Anyone who knows me would know I shy away from any DIY project that isn’t straightforward painting, so this was definitely out of my comfort zone. I chose to start with the loo even though it was never part of the plan, because unlike the main living areas, it’s the one room where it didn’t really matter if I made a mistake, and I knew I’d be able to use the lessons learned to inform my next project.
I dug out the things I would need that we had lying around already:
– My husband’s Swiss army knife
– a tape measure
– A paper and pencil to note down measurements
– The calculator on my phone (I HATE maths)
– A roll of paper towel (kitchen roll) and a packet of baby wipes
– A big old towel long enough to rest the wooden boards on
– A spirit level
– Occasionally, a second pair of hands came in handy
And I did a run up to Bunnings (like B&Q) and bought the things I didn’t have:
– 2 x large sheets of MDF which were 12mm (thick) x 90 m (width) 120 mm (length) – they were about $30/each
– A handsaw – $20
– Wood filler (pine colour not that it really matters because it gets painted over)
– Plastic scraper (to apply wood filler) – $1
– Selley’s Liquid Nails (bought a 3-pack just in case, but only used 1) and nozzles (kindly given to me by a Bunnings man otherwise I wouldn’t have thought of it till I got home) – $15
– Gun (to push the liquid nails out of the tube)
– 35mm angled brush and a 50 mm angled brush (angled is my preference to get more control) – $15
– A Sanding block
Step Minus 1 – The Prep.
I needed an aln key and screwdriver to remove an old toilet roll holder and a glass shelf that I knew wouldn’t fit in with my plans for the new look of the room. Fortunately, I didn’t end up needing to fill the holes left behind because I kept the same holes for the new toilet roll holder, and boarded straight over the holes from the shelf. This is where you should also clean your walls and remove any debris/dust etc, but I wasn’t very motivated with that bit and tend to just baby wipe everything and hope for the best!
I got the 2 x MDF sheets cut lengthways into 10 cm strips for free at Bunnings (maybe peel the bar code off and stick it on your arm for when you’re ready to pay to save you hunting through every plank for it like I had to). This gave me about 16 planks (I still had 2 left over) that were 10 cm wide, 12mm thick and 120 cm long, plus 2 extra narrower planks from the ends that I didn’t really need but kept because they might come in handy.
I’m very impatient and didn’t want to measure anything – I just wanted to get started straight away. I’m not sure I’d recommend acting first and thinking later, but in some scenarios I’ve found it seems to turn out ok! I really wanted to get the boards on the wall to see what it looked like. So I immediately glued on one board across the bottom of the wall just above the tiled skirting, and one going up the wall in the corner of the right hand side, then did the same on the opposite wall. I needed to use a Stanley knife to flick open the Liquid Nails before attaching the nozzle (don’t try to open it with scissors – it’s impossible), and I cut a chunk off the end of the nozzle to ensure it could flow out easily. I wasn’t really sure how much glue to put on or how close to the edges of the boards I needed to go without it seeping out, but this didn’t seem to be much of an issue (any excess wiped off very easily). I just put on a generous amount all over and hoped for the best. I used a big, old white towel to work on, but I recommend a dust or painting sheet or something, as I did literally everything from this towel and the fibres annoyingly kept getting caught in my saw!
I’d put on so many boards without needing to use either a saw or a spirit level, but the easy part couldn’t last forever. Hand-sawing wood, even though it’s only thin MDF and I had watched a YouTube video where the woman said she didn’t even have to use a saw, she just used a bread knife, was absolutely freaking exhausting and made what’s actually a pretty surprisingly quick and easy job take forever. I piled up 2 or 3 planks on top of each other to create more space between the saw and the towel, and after making marks on the wood with a pencil for where I needed to cut it, I just balanced that bit of wood on top and got stuck in with the saw. I had my 5yo frequently offer to sit on the far end of the planks to act as my clamp, which did make it marginally easier (I can assure you he was nowhere near the business end of proceedings!). At first I would carefully measure out where to start sawing, but in the end I found it worked just as accurately to hold the bit of wood against the wall and mark on it with pencil without needing to measure at all. The wood needed sawing so that it would fit around the corners of the wall to meet either side of the loo and also to meet either side of the window frame. You’re better off sawing slightly more than you think you need then using wood filler, than finding that it just doesn’t fit and you need to saw it all over again.
