What can I do about this wood paneling?
November 22, 2009 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Our spare room/hopefully future nursery has ugly wood paneling on the walls. What can I do to make it better?

I'm seven weeks pregnant and I like to distract myself from the day-long morning sickness by dreaming about what our future child's nursery will be like. Currently it's our spare room and the walls have ugly 1970s wood paneling. I hate it. I also don't like the look of wood paneling that's been painted over with a solid color (you can still see the grooves!), and I don't have the will to rip it all down. You can see my dilemma.

We own the house, so I'm willing to do something creative like painting the panels with alternating stripes or a creative wall treatment. Has anyone made their wood paneling look amazing?
posted by christinetheslp to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sorry, I forgot the photos I took of the walls. You can see them here and here.
posted by christinetheslp at 1:16 PM on November 22, 2009

Is removing the wood paneling or drywalling over it an option?
posted by amro at 1:30 PM on November 22, 2009

I'm pretty certain--correct me if I'm wrong--that painting over varnished panelling like that won't last.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:32 PM on November 22, 2009

Best answer: If you don't have the will to rip it down, I doubt this will help, since it will demand a LOT of will, but you could always apply a decorative venetian plaster technique over the paneling after roughing it up a little bit with sandpaper and priming it.
posted by banannafish at 1:35 PM on November 22, 2009

I've done this many times. If a smoker has been in the room, wash the paneling first with ammonia and wipe dry with a towel you can throw away. Paint it with the best quality primer you can find. Latex primer is OK. Then paint.

The fussy among us will fill in the grooves with spackle first.
posted by andreap at 1:38 PM on November 22, 2009

You can sand, wipe down, patch any holes, then prime (with a good stain-blocking primer, like Zinsser), then paint. The roller brushes won't go into the grooves, so you'll have to paint those in before rolling on the paint. It's totally doable and I'll try to find some photos where it's done nicely. Sure, you can see the lines, but it looks more like wainscoting when it's all white or a nice light color.

You can also skim coat it with plaster. That's a bit of an art, so you might hire someone to do that, and paint it yourself (also - you probably don't want to be around all of those fumes when pregnant, if not for the baby, for your nausea if it doesn't diminish).
posted by barnone at 1:40 PM on November 22, 2009

Here's an example.
posted by barnone at 1:44 PM on November 22, 2009

Best answer: You could wallpaper it?
posted by Go Banana at 1:45 PM on November 22, 2009

My mom had good luck painting the outdated paneling in her kitchen a few years ago with a couple of coats of primer, then a couple of coats of paint. You can still see the grooves between the panels, but you can't really see the wood grain. I don't think she did much more than sand and clean the walls down before she primed them (I'm pretty sure she didn't use any harsh finish-stripper chemicals). She is, however, a very careful and patient painter which I think went a long way toward the success of the project.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:47 PM on November 22, 2009

And some good tips on painting varnished wood paneling like that. And you could totally wallpaper one feature wall, and paint the other three in a nice matching colour.
posted by barnone at 1:48 PM on November 22, 2009

The third bedroom / office in our house is paint over wallpaper over wood paneling.
posted by tommccabe at 1:49 PM on November 22, 2009

I thought this was one of the prettiest nurseries I've ever seen and once baby anachronism is in her own room, I plan on being inspired by it.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:52 PM on November 22, 2009

You own the house, so you might as well do it right. Rip it down. The walls are likely to be a mess. Either re-sheetrock or repair the old plaster, depending on how bad it is.

Bear in mind that old houses generally have lead paint. Mask the room off and have someone else do the demolition, until you have a chance to test. Paint over any woodwork and walls that have lead paint. A coat of primer and then good latex reasonably encapsulates lead paint. If there's lead paint on old window casings, replace the windows. Replacement windows pay for themselves in energy savings, and there's a tax credit, too. The Cooperative Extension Service will be in the phonebook, and will have lots of reliable information.

If you really don't have the energy yo deal with it, just paint it.
posted by theora55 at 2:24 PM on November 22, 2009

Your pix remind me of an apartment I had back in the late seventies. I hated the paneling, and would have hated it just as much if it had been real wood. That paneling was not, you could find the identical grain patterns over and over again. It was like being in a big plastic fake wood surreal box. I didn't stay long.

