How to Update Wood Paneling

How to Update Wood Paneling

If you’re saddled with 1970’s wood paneling at home and can’t wait to get rid of it, think it again! As all trends come and go, 70’s trends are making a comeback as well. 

It won’t be an overstatement to claim wood paneling has become cool again, with the updated colors, styles, and use of different types of wood. As there is a rise in the farmhouse, cottage core, and rustic aesthetics, wood panels are seeing a rise in popularity as well. 

And you don’t have to keep your old, musty wood paneling anymore. You can easily get rid of it or replace it with new modern ones. However, if you’re concerned with the cost of removal or replacement, don’t worry. There are plenty of quick and easy tricks to make the paneling modern and refreshing.  

Just follow the makeover ideas for how to update wood paneling. You can try repainting the wood panels or cover them up with wallpapers. There is another option of wainscoting. Plus, there are tons of other options where you can make the wood paneling look modern without painting or replacing it. 

How to Update Wood Paneling: Makeover Ideas   

Paint It White

A quick and easy way to update your wood paneling is to apply a fresh coat of paint. And white is one of the most popular choices among the homeowners as it brightens any room noticeably. With paneling from the walls to the ceiling, the white color gives it more depth and texture. Plus, it makes the room look larger!

Paint It White

Stain It, Black

For a sleek, modern look black is the color to go! Painting wood panels in a deeper shade can be spectacular and nothing beats black in this regard. You can also use this technique to hide wood paneling you don’t love. 

Stain It, Black

Whitewash the Panels

If you want to brighten up your room but like keeping the wood grain texture of the paneling, why not try whitewashing? In this technique, you have to water down your paint, brush it on the wall, and immediately wipe and repeat until you get your desired color. This is a happy middle ground for those who like the woodgrain texture of walls but wants to avoid the deep color. 

Whitewash the Panels

Go for the Retro Look

Instead of thinking of the wood paneling as old and outdated, why not see it as retro and vintage? You can add modern accessories with unconventional furniture to give it a bit more retro look. 

Go for the Retro Look  

Try Paneling on the Ceiling

Who says wood paneling is limited to walls only! Wood paneling on the ceiling gives off a homey look and feel and instantly makes the room look bigger. Especially for rooms with rising ceiling heights, the wood panels on the walls extending to the ceiling make it look like a desired design element. 

Try Paneling on the Ceiling

Hide the Panels with a Bookshelf 

For those who don’t like their wood panels at home, try hiding them behind a built-in bookshelf. You can also try painting the back wall to give the shelf a modern look. With accessories and books situated in the front, the wooden paneling will turn into a decorative backdrop. 

Hide the Panels with a Bookshelf 

Disguise the Wood Paneling Under Art 

You can use a combination of frames, paints, and pictures to keep the attention away from the wood panels behind the collage. You can also use bright-colored decorations and pieces to create a gallery or even feature personal family photos on the wall.  

Disguise the Wood Paneling Under Art 

Horizontal Wood Panels 

One of the easiest ways to modernize your wood paneling is to place it horizontally. Most wood panels are placed vertically so turning them 90 degrees on the horizontal makes for a nice change. 

Horizontal Wood Panels 

Use a Bold Focal Point 

To have a bold focal point in a room, the eyes are drawn to it and the wood paneling seems like more of a backdrop. A fireplace, bookcase, or a large picture window anything works great as a focal point. By aiming your furniture in a particular direction, you can subtly create a focal point too!   

Use a Bold Focal Point 

Fancy It Up with Marble 

Some people don’t feel wood paneling looks high-end enough. For those naysayers, try contrasting the wall panels with marble. A luxe texture like marble always makes the surroundings elevated. Plus, the wood paneling gives off a warmer tone and nicely balances out the cold vibes of marble.   

Fancy It Up with Marble 

Add in Texture and Pattern

A fun way to experiment with wood paneling is to add texture and pattern while laying down the panels. It gives the room a bit more depth and better dimension. And you can create an instant focal point by installing the wood paneling in a unique pattern.   