Step 4 – The Panelling
I did actually need to start measuring up here. I knew I needed a board on either side of the toilet so I used that as my starting point to work from. Our loo isn’t central (which drives me crazy – who would do that?), so I just made sure my boards on each side of it were equal distance on both sides from the wall, rather than measuring from the loo itself. I needed the boards to cover up the holes from the shelf I had removed too, which influenced my placement. Once those 2 boards were on, I measured the distance from the one on the right hand side of the loo to the one by the door on the right hand side of that room, with the theory being that the other side should be exactly the same. The total distance was 162.8 cm. I took away 20 cm to allow for the width of 2 boards (which would create a total of 3 panels on each side of the room, plus the panel between the loo which was already done – so 7 spaces all up, which I wanted to be quite wide). That left me with 142.8 cm. I then needed to divide that by 3 in order to work out the distance I needed to leave between each board = 47.6 cm. Of course it would have to be an awkward number! Using a spirit level I was able to place the vertical boards, and now it was suddenly starting to look a lot like panelling! Then I capped them with the horizontal boards at the top. The actual measurements between my panels aren’t perfect because they each vary by a few mm due to how hard it was to get my tape measure to bend around corners and stay still, but does it matter? You can’t really tell. You may determine the spacing between your boards by what you want to cover up, what you want to frame (the loo in our case) or make a feature of, or by taking into consideration obstacles such as aircon units, sockets and switches.
I used the wood filler by applying with a plastic scraper and wiping the excess with a baby wipe – a strangely satisfying activity, a bit like icing a cake! It was very satisfying because it covered all manner of sins where no matter how carefully I’d measured, an uncooperative saw, tired arms and wonky walls scuppered my efforts to get a perfect fit. This step was way quicker and easier than any of the steps preceding it. Really, you need to use a sanding block after this step in order to have a neat, smooth finish to paint on. I didn’t. I did try, but my arms were too tired and it didn’t come off as easily as I thought it would. I paid the price with the finish. I don’t care. Impatience won.
Primer. Surprisingly tiring to apply because of how thick it was. I only needed 1 coat.
Paint in the colour of your choice. We used a muted blue called Somber Sky on the panelling, and a light grey called Frost Fangs on the top wall. Both needed 2 coats.
Step 8 – Accessorise
I had to learn to put up my first shelf, without a drill (again due to impatience because my husband was at work and I’m scared to use the drill), and put up my first loo roll holder (after first learning how to take these things down in the first place)! I bought a new toilet brush and I’m still trying to find a small mirror that we can both actually reach up and see into (we’ve found use elsewhere for the one I bought that was totally unsuitable without needing a stepladder to reach it), because our panelling reaches quite high up the wall (140 cm from the floor total, plus perhaps another 10cm in skirting). I’ve also ordered a botanical ochre coloured wall paper to go in between each panel – it’s totally unnecessary because it looks lovely just as it is with only paint, but because I’m intending to do several rooms I want them all to vary slightly in their effect and style. You may want to add a trim around the top of your panelling (I would nail this in order to rest things like picture frames on top more confidently). I’m just going to use a thinner board around the top of mine but only on a single feature wall and not in the loo to avoid any issues with joins.
1. I don’t really recommend the impatient approach, it does catch me out sometimes. I should’ve either sanded off the wood filler excess, or been better and quicker at wiping it off with baby wipes as I went (which would have been the easiest option). I was so surprised by how easy the wood filler was to use that I got carried away and probably put it on joins that didn’t really need it because I thought it would make it neater! It didn’t. Avoid doing that!
2. If you don’t have to hand saw, don’t! It’s a total pain. Literally.
3. I don’t recommend using a towel to do all your work on. It kept moving, especially when I was sawing, and the fibres kept getting caught in the saw. But I was in the zone and just wanted to get things done and didn’t really want to get sawdust all over anything else in the house so I just persevered. Try a dust sheet or something instead.