I'm with theora55, rip it off, see what's behind, and proceed accordingly. Let's hope you'll be pleasantly surprised by intact plaster or sheetrock underneath.

Have a demolition party!
posted by mareli at 2:44 PM on November 22, 2009

If you absolutely won't rip it down (which is the best thing to do,) you can fill in the grooves very quickly and efficiently with a big container of spackle and a putty knife. This will cost you less than ten bucks at a big box home goods store and take just a few hours.

I would then apply wallpaper. You can paint, but if there's any texture to the paneling it may very well show through even after a couple of coats. I know this from my previous bedroom. If you must paint, experiment with a dark and a light color to see if the texture will show through and whether light or dark minimizes this better-- light colors SHOULD be better here, but I feel that it depends on the light and angles of light that the room gets.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:11 PM on November 22, 2009

Best answer: I'd cover it with fabric. Liquid starch for glue. It is easy to apply, easy to remove, and won't be damaging to the ugly walls.
posted by Syllables at 3:56 PM on November 22, 2009

I'm with barnone here. I know you said you don't like the grooves to show, so maybe you could fill them with spackle and sand them down. Spackle is easy to sand with a wood block.
You won't need to sand the walls much first if you use a good Alkyd paint like Zinzzer or Binz. But have someone else do that 'cuz of the fumes. But once that primer is on you can use any paint you want!
I've done this in several of my homes and have liked it so much better than the ugly paneling!
posted by LilBit at 4:07 PM on November 22, 2009

Best answer: I love the look of wood, fake or not, so maybe I'm not the best person to answer this, but it would look completely hip and lovely to do a white painted decoration over the paneling. Looking at your second picture, I think your ceiling is a bit meh, but the paneling could quite easily be freshened up with the addition of a decorative white pattern. I whipped up a non-flowery example for you, since a lot of the wall design I see is very floral and maybe that's not the sort of thing you're thinking of.
posted by redsparkler at 4:25 PM on November 22, 2009

Best answer: Here's another idea that could look cool AND be educational, at some point :).
posted by redsparkler at 4:40 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to add that I love redsparkler's second idea. It would also be really cool if you painted everything white (or another pale color, like blue or green), leaving the map exposed. But I too actually like wood paneling and was thinking of covering the basic white walls of my rental with this sheer woodgrain gossamer fabric I found...
posted by lalalana at 5:16 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My daughter's old room had hideous whitewashed 1960s wood paneling. Here's what we did about it. (Ignore the nonmatching curtains, I was sentimentally attached and we didn't have anything else.)
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:52 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Before you consider pulling them down, you have to figure out what's underneath. If this was someone's quick and dirty approach to covering/encapsulating lead paint, then you're in for a world of trouble. There is no way you should consider anyone but a paid professional to do the removal work and you shouldn't be back until it's been cleaned out thoroughly.

But spackling the grooves will work. You can also use a big bucket of drywall compound - cheaper per unit in the large size, which you will probably need for all the grooves. One thing you could try for grins is to put up chair rail to split the room, then fill the grooves and put wallpaper on the upper half. Depending on how it looks, you might not have to do anything else. Paneling is just floor-to-ceiling wainscoting on the cheap.

Otherwise, you could put in real wainscoting over the paneling before you put in the chair rail.
posted by plinth at 7:17 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Our living room had this kind of paneling, and just painting it all white made a world of difference.
posted by JDHarper at 8:57 PM on November 22, 2009

I tore all the wood paneling out of my house, it is very easy to rip out (unless they glued it). I had to re drywall some of the walls but it looks 1 million % better.

As it turned out the old wood paneling was ~incredibly~ flammable so I'm very glad it's gone. We threw some into a bonfire and it went up like cardboard soaked in gasoline. I had no idea.
posted by fshgrl at 10:23 PM on November 22, 2009

Best answer: Tack up full-length beadboard right over the top. Add trim. It looks pretty.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:46 AM on November 23, 2009

Best answer: You might like the look of painted paneling if you added some chair-rail and crown molding. It might make the whole thing look more intentional and cottage-ish. I lived in a cute little studio apartment with wood panelling, and we painted it light blue with white trim and it was adorable! I couldn't find a picture that showed more of the room, but here is a kitten-pic with the blue background.
posted by radioamy at 1:09 PM on November 23, 2009

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