Installing headboards and wall panels

Published On: May 1, 2019Categories: Interior, Shop Techniques

By Terri Madden

A headboard or wall panel is the focal point of a cabin. It can be configured in any shape or size and can be easily made by selecting a material and stretching and stapling it over foam and PVC.

 A headboard or wall panel is the focal point of a cabin. Selecting its shape, texture and color are essential steps in creating the desired atmosphere of a stateroom or guest quarters. Headboards and wall panels are similar in fabrication and installation; the difference is that headboards are mounted horizontally, and wall panels are mounted vertically.

Headboards and wall panels can be configured in any shape or size. They can be easily made by selecting a material and stretching and stapling it over foam and PVC. There are also prefabricated 3D wall panel patterns available as large as 2 feet x 3 feet, in materials and textures that are lightweight, paintable and easy to install by peeling off the backing and sticking them to a wall. 

Narrow the options early

I love selecting materials, yet sifting through the endless options is time-consuming, especially if you are working on a project with multiple customers with different tastes. At the initial meeting, review the size of the panel area, budget and timeline to gather as much information as possible.

Take the lead by discussing colors used on other areas of the vessel and narrow down the patterns. Stay away from bold stripes; these don’t work well in small angled cabins. Consider geometric or textured textiles, like suede and velvet, which have surged in popularity. These have soil- and stain-resistant finishes and their classic textures are soothing and inviting.

Your finished creation will make a statement in an area designed for relaxation. The components of the space can be alluring and evoke a romantic atmosphere. The final result can be sleek and tailored, or as dramatic as a movie set.

Layout and fabrication

We have several customers who want headboards that span the entire width of the wall behind the bed. This makes a dramatic statement and provides a cozy setting. Depending on the size and weight of the panels, we frame out the wall and panels with 2-inch adhesive-backed polyester Velcro® brand hook and loop tape. We prefer polyester hook and loop, even though it is more expensive than nylon, because it is more resistant to the elements.

Prep the wall by wiping it down with alcohol and stick the adhesive-backed hook and loop tape to the wall perimeter, as well as to the grid pattern you have prepared in advance. The grid pattern depends on the size and weight of the panel. Prepare the final panel to match the wall grid layout. I recommend using a serge stitch for a “finished edge” to keep the weave from opening when the material is wrapped over the panel edge. Center the hook and loop tape over this edge to give it a clean appearance.

Button tufting tips

Constructing headboards with button tufting takes considerable setup time. We recently did a headboard with a “mock” button effect. We laid out the PVC base and fabric with a 7-inch diamond repeat pattern. After topstitching the Sunbrella® Ivory Sailcloth fabric with a Cayenne Orange accent thread, we drilled holes through the PVC at the intersections for the button placement. We glued a thick Dacron® topper over 2-inch foam and mounted it to the PVC. We prepared the 1-inch accent buttons in matching Cayenne Orange Sunbrella that we installed through the foam headboard. 

At Sand Sea and Air, we use both sew-on and metal post tufting buttons. The metal two-part flange post is available with 2½-inch metal dividers. These spread open to attach the button to the back of the panel without the added step of threading buttons from top to bottom to secure the button to the baseboard. 

Don’t forget lights

Understand where the light source is in the cabin. This is an important detail that is easily overlooked. Will outlet openings need to be included in your headboard or wall panels? This seemingly small detail can take additional hours to install correctly. It may even involve more patterning and fixture mounting than your customer expects. When it is not included in your initial pricing, it will affect your profit on the project. 

Terri Madden owns Sand Sea & Air Interiors Inc. in San Juan, Puerto Rico.