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How To Decorate Wood Paneling Without Painting

Wood paneling was popular for a couple of decades in the late twentieth century. Nowadays, many experts recommend painting it a fresh color. But beware: if you paint that wood paneling, there's no going back!

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Painting the wood paneling is a permanent step that can be wearisome and expensive. We have researched various methods to decorate your paneling without taking this step. 

Consider the following ideas for decorating wood paneling:

Incorporate the paneling into the decorating scheme

  • Buy similarly colored furniture.
  • Use warm lighting
  • Hang simple wall decorations

Divert attention away from the paneling

  • Hang wall decorations in a collage style
  • Feature a bold focal point
  • Contrast the paneling with light colors

We've researched these ideas thoroughly and are excited to help you figure out how to decorate the wood paneling in your home!

Read on for a deeper explanation of each suggestion, as well as answers to other commonly asked questions about decorating wood paneling. Here we go!

A lodge themed bedroom with wooden paneling walls, carpet flooring and a cozy bed, How To Decorate Wood Paneling Without Painting

Incorporate the wood paneling into the decorating scheme

A common mentality in decorating is to let your limits determine your course. At first, some things might appear limiting -- traditionally ugly wood paneling, for instance -- that can actually help you make decisions. 

If you have some flexibility and a decent budget, consider using the wood paneling to drive your motif. Wood paneling works well in a log cabin or lodge decor scheme, for instance.

Generally, wood (or faux wood, since wood paneling isn't actually made out of wood) creates warmth in a room. Or, dark wood provides stateliness and elegance. Use these principles to drive your decorating decisions. 

Here are three ways to steer into the wood paneling in your home.

Buy similarly colored furniture

To give the room a consistent feel, choose furniture that features a similar color as the wood paneling. This dining room, for instance, has a table that matches the wood panel wainscoting. Even though the walls are painted white, the room still feels warm.

A rustic themed living room with a chandelier with white painted ceilings

For bonus points, notice how the trim is the same tone as the rest of the wood in the room. This helps bridge the gap between warm wood and cool white. 

This room has more than just wood furniture, but note that all the upholstered pieces still create a warm environment.

A cozy mountain themed bedroom with wooden paneling, brown furniture and a candle lit chandelier

This tactic works best if you have the freedom and budget to pick out the room's furniture.

Use warm lighting

Another way to highlight the wood paneling's dark beauty is to use warm, low lighting, like in the image below. See how the reds and oranges of the lamps and light fixtures emphasize the coziness of the room?

Hang simple wall decorations

If you'd like to emphasize the wood paneling, use some simple wall hangings. 

See how the two pictures in this room from earlier have similarly colored frames as the wood paneling? This lets them flow into the wood paneling. They also aren't overwhelming and use subdued colors. 

A cozy lodge bedroom with wooden paneling on the wall and a bed with gray beddings

If you have photos that you'd like to hang on your wood-paneled walls, purchase some wooden frames like the ones below. This helps make your home feel personal but still within the decorating scheme.

Click here to view these frames on Amazon.

Wood paneling is making a comeback! Read this article for seven types to consider installing.

Divert attention away from the paneling

If you don't want to paint your wood paneling, the other option is to draw the eyes away from it. This works well if you want a bright, open-feeling room.

This set of tactics also works if you have furniture that doesn't work with a wood decor theme and don't want to purchase new pieces.

Hang wall decorations in a collage style

A creative trend is to cover a wall with a variety of paints, frames, and pictures. Laying out various wall hangings asymmetrically lets you use your existing frames and removes the need for perfection.

It also naturally draws the eye to the gallery and can be a fun way to feature your family or other decorations.

This resident uses an eclectic mix of wall hangings to distract from the wood behind the collage. 

Here's another example of someone using bright-colored decorations to draw the eyes instead of the wood paneling. The white background in these frames contrasts nicely with the darkness of the wood paneling.

Feature a bold focal point

Does your room have a bold focal point? If so, draw peoples' eyes to it instead of the wood paneling.