Add in Texture and Pattern

Experiment With Shiplap  

Shiplap is a bit of a modern technique compared to the traditional tongue-and-groove technique. Usually, shiplap is installed vertically, however you can also try placing the wood panels horizontally or diagonally. The different approach offers a new twist and creates an illusion of the room being longer. 

Experiment With Shiplap

Add Exposed Beams 

Many people are not a fan of wood-paneled ceilings and think of them as outdated. For those, adding on exposed beams offers a bit more modernity and warmth to it. And if you assemble the exposed beams in the opposite direction of the wood panels, it creates extra dimension as well. 

Add Exposed Beams 

More Tips on How to Update Wood Paneling and Make It Look Modern  

  • Match the wood panels on the wall with the hardwood floors if you have a standard white ceiling.  
  • To add texture and warmth to a room, use wood paneling as an accent wall. 
  • Combine white wood-paneled walls with light wood floors for a minimalistic and purposeful décor.  
  • Paint only the trim around the paneling for a vintage vibe. 
  • Use contemporary furniture with metal accents to make the wood paneling look more modern and updated.  
  • If there’s dark wooden paneling, you can use white furniture to brighten up the room.  
  • Highlight the beauty of dark wood paneling by using warm and low lighting and add more coziness to the room.  
  • Instead of settling for one color, you can mix and match different paint colors on your wood paneling to create an eye-popping eclectic style.  
  • Stay consistent and focus on keeping the same theme throughout your house – be it an edgy vibe, a bohemian style, or a clean or shabby chic style.  

How to Remove Wood Paneling 

To refresh and give your home a modern look, you have to get rid of the old wood paneling first. And for that, you need to know which style of paneling you currently have and how to remove it.  

Typically, wood paneling comes in three varieties: shipboard, tongue-and-groove, and barn siding. As the panels come off in pieces, tongue-and-groove paneling is the easiest to remove. Shipboard and barn siding paneling use glue rather than nails to attach to the wall, so it’s harder to remove.  

It’s better to hire a contractor for removing the current wood paneling at your home. However, if you’re into DIY and looking for a low-cost process, then you can do the removal yourself. You have to remember to be extra careful so as not to hurt yourself or others during the process.  

Here, the whole removal process is explained in 3 easy steps. 

Step 1: Prepare Before Removal 

  • Keep your furniture safe from damage. Remove smaller items from the room and cover large ones with a blanket or a tarp. 
  • Before starting, remove all baseboards, molding, outlet/light switch covers, etc around the wood paneling.  
  • Insert a screwdriver between the baseboard or molding and the wood panels to create a bit of a wiggle room. 
  • Once everything is removed, store them in a safe place for later use and reinstallation.  

Things You Will Need 

You should prepare the right tools for the job beforehand. These are: 

  • Screwdriver 
  • Pliers 
  • Pry Bar 
  • Hammer 
  • Drywall Putty 
  • Chisel 
  • Mask 
  • Work Gloves 
  • Heat Gun 

Step 2: Check the Panels 

  • Start in a corner near the floor of the room to avoid splitting the molding and use a hammer to gently tap the pry bar into the seam. 
  • Loosen the panel by shaking the pry bar.  
  • Pry back the panel to check if the wood paneling is attached to drywall or wall studs. 

Step 3: Tear Out the Panels 

  • Remove the nails using the pliers and pry open the panels after all the nails are out.  
  • If the panels are attached with glue you need to use a heat gun to pry open the paneling. However, using a heat gun may cause damage to the drywall or plaster underneath.  
  • If you remove paneling from wall studs, the bare studs will need drywall coverage before you put in new wall paneling or treatment.  
  • Patch any nail holes or any damaged drywall surface with drywall putty. 

