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How To Decorate a Room with Wood Paneling on the Cheap

By Edited Sep 15, 2015 0 1

Ok, so you have moved into that older house with wood wall paneling and maybe your budget is a bit tight to be ripping this down, so what do you do?  You work with it!

Yes, “retro” is in this year and our wallets are a little lighter this year too, so we need to combine both of these elements into a room that you will love without breaking the bank.

I moved into a 50s bungalow with all the charm of a huge tree lined street and mature gardens, but sometimes you also inherit the styling of another era!

Back in the 60s and 70s, paneling was the expected wall covering for the basement family room.  Sometimes it was in every room!  My house just happened to have it in the family room complete with an old dart board, framed old spoon collections on the wall, an orange shag carpet, white acoustic tiled ceiling, brass light fixtures and a white brick fireplace.

My son took one look and wanted it off the wall.  But when I took a closer look at this wood wall panelling I realized it was not that plastic fake looking stuff but actually real wood.  It had never been varnished and was simply faded, dry and worn looking.  It had been installed very well so taking it down would be difficult as it was tied in with the rest of the room, including those acoustic tiles on the ceiling!

I promptly went online, asked people and a decorator at the local Home Depot and it turned out that if this was the real wood paneling from the 60s or 70s then it would be worth working with it instead of painting it.

Here is How to Decorate a Room with Real Wood Paneling

Step One – CLEAN.  Yes this project may not involve thousands of dollars but it will involve you and some elbow grease!  If you can bribe some help that would work too!

Using a duster on a mop simply take off any dust from the surface or co

how to Clean Wood Paneling
bwebs etc.

Don’t just clean with any cleaner, I actually used something called “orange oil” by Pledge and this product works like a charm for wood surfaces.  It is in a spray bottle but the bottle is not very big, so be prepared to buy a few extra bottles.  It retails for about 4.99 so worth the investment.  Also have a few lint free soft cloths around.

Step Two – Take a 2 foot wide section and spray this orange glow on the wood from floor to ceiling.  Then take your clean cloth and basically rub this formula into the grain of the wood.  It smells nice and you will see an instant result making this project worthwhile.  (as you can see the difference in the picture)

Once you have this section covered, take a clean cloth and basically wipe off any excess and buff to a sheen.  I found with my panelling there was never any excess as it was so dry.

Step Three – If needed, go and do this a second time until it doesn’t absorb any more of the formula.  Yes this will take time but it looks totally different afterwards.

Now that the wood panelling is clean and rehydrated, you can move on with the rest of the room.  I did this first just to make sure the paneling was worth saving but you can create your own order of steps!

Orange Oil

S C JOHNSON WAX 26363 Pledge Spray, 16-Ounce, Orange
Amazon Price: $6.58 $4.77 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 15, 2015)
This really worked well for me. You can use it on all wood furniture but it did an amazing job on untreated wood paneling.

Paint the Ceiling Tiles

The tiles on my ceiling were those acoustic one foot square tiles that simply got attached to the wooden joists in the ceiling.  They were in good shape but mottled looking and dated.  So instead of ripping them down I took a good primer such as Zinsser (water based) and I rolled it on the ceiling in a light coat (don’t soak ceiling tiles).

Then I took ceiling white paint and rolled it on top of the dried primer.  This totally brightened the room right away.  A good primer such as Zinsser will cover any stains or mottled areas, with my ceiling there was a bit of hazy smoke colouring from the fire place, so it covered all of that.

Now the ceiling just looks white, which is what I wanted.  So, now my walls look great (if you paint the ceiling put up some protection on the walls in case of splatters such as plastic sheets.)

Flooring and Fireplace

For now I simple steam cleaned the carpet, but this is one area we would like to replace in the future, but at least it is clean.

We will disguise the large orange carpet with a large area rug to tone it down (as suggested by a decorator that goes with our furniture) and we cleaned the fireplace.

Now What? - A Series of Unframed Canvas's For the Wood Paneling

Now that your wood panels are gleaming and your ceiling is a clean white and your floors are clean then you can start added accessories that work.

I followed the idea of a decorator and she said one of the best ways to decorate a room with wood paneling is to disguise some of it, so it doesn’t take up so much of the room and break it up with depth.  Her suggestions was large vertical canvas’s especially in a series.

The picture below is an example.  a Series of canvas's would really make the wall "pop".  This is where I am at right now, I am going to shop online for mine as they are quite affordable.

How to Decorate a Room with Wood Paneling

Large Vertical Canvas in a Series Works Well for Wood Paneling

How to Decorate Wood Paneling
Since you have saved some money on the construction part of your room, then this is where you could let some money out of your wallet.  If one of the walls is a long wall, then get 3 canvas’s about 2 feet wide but 5 or 6 feet tall for example and put them a few feet apart.

Make sure they have some depth to them, approximately 2 or 3 inches, so not framed pictures but actually a wrapped canvas style with no frames.

IMAX Calima Bird Wall Decor, Set of 3
Amazon Price: $237.50 $129.73 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 15, 2015)

Get Photos Enlarged onto Canvas to Make Wood Panels Pop!

A great suggestion to me was to head to a camera store or wherever they can do specialty developing.  I noticed this one camera store will take your photos and have them put onto a canvas sized to whatever you want. 

You could take a panoramic photograph and have it split between 3 canvas and then place them on the wall with a little space in between.  Or maybe you could paint something yourself!  Even if it is just abstract shapes and colours.

IMAX Harper Wall Decor, Set of 5
Amazon Price: $197.50 $113.55 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 15, 2015)

Break Up the Expanse of Wood with Depth of Canvas

By breaking it up with large vertical pictures or paintings or even just abstracts with some depth,  or whatever your taste you will get a 3D effect and it will look awesome.

This would be better than adding more wood with framed pictures.  Simply get deep canvas pictures and place them on the walls and you will really bring that panelling up to date.

Make Your Own Fabric Covered Frames

If you don’t like the idea of a canvas, and you are handy, simply create wooden frames in a vertical size such as 2 feet by 6 feet and then cover them with fabric and make sure to wrap them right around the edges.

If you do abstract colours or ultra-chic styling it will instantly update the room and the wood paneling will look like it belongs.

Renovating Wood Wall Paneling

This is a great way to recycle and reduce waste, especially if it is real wood.  If you really hate the real wood you can paint paneling too for a great effect, but just don’t throw it away, work with it, create your own space and save some money.



Feb 18, 2013 9:30am
That's all very helpful.
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