Possible focal points could include a large picture window or a fireplace. Think about hanging brightly colored curtains to frame the picture window.

Use the mantle above your fireplace to put bold decorations that distract from the wood paneling. Pick out decorations that match your furniture and highlight the flooring.

Or, our favorite option is adding built-in bookshelves. This is a fantastic way to cover some of the wood paneling, give the room color, and create a unique space. Look at the bookshelves in the picture below.

They provide depth in the room and provide a buffer for the wood paneling, pushing it into the background.

Also, be aware that the bookshelves don't have to be built-in. They can be hung on the wood paneling and still serve the same purpose. Floating shelves are popular right now and are an understated way to feature books or decorations.

Click here to view these bookshelves on Amazon.

Whatever your focal point, draw attention to it by subtly aiming the furniture in that direction.

Contrast the paneling with light colors

The broadest way to deflect from the wood paneling in your home is to contrast it with light colors. In fact, one of the biggest complaints of wood paneling is that it makes the room too dark. Use furniture, wall paint, curtains, and flooring to brighten things up.

See how this room uses white furniture against the dark wooden walls? It emphasizes the brightness, as well as the salmon-colored curtains around the window.

A girl grooming area with white painted cabinets and a wooden paneled wall

This room has white walls above the wood-paneled wainscoting, light gray comforter, and light wooden furniture. 

A cozy wooden rustic living room with gray beddings and wooden paneled baseboards

Alternatively, this room uses black furniture and decor, plus white paint to create simplicity against the wood paneling.

A cozy wooden paneling living room with dark leather sofas and a fireplace with white painted mantel

Can I lighten a dark panel room without paint?

It is possible to lighten a room with dark wood paneling without paint. The best way is to use brightly colored decorations that reflect light. Additionally, natural light is a great way to lighten a room.

Pay attention to the type of light fixtures you use. Replace yellow or dark lampshades with bright white shades like the ones below.

Click here to view this lampshade on Amazon.

In the same way, find light fixtures with white or translucent covers. If possible, have the lights directed toward the ceiling to make the whole room feel more open and airy.

Opt for white, sheer window coverings instead of dark curtains. Install blinds instead of curtains when you need privacy since blinds fold up and are lighter than most curtains.

Want more decorating tips for rooms with wood? Read this article next!

Can I cover wood paneling with wallpaper?

You might be curious about hanging wallpaper on top of your wood paneling. Putting wallpaper on top of wood paneling is possible, but it requires quite a bit of work and heavy-duty wallpaper.

First, you need to put caulk in the grooves between the panels. If you skip this step, you're in danger of the wallpaper adhering to the grooves, making it uneven. Or, if your wallpaper isn't thick and durable, it will get holes torn in it when pressed against the grooves.

Use a putty knife to immediately smooth out the caulk before it dries. Once the caulk has dried, use sandpaper to grind it flush with the rest of the wall. 

After the wall is as smooth as possible, apply a latex primer like the one below.

Click here to view this primer on Amazon.

One problem with hanging wallpaper on wood paneling is that the paneling's smooth, glossy surface makes it difficult for the wallpaper to stick. The primer fixes that problem.

Once the walls are caulked and primed, hang the wallpaper like normal. Caution: hanging wallpaper -- just like painting -- is difficult (if not impossible) to undo.

If you think you might want wood paneling back at some point in the future, stick to one of the ideas described above.

In Closing

A lodge themed bedroom with wooden paneling walls, carpet flooring and a cozy bed

If you want to keep your wood paneling paint free, there are several ways to help it look good. Decide whether or not you want to emphasize the paneling by creating a warm, log-cabin-like environment. Or, use your decorating to divert attention away from the paneling. 

Hopefully, this article has opened your eyes to some creative ways you can decorate your wood paneling. Good luck!

Elizabeth epps

Wednesday 16th of November 2022

I have lawyers paneling in my den .I have some wooden frames that I want to hang what color should I paint them ? My paneling is oak in color. The frames have no pictures Thanks for any suggestions