How to Update the Wood Paneling without Removing It   

If you’re not sure whether removing the paneling is the right move for you, then you can try other options. There are plenty of other options to cover or repurpose the wooden panels without removing them from the wall.  

Here are some tricks you can try to update your wood paneling without removing it.  

Option 1: Repaint Wood Paneling 

Repainting is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to update your wood paneling without removing it. If you’re familiar with painting wood fences or furniture, you’d be able to paint your panels too.  

Follow these steps to paint your wood paneling with proper care and time. 

  • Place masking tape along the area of the wall so the paint doesn’t spread 
  • Sand the panels to remove old paint or the clear-coat sealer from the surface of the wood  
  • Apply two thin coats of stain-blocking primer to the panels 
  • Fill any cracks, joints, nail holes, and other imperfections with wood filler 
  • Apply at least two thin coats of paint – paint 2nd coat after the 1st layer has completely died off  

Option 2: Cover with Wallpaper 

One of the simplest ways to cover your wood paneling is to put wallpaper over it. However, you need heavy-duty wallpaper for this as normal wallpaper will show the grooves and ridges of the wall. Plus, proper wallpapering needs a flat surface to stick well. 

To solve this issue, you can use wallpaper liner which can be found in most home improvement stores. Because the wallpaper liner covers up any imperfections on the wall and makes it flat and nice for wallpapering. Remember to remove metal corners before, as wallpaper liner will not stick to it.  

Another way to put wallpaper is to use caulk and primer. Most wood paneling has a smooth and glossy surface which makes it hard for the wallpaper to stick properly. Because of that, you can apply caulk to the wall and then apply a latex primer after the caulk dries up. You can hand up the wallpaper after the walls are properly caulked and primed. One setback to this process is that you can’t undo it as it’s almost permanent. 

Bathroom Wallpaper - Check How to Use Wallpaper in a Bathroom

Option 3: Wainscotting 

As a historically used paneling option, wainscoting has been used for years to update plain wood paneling. Yet it remained so popular with homeowners for being modern-looking and being able to protect the wall from scuffs and smudges.  

You can use it anywhere from bathrooms and kitchens to bedrooms and living rooms, without it looking out of place. Wainscoting even looks excellent in foyers and hallways as well.  

In the wainscoting design, only the lower part of the wall is lined with wood paneling. The wood paneling doesn’t extend up to the ceiling and panel molding covers the bottom part of the wall. 

For considering wainscoting height, it’s better to divide the wall into three parts horizontally and put wainscoting styling in the lower third. Although some prefer the wainscoting to be half of the wall. Whatever you prefer personally, try to keep the wainscoting lower down the wall so it doesn’t overwhelm the room.  

With standard eight-foot ceiling rooms, wainscoting shouldn’t be higher than 32 inches. However, rooms with higher ceilings can have panels further up the wall but no more than 48 inches. To make your room look bigger, you have to lower the wainscoting. 

Wood Paneling Makeovers to Inspire Your Own Redo


How do you update old wall paneling? 

The best way to update old wall paneling is to give it a modernized twist. You can remove or replace old panels, paint over them, or do a complete makeover – it’s totally up to you and your stylistic preference.  

How do you refresh old wood paneling? 

To refresh old wood paneling, you can remove all or replace it with new ones. There’s also the repainting option where you can paint the wood in a different color or whitewash it. Besides, you can use wallpaper to cover up the old paneling.  

What can I do with outdated wood-paneled walls? 

There are a variety of ways you can update outdated wood-paneled walls. You can use furniture, arts, or built-on to hide the paneling, use paint and wallpaper to make it look modern, or even decorate it in a way to keep the focus away from the wall, etc.  

How can I update cheap paneling? 

For cheap paneling, you can use faux wood instead of real pieces of wood. This is easier and quicker to install and much cheaper.


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John Garner

Welcome from Woody Man Garner. A passionate wood craftsman and carpenter. Woodhunger is my dream site to explore whatever I did in my research projects on different types of woods. Let's be a part of my dream job!

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