Reader Question: Dealing with Wood Paneling

I got a question today about how to freshen a wood paneled wall. My immediate reaction is: Paint it! ASAP. BUT, I realize that sometimes it isn’t that straightforward.

When I think of wood paneling I think of that fake wood veneer with the black lines grooved into it. I used to file my nails in those grooves at my grandparents old place. That stuff I don’t think you should feel bad about painting at all. Its not really wood and it paints out beautifully in a creamy white or soft blue/grey.

{image via Monica Wants It} click  the link for a full how-to

{image John Coolidge}

If you have real wood paneling I can understand why you may have a harder time deciding whether to paint, especially if it is great quality and in great shape. I think it really comes down to your personal style and the function of the room. As a disclaimer however, I am not sure I would ever be able to bring myself to painting out that beautiful Mahogany or Cherry wood panels you would find in one of those old estate homes, but anything like the veneer, knotty pine, or board and batten, the stuff you find at home depot, I wouldn’t think twice about, not just because it was wood anyways.

{image of Blackberry Farm via Traditional Home}

Wood sucks up light like a sponge does water so painting it out, especially a light colour, will make a night and difference (almost literally!) The paint colour chosen in the picture above works because of the amount of natural light.

The painted look is the style right now and paneling typically looks very dated. If you are trying to sell your house, painting out all of the paneling would be my first suggestion for getting it market ready. The more there is the more likely it should be painted.

This is one of the most dramatic examples I can find demonstrating the magic of paint.





This was a transformation done by John and Sherry over at Young House love. You can see more of their awesome work and a detailed how to and source list here.

If you are a position where you can’t paint, you are renting or you have a moral issue with painting wood but you want an update, wood feature walls are, luckily for you, pretty trendy right now.

This awesome reading room was done by Kevin and Layla at The Lettered Cottage.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I can’t decide, no trend ever comes back in the exact same way twice. This wall was paneled with reclaimed wood and applied horizontally but you could pull off a similar look. Here they have trimmed the wood wall with rustic white crown molding which fits their style and the other walls and looks very finished and professional. Below is a similar project using reclaimed wood from shipping pallets.

{image via Poppytalk}

Now if none of these options work for you here are some ways to break up the wood:

  • Avoid putting anymore wood, dark brown or black in the room. If your couch is one these colours, consider a slip cover.
  • Choose bright and light colours and accents and use in throw pillows, rugs, and art
  • Hang BIG art in bright colours, this will not only hide a good amount of the wood but it will brighten up the room
  • If you have windows on one wall that take up most of the wall, consider hanging your curtains so that they cover the whole wall. When the curtains are open, they will not hide any of the window and block precious light. When the curtains are closed they cover an entire wall of wood. Again, I’d chose a light colour and an organic (curvy, natural, not linear) or geometric pattern so that they do not blend into wall. Avoid a vertical linear pattern.
  • Hanging a big mirror on a wall perpendicular or across the room from a window will bounce the light around the room and give the illusion of another window.
And lastly,
  • Embrace it. Especially if where you are living is a rental and you know it is fairly short term, do what you can with what you have and do not let your decor stop you from enjoying life and practicing hospitality!

If you have any ideas to pass along feel free to post in the comments below!

Tomorrow is Foodie Friday so I should get to the kitchen and start some testing!




4 thoughts on “Reader Question: Dealing with Wood Paneling

  1. Hi Rachel,
    I have some pine planking on the bottom half of my basement walls in two rooms ( it is a basement of a hi ranch so basically it takes up about 2/3 of the wall and has a shelf on top, also of wood. I was not a big fan of it, it was there when we bought the house and I wanted to paint it, but the other person who lives here wanted to keep the wood. ( Names are left out to protect the innocent). It was varnished pine. I had so many different colours of wood that did not match. The trim around the fireplace was white oak, the frames around the windows and door for furnace area was another wood, I had this wood plus colonial maple coloured wood furniture with IKEA beechwood ( looks like colonial maple). I painted all the door frames and doors white, the fireplace surround white, but I was stuck with the wood planking. Not wanting to disrupt domestic bliss, I bought some stain from Benjamin Moore, I believe colour was beechwood and went right on top of the varnished pine. It created a softer caramel colour which blended better with the furniture and worked on wall colours that would complement that, rust shades for the fireplace and a caramel colour on the walls. My accents are oranges, burnt reds and yellows. The new floor is between walnut and pecan. I will send you a picture. Don’t look at the unfinshed fireplace surround, we took it off last year when redoing the floors and I am currently uncommitted and thinking about it. It has always looked odd, more on that on the email!

  2. That was a great post Rachel, super helpful and so many cool ideas! I can’t wait to get my hands on our new place in Ottawa and see what I can do. I definitely know where to come with my questions!

  3. The dramatic painting of the “brick room” is amazing in the difference it makes. Makes me wonder if I should consider painting my 40 year-old red brick fireplace. Thank you for the ideas!

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