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Thursday, January 30, 2014

How to Paint Old Wood Paneling

Today I have a great tip for easily painting old wood paneling. Yes, it’s easy! Well, as easy as painting a wall can be, which isn’t always necessarily easy, but you get the drift. It’s easier than you think to transform those ugly brown 1960s wood panels!

how to paint old wood paneling from @janemaynard

Every day I thank my lucky stars we found the house that we did. It was older, like we wanted, but updated, like we also wanted. And it’s almost impossible to find a normal-priced house in San Diego these days, so we really are lucky we snagged this home! Also, there is very little work that needs to be done on the house, which has alleviated a lot of stress. Honestly, I’m just not made for doing lots of renovations. I know some people love it, but I’m not one of those people!

The very first thing we did when we got keys to the house and before we moved in was take out the popcorn ceilings and pull out the kitchen cabinet that separated the dining area from the kitchen. I am SO glad we did both of those things! 

kitchen before shot from @janemaynardKitchen before cabinet removal and the new dishwasher

kitchen after cabinet removed from @janemaynardKitchen after – removing the cabinet opened up the whole room and made the counter feel so much bigger.

There were two other things we also thought we would do before moving in – painting or removing the 1960s wood paneling in the living room and putting in hardwood floors in the dining room and hallway. Well, time and money arrived at the meeting and changed all our plans, as they so often do. The battle with my white carpet continues. Right now I’ve got it enough under control that we can go on a little longer before doing the floor thing. But over the holiday break I got the painting bug and decided to attack the living room wall.

living room before shot, completely with 1960s wood paneling from @janemaynard

Here is what the living room looked like when we moved in, complete with wood paneling, dated brown shelves and pleated drapes. To be clear, this is the kind of wood paneling that is a thin layer tacked to the wall, not actual solid wood walls. You know what I’m talking about. Anyway, we took the drapes down upon moving in, but left the shelves and wall alone. Honestly, I kind of got used to it. The wall and shelves were neutral in color so it wasn’t a big deal. But the fact of the matter is that it dated the room and made it feel darker. 

living room before shot, completely with 1960s wood paneling from @janemaynard

A friend of ours is a professional painter and I asked him about painting the paneling. For some reason I thought it would be hard to do and wondered if it was even possible. Don said, “No, it’s easy. And, no, you don’t have to prep the surface at all.” He then told me what to do, which I will share with you in a moment.

Picking the Colors
After much hemming and hawing, we decided to leave the brick unpainted and I put together a color scheme that would work with the red-orange of the brick as well as our furniture. I decided to go with a green wall. Red and green are complimentary colors and I figured if I got the right shade of green it wouldn’t at all feel Christmasy but instead warm and inviting. I went with a darker, muted green and it worked beautifully. For the shelves I decided to go with white so that it would tie in with the baseboards. I found as close a match to the white of the baseboards as I could and it worked out well.

So, did Don’s trick for painting the paneling work? YES!

how to paint old wood paneling from @janemaynard


How to paint old wood paneling:

  • Buy good-quality paint. Don recommends Behr.
  • Use interior paint and primer in one. I chose flat enamel for my finish to contrast with the semi-gloss paint I was using on the white shelves. I really like how the flat enamel looks on the wood paneling and it “clings” well to the wall. Depending on your needs, I’m sure something more glossy would look good as well, although I haven’t tried it. (I would definitely not use flat or hi-gloss finishes. The flat would feel awful, whereas the flat enamel has a good feel to it. And I hi-gloss would be too glossy for a wall.)
  • Tape off the edges and paint the wall! For the darker paint I had to do 2 coats. If you use a lighter color you may need to do more. 
  • Don swore to me I didn’t need to sand or anything, so we didn’t. Margaret in comment #1 below did share a good tip, as she’s been through the process before. She recommends doing a light sanding and then wiping down with tack cloth before painting, just to really ensure the integrity of the paint job. In all honesty, a light sanding is not too time consuming, so if you feel up for it, I would maybe do that, too. My paneling was NOT super shiny, so that may be why Don said I didn’t need to do it, so if your wood paneling has more of a sheen, give it a quick sanding and wipe down with that yucky tack cloth. 

That’s it! The old 1960s wood paneled surface took to the paint perfectly. It has a nice feel and the paint is on there good. 

