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How to Make Paneling Look Impressive Without Painting

How to Make Paneling Look Impressive Without Painting

Design trends — whether for the home or for personal fashion — are notoriously cyclical. Over the past five years or so, 1950s-era features such as pastel bathrooms and ranch-style homes have reclaimed their cool factor. With a few updates, these trends are enjoying a resurgence that sees homeowners coveting them rather than trying to cover them up.

Wood paneling is also riding this nostalgic wave. While it first gained popularity in the 1950s because it was inexpensive and easy to install, by the end of the 1970s, wood paneling on walls was as dated as a pair of bell bottoms. Today, thanks to new materials and finishes, wood paneling is gaining traction again. But, like other recycled trends, it has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. In other words, this is not your grandparents’ wood paneling.

If you’re living in a space with old-school wood paneling, this is the perfect time to update it. Maybe it seems like it’s seen better days, but there are a few tricks you can use to give it a welcome refresh. You might be surprised at just how versatile that old paneling can be.

To Paint or Not to Paint?

Many homeowners think that the easiest solution for updating wood panels is to add a coat of paint. But before you reach for that paint brush, be warned: you might be opening a can of worms along with that can of paint.

For starters, if the surface of the paneling has wood grain or rough spots, the paint may not go on evenly, or it may require multiple applications to get the look you’re going for. Depending on what kind of finish was used on the paneling, it may not absorb the paint. (Many older wood panels have a sheen finish that paint cannot adhere to.) And if you decide you aren’t happy with the painted wall, restoring it is going to  take some extra effort.

Instead of painting your existing paneling, try working with what you already have to give your room a modern, updated look. Here are a few ways to do that:

Make It Cozy

If you have dark wood paneling that conjures up feelings of being trapped in a cave, look for ways to lighten up the space to make it feel warm and inviting. Adding room-softening elements such as a thick, light-colored shag rug, comfortable but contemporary furniture, fuzzy throw pillows and an abundance of candles can transform your room into a cozy space that you’ll love. Consider adding a fresh coat of white paint to the ceiling, then adding  faux wood box beams to tie it all together.

Add Some Contrast

In the 1970s, paneling was typically placed vertically, so one way to create a contemporary look is to add some contrast with horizontal wood panels across the lower part of your wall. This decorative wall accent can lighten or darken the room, depending on the hue of the panels you use, so choose carefully to add balance to your environment. Contrasting elements — such as horizontal  shiplap barnwood faux panels anchoring an otherwise solid wood wall panel — contribute unexpected visual interest to the room.

Paint Around It

Instead of painting the paneling itself, change the look of the room around it. You’ll find it can have a dramatic effect on the paneling’s appearance. Dark paint — think deep blue or even black — can make a stunning statement in a room that is plagued by less-than-appealing ’70s-style paneling. Paint the trim, windowsills and even the fireplace so the paneling takes on the role of a supporting player rather than the star of the show. In this environment, dark furniture and heavy, textured rugs will really shine.

Change the Accent

Wood paneling pairs well with other natural-looking elements, which is why adding a brick, stone or rock accent wall is an ideal way to create a new mood. Use faux  stone, brick or rock wall panels in a bedroom or living room to update the room with the style you want. The versatility of these panels lets you create a vintage-inspired, rustic modern or mid-century aesthetic.

What if Your Paneling Needs a Refresh?

Maybe you’re already sold on the modern look of wall paneling, but there aren’t enough tricks in the book to save what’s on your walls. In that case, consider updating using faux panels to create the look of contemporary wooden wall panels.

One advantage of renovating your room with faux wood wall panels is that you can choose the exact look you want. Whether you want to add the look of  reclaimed shiplap barnwood for a rustic setting, or create a contemporary look with end-grain wood wall panels, you have a choice of colors that simply weren’t available in the heyday of yesterday’s wood paneling.

Whatever look you want to achieve in your space, Barron Designs has many ways to help customize your plans. Be sure to check out our  design ideas to see just a few of the looks you can create using our faux wall panels.