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Home Maintenance

Workarounds for Wood Paneling

It doesn’t seem to matter how old or new your home is, inherited wood paneling is just sometimes a fact of life. Love it or hate it (and there is some wood paneling no one could love, especially the mid 20th Century rec room look), removing wood paneling or drywalling over it is a major renovation. It may require more time, money, and skill than you have or create mess you’re not prepared to tolerate. Even a gorgeous Douglas Fir vaulted ceiling Victorian home can make you feel dreary if it’s stained a dark color and you don’t have a constant source of natural light.

Sometimes the best way to cope with wood panel design you wouldn’t have chosen yourself is to just accept the inevitable and embrace it.

Here are a few things you can do that might help you learn to love the wood panel design you wish you didn’t have in your home.

Accept the inevitable

If you’ve decided you can’t or won’t remove the wood paneling in your home, accepting the inevitable and adding more wood might be the solution. By varying the width of wood used in a room but sticking to the same materials and color palette, you may be able to reconcile yourself to living with it.

Part of the problem with uniform width wooden paneling and flooring is that it inevitably conjures images of a sauna. Which is great if it is a sauna, but not so great if it’s not. If you have narrow wood panels on your walls, using wide floor planking in the same wood and stain creates an elegant variation on a theme and supplies some visual interest.

You can also frame panels to create separate wall areas and hang a series of prints or small paintings inside each panel. If your entire room is thinly paneled wood, adding a chair rail will break things up a bit.

Add contrasting moldings

Invest in some interesting moldings that will draw the eye upward. This is an easy way to draw the eye beyond the feature you don’t want to emphasize. It also creates a more formal feel and some architectural interest. Don’t try to match the existing panel color or even the ceiling. Use this space to inject a shot of startling or soothing color.

Paint it

If your main objection to your home’s wood paneling is its color and texture, the solution is paint. The possibilities are endless. You can whitewash the paneling to lighten it up with almost no prep work. You can paint it a dark color so the paneling recedes within the room. You can paint it a bold color, and, especially if the paneling extends to the ceiling, lacquer it afterwards. This kind of treatment may make you forget what’s under there and supply some interesting texture to your walls. Or you can paint it white to conjure thoughts of picket fences and long summer days.

Cover it up

There are two ways to do this, one literal and one figurative. The figurative treatment, especially if you have only one wood-paneled wall, is to paint the paneling and then install shelves the entire length of the room and fill them with books. The paneling will still be there, but the colorful books will make you forget it except when you have to dust.

The literal cover-up for wood paneling that again works best for a single wall (although you can use it on an entire room) is to upholster the wall. You’ll need a tall ladder, a good staple gun, and enough polyester batting to cover the wall as well as far more fabric than you think you’ll need. Pattern matching is as important when upholstering a wall as it is when hanging wallpaper, so make sure you buy extra. You can seam each wall panel together and carefully press each seam open or use trim to cover the fabric panel edges.

And then there’s wallpaper. For the truly egregious 1950s rec room paneling that probably isn’t really made of wood at all, this may be the quickest and most effective solution. If, however, you’ve got real wood paneling with grooves more than a quarter inch deep, you’ll have to fill the grooves with caulk, prime the paneling with a latex primer design that blocks stain, then begin the wallpaper hanging process. If you’re going to all that trouble anyway, you might want to use paintable wallpaper, available in various textures. You can paint it to match the rest of the room or use it as a feature wall. Even paintable wallpaper will need two coats, but with any luck, no one will be able to guess what lurks beneath. Unless, of course, you tell them.

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