow.com/Victorian_Interior_Design

How high are Victorian wall panels?

Well traditionally victorian wall panels were placed up to the middle portion of the wall. However, we can’t tell you the exact measurements because every house is different but on average we would say 1m high from the top of the skirting board – this also entirely depends on the height of your ceiling. 

Did the Victorians use MDF for wall panelling?

No, sadly MDF wasn’t invented until the 1960s. The Victorians used wood for wall panelling, which as you can imagine took a lot of time to prepare and install. We’re fortunate enough to have MDF as an alternative, it has the same properties but is considerably cheaper and easier to fit. 

Can I Recreate Victorian Panelling With MDF?

You can indeed and we’ve put together some super easy and handy MDF Wall Panelling installation guides to show you how. We’re nice like that. MDF is commonly used to build cabinets and storage shelves, so it’s a very sturdy material – which is ideal when you’re fixing it to a wall especially in high traffic areas such as the hallway. 

Victorian MDF Panelling – is it hard?

Not at all, Victorian wall panelling is relatively straightforward when using MDF. Which is why we wrote an article on Why You Should Stop Buying Wood Wall Panels and Try MDF Wall Panelling Instead! Whether you’re a first time DIY’er or a seasoned renovator – Victorian mdf wall panelling can be installed by anyone, providing you have an understanding of the basics like measuring a wall. 

How do I recreate Victorian wall panelling at home?

We’re glad you asked, if you hadn’t guessed already – this is our favourite subject. There are several elements to consider when planning your Victorian walls. 

Firstly, which room will you be panelling? One, two, the entire house? All are feasible.

Secondly, which style of Victorian wall panelling do you want to install? In Victorian homes you would often find strip wall panels in the bathrooms and kitchens and small rectangular panels throughout the rest of the home. Of course this doesn’t limit you if you want to have Victorian strip wall panels in every room, or rectangular wall panels in your bathroom – you can. 

Thirdly, how far up the wall do you want it to span? Wall panelling was often applied up to the mid section of the wall, but if you want to cover the entirety of your wall in Victorian panelling then who’s to stop you. 

And finally what colour scheme do you have in mind? Colour is very important when trying to recreate Victorian walls, they originally chose dark and rich shades to emphasise the importance of a room but as time passed these beautiful bold tones spread throughout the home – we won’t go into too much detail but this was largely due to the damaging impact of the widespread pollution in the cities. Pollution aside, if you want to go the whole hog and recreate the ultimate Victorian interior, think of rich warm tones such as mustard, forest green and plum.

If you want to try a more subdued Victorian aesthetic, you can opt for shades such as sage, lavender or muted burgundy. You aren’t restricted to these paint colours, you can of course pick any palette you please. 

Bold prints and rich tones paired with Victorian Wall Panelling from Louise Booyens Interiors – https://www.louisebooyens.com/post/interior-design-style-victorian

Is Victorian MDF panelling expensive?

No, MDF is the more cost effective option for recreating Victorian panelling. Wooden wall panels are quite expensive and if you plan on panelling the entirety of your home, you will need a big budget. Whereas you can buy Victorian mdf panelling kits online for much less and install it in a couple of hours – depending on the size of the space you wish to panel. 

Where Can I Buy MDF Victorian Wall Panelling?

Well thanks to the wonderful world of the internet, you can buy it online. But we must stress that it’s important to do your research when looking for a supplier, take your time, read the reviews and inspect the product description to ensure you are buying the right MDF Victorian Wall Panels for your project. 

Whether you’re looking to bring a period property back to life or inject some Victorian elegance into your modern home, Victorian wall panelling is a timeless classic and can be dressed up or down in any way you see fit. 

A Victorian panelled interior from Hiranandani parks – https://www.hiranandaniparks.com/blog/blog/plots-at-oragadam-victorian/