An entry hallway of a modern home features a slat wood wall panelling with several concealed doors.

How to build wood panel walls with concealed doors

March 17, 2024

Decorative wood wall panels in residential architecture have a long and rich history, embraced by every generation of designers. Wall panelling — unsurprisingly — found their way into modernist homes of the 1930's from which modern architects draw inspiration today. Villa Tugendhat by Mies van der Rohe is an excellent example where the architect cleverly integrated floor-to-ceiling rosewood veneer panels with flush-to-the-wall concealed doors.

Rosewood veneer panels clad the wall and the flush door in the main entrance hall of Villa Tugendhat, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1928 and built between 1929-30. Photo by Carla Maher.

For modern homes, where white walls frequently reign supreme, rich wall paneling is a highly effective way to add a touch of character, finesse, and warmth to the home interior.

Have you ever wondered how to panel a wall? Our expertise in designing and building frameless doors — these filo muro doors become an integral part of wood panel walls — demonstrates that careful planning is everything. Let's review what we've learned from designing, manufacturing and installing wall paneling, cladding and slat panel solutions for our discerning clients worldwide.

Hallway millwork — Wood panel wall with Dorsis Fortius concealed jib door and several built-in closets. The key to this look is to grain match the wood veneer — see how the pattern crosses the lines around the door perimeter, creasing a pleasing uniform look.

Assessing the wall

Most walls we encounter here in the US, including in brand-new builds utilizing LSL studs (engineered lumber such as TimberStrand LSL by Weyerhaeuser), are not perfectly flat. Even with wall flattening drywall shims, the resulting wall can become proud (where it sticks out past flush) or shy at places.

Baseline for wall panels — Next, we build a support lattice using furring strips. We use additional millwork shims to make the lattice perfectly flush as needed. The finished support lattice gives us an easy way to hang the wood panels. If you are curious — a trim shim is a tapered wedge (made of wood or composite material) utilized for making positioning adjustments to building elements such as door frames and windows. With doors specifically, a shim helps the trim carpenter set the door frame plumb (perfectly vertical) and level. A shim fills the gap between the door frame and the stud and ensures they connect.

Typical wood panels installed in high-end real estate projects are wood veneer panels. The panels are commonly 18 mm furniture-grade particle boards with veneer applied on both sides. The veneer applied on both sides of the particle board balances the stresses, mitigates warping, and keeps the panel flat in the long run.

Attaching wall panels

How are wood panels attached to walls? Depending on specific site conditions, we may screw or glue the panels to the support lattice or attach them using Knapp Duo connectors or a similar furniture fitting. The design outcome we're looking for is to make sure that wood panels are not showing any screws or nails.

We advise our design partners to consider the net height of the wall panels carefully. Because the floor may not be as perfectly level as the client, trim carpenter or installer would like, we find it preferable to set the bottom edge of the wall panel a little above the finish floor level — this could be as little as ⅛" or ¼" or a very intentional ½" shadow reveal. You'll hear this detail referred to as gallery baseboard or museum baseboard.

This modern home gym features a sauna, a shower, and WC. In close collaboration with the architectural designer we designed and manufactured this beautiful wood panel wall with concealed Dorsis Fortius frameless door.

Slatted wall panelling

Slatted accent walls are a fresh, modern alternative to painted feature walls. The contemporary home architects we collaborate with use slatter walls strategically for high-traffic areas in the residence, often a hallway with built-in closets. The key reason behind this interior design move is that these hallways are white and long, so replacing at least one of the white walls with more texture, pattern, or interest increases the perceived value of the house.

A highly appealing design variant of the slatted wall panel is a fluted wall — fluting is the concave carving of the wood and may appear as a wavy surface, creating an attractive 3D effect. Our Dorsis Fortius concealed door system is designed to receive fluted panels (up to ½" deep), making it ideal for creating jib doors. Equipped with correct hardware, Dorsis Fortius concealed door can be hidden within the wall, installed as an inswing or an outswing door, and without any exposed hardware on the flush-with-the-wall side.

Big design on a small budget

Building a wood panel wall with an integrated custom hidden door is an involved process. If you need to take smaller steps but still want to make a significant design impact in your interior, consider equipping your doors (including double closet doors) with concealed 3-way adjustable hinges such as Tectus or Simonswerk Anselmi. Visible, surface-mounted plain bearing butt hinges, while perfectly serviceable, rarely look great.