Monday Inspiration: Tongue and Groove Walls

Now I’m aware that after nearly ten years together (for some of us) I don’t need to tell you this; but if ever you were having a wobble about how to redecorate know that I read this week in one publication that the trend for tongue and groove was definitely over. The following day I read a long list of interiors trends for 2021 which said that “textured joinery” is definitely having a moment.

tongue and groove kitchen by with copper sink
tongue and groove kitchen by with copper sink

There are two points to note here. One is basically trend-schmend, you must simply take the time to decide what you like and carry on. The second is that what is billed as a new trend (so magazines and stores can appear fresh) is often exactly the same as the old one with a different name. Thus tongue and groove aka shiplap aka a version of panelling aka textured joinery is all the same thing. New year new name. It’s all sticking bits of wood onto the wall either because you like the look of it or because you want to hide some shoddy plasterwork.

kitchen by cupboards and goods
kitchen by cupboards and goods

The point being that you can (and should) decorate however you damn well please and if necessary you can give it a new name and have people falling over themselves at your fashion forwardness. My current trend of choice is probably Natural Rustic, which will reveal itself to be quite dusty with lots of holes in a faded colour palette.

But the other thing is that as soon as someone declares a fashion to be over it’s usually when most of us are just getting round to installing it. So it is with tongue and groove, many people have had it for years while others are just coming round to it and, in period properties at least, it’s a classic look. It’s also a good way of bringing in another colour to your scheme – the lower walls and woodwork in one and the top half and ceiling in another – this will make the room look cosy and the ceiling taller.

tongue and groove by angela wheeler @bulidingwalnutfarm
tongue and groove by angela wheeler @bulidingwalnutfarm

It’s also a lot easier to install than traditional Victorian or Georgian panelling. There are lots of online tutorials about how to DIY.  but the key point is that it’s perfect for kitchens and bathrooms (as seen here) whatever their age. We installed some in the bathroom of our last house (over 10 years ago) as it was a cold room and we felt the wood would be warmer than tiles.

Above you can see it in utility room with an extra layer of utility in the form of the painted Shaker pegs round the top. This also works well in kids rooms for storage and if you paint the woodwork in eggshell, or even gloss, it will create a tough wipe clean surface that won’t mind being bashed about.

tongue and groove bathroom by melanie lissack interiors
tongue and groove bathroom by melanie lissack interiors

Above and below you can see it in the bathrooms of Melanie Lissack (hers is painted Farrow & Ball Treron) and Sophie Robinson (who chose wallpaper by Ottoline Devries for hers). Melanie lives a fabulous Georgian house while Sophie is in a Sussex farmhouse and both take this style of decor really well.

But if you live in a new build and want to add character then tongue and groove is also your friend. Use wider boards and stick to a modern colour palette. Cream might look more traditional but black or navy or even brighter shades will give it a fresh look when paired with modern furniture and styles.

tongue and groove bathroom at Sophie Robinson Interiors, image by Alun Callendar
tongue and groove bathroom at Sophie Robinson Interiors, image by Alun Callender

Basically when a “trend” works for everyone in every style of house you can expect it to stick around for a while with or without a name change. So all you have to do is take a few minutes to decide if you like it because you like it or if you like it because it’s a bit fashionable – which isn’t wrong by the way but leads you to a second question –  and will you still like it when it’s “over”? Know that, find your interior style and away you go.


Tags : panellingshiplaptextured joinerytongue and groovetongue and groove walls
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. Agree I dont think I will ever get fed up of T&G especially painted in lovely colours. It just works in loads of different settings.Something solid , timeless and practical there is a reason it sticks around – because it works. But definitely durable wipeable paint required esp around toilet for male “splashes” if you catch my drift !

    1. Great thought provoking item. It is so easy when making decisions to be influenced by magazines, ‘trend’ lists, etc rather than listening to our own instincts. As someone who had been rather slow on the constantly changing trend patterns (interiors and fashion!) I find that by the time I have made a decision the trend that was nagging me has either passed or I realise it wasnt what I was wanted it needed anyway. Thank you for your clear, comprehensive insight that gives people like me more confidence. Anny

  2. I want to second Linda’s sentiment – the honest, practical, and common-sense tone of this blog (while still being fun, creative, and inspirational) is always such a breath of fresh air! Thanks, Kate!!

  3. Thoughts about T&G have been on my mind for awhile. Whenever I see an image of it on a wall, new or last century, I want to include it in my loft. It is the linear design, the play of light and shadow, and the warmth of wood which is appealing. Decor trend or not, I think T&G will continue to inspire. Thank you for this post.

  4. I love it and i really like the two examples you’ve posted. I used T&G in my bathroom and it saved an absolute fortune in plastering. I was able to paint it and the joinery costs aren’t huge. I wouldn’t use it everywhere and I really like the different forms of T&G here. Very snazzy.

  5. Thanks for including me Kate! Personally, I love tongue and groove and will always use it trend or no trend! It is so brilliant in a bathroom to keep clean once painted in a durable paint! I love the way it has been used here in the kitchen pictures. Dreamy.

  6. Planning this for my utility renovation, painted in eggshell so its easily wipeable for wet and muddy dogs!

  7. I recently renovated a Fisherman’s cottage and used T&G in all the bedrooms & bathrooms. It hid a multitude of sins but is in keeping with the coastal scheme. It was an expensive choice as the building inspector decreed that all the walls needed to be coated with intumescent paint before any normal paint & this didn’t come cheap, but I’m really pleased with the look. It somehow makes those rooms feel warm & inviting rather than other rooms where the plaster is simply painted.

  8. I have had it in a downstairs toilet since 1998 ! It’s been painted different colours over the years and I still love it , it’s currently off black x

  9. Really enjoy this blog for many reasons and one of them is that KWS is so down to earth which I find so helpful. Thanks Kate.

  10. I’ve been watching Anne with an E on Netflix recently & there is the most gorgeous but simply furnished 19th century Canadian farmhouse kitchen with tongue & groove panelling. Great style never dates.

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