4. If you can get someone to help you press the boards into the wall and make sure they don’t move, do! They do actually move slightly, so keep checking that they’re level and in place until the glue bonds well enough for you to leave it (it took about 5 minutes to get a firm enough hold). Use a prop if you can from one of your offcuts, or a person to help you.
5. I painted the whole room using inexpensive tester pots – 500 ml of each colour with some left over for future touch ups). Just ensure that if you run out and have to buy more, that the colours are a perfect match otherwise you’ll have to repaint. When I ran out of my first tester pot, my second pot had the wrong pigment measurements accidentally put in, and whilst I noticed before applying any and they swapped it over for me without fuss, I still had to repaint part of the wall anyway because the 2 tester pots even with the right measurements weren’t a perfect match, and that was visible until I fixed it.
6. The reason I chose 10cm wide panels was specifically to make the calculations much more straightforward. I told you I hate maths!
7. I thought that 12mm thickness boards would be too thin to really stand out, and was tempted to get an MDF board of 16mm thickness instead. I’m really glad I didn’t. You however, may want to be guided by the thickness of your skirting so that it sits above it neatly and nicely.
8. You don’t have to use MDF, I just found it was a lot more affordable to get a big sheet of MDF cut down than it was to get lots of separate boards of moulding in pine or whatever, or pre-primed . Also, a lot of those options were bevelled which would over-complicate the joins between boards and likely make it all a longer and trickier process.
9. I didn’t use any nails at all except to put up the shelf. I’m hoping the Liquid Nails lives up to its name and my expectations. Feel free to use nails if you want that extra reassurance, it’ll just be more work covering them over, however, so that you can’t see them.
10. You will find your walls are wonky, and you may have gaps behind your boards – feel free to stuff them with wood filler or paint or whatever.
11. You may not want to use wood filler and may prefer to use caulk. I didn’t because I couldn’t find it and didn’t want to ask for it because I wasnt sure how to pronounce it and didn’t want to sound stupid, especially as a female (cork? Colk? I still don’t know, someone tell me!).
12. If you’re at Bunnings and have a stack of planks precariously balanced on your trolley, avoid the pot holes in the car park at all costs. Mine started toppling off in the middle of the road, while a car was right behind me. Thankfully a staff member came straight over to help, and I already had my sunnies on to hide the embarrassment.
13. Before you make the trip to Bunnings to get your wood, call them first to make sure they can cut it down to your measurements. Those sheets of MDF are really heavy and cumbersome, which is challenging if you get to the wood shop only to be told they can’t do it there and you need to travel to another store. Thankfully I found another Bunnings nearby that could do the 10cm planks for me. If you can take someone with you to help you carry the heavy stuff more’s the better (I just started this on a whim while my husband was at work and my back paid for it though someone was kind enough to help me second time round!).
14. Lastly, don’t be scared to just have a go. If I can do it, you can definitely do it too! Just watch plenty of YouTube videos and read up a fair bit about it before you start, until you’re feeling confident. I chose this particular approach after watching a woman on YouTube do her master bedroom (it made me feel more confident seeing that a woman like me could do it!), mainly because I didn’t have to use any nails (and could therefore avoid using the dreaded drill!)!
All up from start to finish this took about 5 days, with a few hours here and there – it took about 5 hrs to get the panelling up (the sawing is what was the most time-consuming part, because the room was fiddly with lots of corners, rather than starting out on a single feature wall which would probably have been easier, though at least this one didn’t have any sockets or switches to factor in). It took about 15 mins to do the wood filler (and I painted over it about 3 hours later), and maybe an hour per coat for painting the panelling x 2, then about half an hour for painting the upper wall x 2. Then there was just the clean up and accessorising, obviously the accessorising was the best bit, and getting rid of all the saw dust the worst!
The final result was so worth the toil. We were quoted around $4500 to get 4 walls panelled (unprimed and unpainted) , and this was just before the price of literally everything went up. So far we’ve done this one room for around $200, and most of the stuff we have left over will be used again on the next walls, when my arms have finally recovered! All we’ll be buying more of any time soon is the MDF!
If you do decide to have a go, let me know! I love seeing other people’s home improvement projects, it’s always great for getting more inspiration. I sat on the fence for ages before deciding to take the plunge. Good luck!