Whether it's the cheap faux variety or genuine wood, wall paneling presents a design dilemma for homeowners and renters alike. It may seem impossible to decorate a room with paneling -- especially dark paneling -- without tearing it down, but there are a number of less drastic options you might consider to drag your dated abode out of its style slump.
Paint the paneling. If you own your home or your landlord approves, this is the most versatile option you have to create a new canvas for your room. You might opt to simply prime and paint, or you might first fill in the grooves between the panels with caulk or joint compound and sand the paneling to create a smooth surface. If you decide to fill in the grooves, you then have the option of applying texture to further enhance the surface before painting. Painting paneling involves preparation, including cleaning with powerful chemicals and sanding or applying a deglossing agent. When it's done properly, painting works wonders to disguise ugly paneling.
Apply wallpaper. It is possible to completely hide cheap paneling with patterned paper, but like painting, wallpapering requires preparation of the surface. Clean the paneling thoroughly, and then use joint compound and a trowel to fill in the grooves between the panels. Sand to a smooth finish before applying wallpaper. Alternatively, you might apply heavy-duty wallpaper liner to cover the grooves and create a smooth surface before applying wallpaper.
Furnish your space in mid-century modern style. If you can't alter the walls, work with what you have. Opt for Scandinavian furnishings. Base your color scheme on nature-inspired hues -- medium-toned green or blue -- and use gray and cream as neutrals. Add some atomic design elements: a large sunburst wall clock or boomerang-shaped accent table. Don't be afraid to mix wood colors; pairing dark paneling with lighter wood furnishings adds interest if you ground the paneling with one substantial piece of furniture in a darker color wood. Cream-colored curtains will break up the expanse of dark paneling.
Embrace a '60s or '70s retro look. Green, gold, orange and brown might be part of your color scheme, but you also have the ability to bring vibrant psychedelic hues into your palette. Lay down the foundation with a shag rug, and add a glossy white open shelving unit and a few pieces of organic molded plastic furniture. Selecting glossy white for a few key elements will give your space an authentic look and will act as a stylish contrast with the dark paneling. Hang a white globe lamp to brighten up a dark corner and add a sculptural element. You're safe furnishing your space with a mix of materials, everything from wood and chrome to glass or plastic. Try vinyl upholstered or cushioned rattan furniture, especially peacock chairs, and toss a pile of pillows on the floor. Add a macrame wall hanging to round out the look.
Create the cozy feel of a cabin. If your paneling is a more rustic-looking solid wood, you might opt to fill your space with bulkier jewel-toned or leather furniture. Consider a chunky wood table or a bent willow rocker. Accent with a Navajo rug or faux animal hide, and opt for lamps with amber shades to mimic the glow of a campfire. Bring the wilderness in with elements that depict animals and fish common to the North woods.
Tips & Warnings
- If your paneled room is still too dark and dreary, use style-appropriate mirrors and lamps to your advantage. A large mirror placed on a dark wall visually opens it up by reflecting light from a window across the room. Place lamps at varying heights throughout the room to bounce light and make the space feel airier.
- Scout out deals on vintage decor at second-hand shops and yard sales to give your space a more authentic retro feel.
- If you try to remove paneling, you may be surprised by what you find behind it. Inexpensive faux wood paneling was often installed in place of drywall to save money during construction, and removing it could leave you with a view of the inside of your wall.
- Photo Credit Noel Hendrickson/Digital Vision/Getty Images
- Apartment Therapy; Decorating Ideas for the Family Room?; Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan; February 2008
- Apartment Therapy; Modern Interior with Wood Paneled Walls?; Laure Joliet; June 2008
- Apartment Therapy; Colorful Painted Wood Paneling; Regina Yunghans; October 2010
- Retro Renovation; Wood Paneling: Time for a Comeback?; Pam Kueber; April 2009