Don told me to use the same paint and technique for the shelves, which I did. The shelves had a different finish than the wood paneling and, I think if you took a knife or a key or something to the surface you might be able to scrape the paint off. It would take a little elbow grease, but the paint isn’t as “secure” as it is on the wood paneling. That said, it still worked great and I would do it the same way again.

how to paint old wood paneling from @janemaynard

Side note: If I had painted the shelves and wall the same color my life would have been a LOT easier. If you ever decide to do a two-tone paint job like this, just know it will cause you great aggravation! But I think in the end the hard work paid off. I’m really glad the shelves are white and I like the contrast. Just make sure to use the orange painter’s tape that is made for newly painted surfaces.

how to paint old wood paneling from @janemaynard

The living room is coming along! Here is what we’ve done so far and what is still to come!

  • The curtain panels and curtain rod are from Cost Plus World Market
  • The painting is also from Cost Plus. I love it because it ties in all of the colors together perfectly.
  • I ordered a new corner media cabinet yesterday from Crate and Barrel and am so excited for it to arrive in a week or so! (You can barely see it, but our current media cabinet is from almost 15 years ago and isn’t made for a corner, so I can’t wait to get it out of there! It’s in the bottom right of the picture above.)
  • We found a great local furniture store called Nativa last weekend and I’m going to be getting two arm chairs from there, to go on either side of the window, opposite of the couch. One chair will be a dark, muted blue and the other is a really fun print that also incorporates the green-blue-reddishorange thing we’ve got going on.
  • I almost forgot! I finally color coordinated the books on our shelves (most of them, at least) and LOVE IT. My OCD side had a hard time mixing up different genres of books, but the artistic side of me is really glad I ignored the OCD side.

I need to give a shout out to my interior design friend Emily, who gets constant texts and phone calls from me making sure that the decisions we’re making aren’t crazytown. So far she’s been on board with everything! Except that she wants me to paint the whole room green. I’m still suffering from PTSD from this paint job, so we’ve gotta give that suggestion some time to percolate.


  1. 1

    I have lived in two homes with this paneling. Both had some walls painted, some left unpainted. What I learned in living with the rooms with painted paneling is that the paint may bubble (and peel later) if the surface is not properly prepared first. I HIGHLY recommend going over the surface with a light sanding then a tack cloth FIRST, then primer & paint. This is not too time-consuming, and the possibility that it will save the integrity of your paint job is well worth it.

    • Jane Maynard

      thanks, margaret!!! I actually added you into the post above. great tip and super simple – you’re right, not too time-consuming.

      I’ll have to report back in a while with how the paint holds up. 🙂

  2. 2

    I neglected to tell you that I LOVE your green & vanilla (? didn’t know what to call the other wall color) walls, and the way you painted the shelves white. It took some guts to experiment, and it turned out beautiful. Can’t wait to see your new furnishings!

    • Jane Maynard

      awwww, you’re so sweet! it kinda did take guts – I have been thinking about the color for AGES and finally just took the plunge, but not without much trepidation. so, thank you!!! 🙂

  3. 3

    looks fantastic jane! you’re hard work certainly paid off. can’t wait to see those chairs…now about painting the rest of the room…

  4. Jane it looks amazing! Go you!

    We have a bright apple green in the laundry room, and I haven’t regretted it for an instant. We all need more color in our lives.

    The bookcases look wonderful!

  5. 5
    Rebecca O

    You ordered the corner media cabinet that you wanted. Yeah! Can’t wait to see the finished room!

  6. We’ve had two places with panelling in the basement. We always paint over it. Our downstairs is red now. I swear there is something we put under the paint but for the life of me I can’t remember the name of it. I think it’s only necessary if the panelling is shiny. I wish I wasn’t on pain meds right now so I could remember, lol. I love how it turned out. I love the two tones, it makes it pop. We’re reno junkies here so we’re always tackling projects. I keep saying I want to start a diy blog but I am not good about remembering to take step by step photos.

    • Jane Maynard

      I HATE step by step photos! and I think you have enough going on, crazy lady. no diy blog for you! (except it would be a great one! 😉 )

  7. 7

    I knew the second I read “a friend of ours is a professional painter” that it was going to be Don. Love him! And I’m going to second dear Emily’s suggestion to paint the whole room green!!! I wish I could come for a visit in this new home of yours!

    oh & p.s. we have painted paneling in our basement too!

  8. 8
    laura in San Diego

    I love this green transformation! We will be moving to Seattle in May and are currently looking for a home..I know I’ll be doing some of this same kind of thing..thanks for the inspiration:)

  9. 9

    I love it AND I could never do books by color no matter how beautiful the final effect is… congrats on beating down your OCD side. 😉

  10. 10

    wow looks great. when i read the color green i though uhhh green…but it looks GREAT ! good for you to go so bold ! one question…when you are close up…does the wood grain show through ? Do you see the lines in between the panels etc ? just curious. i’m thinking of doing this but was actually thinking of using a stain instead cuz i’m afraid of paint peeling or it looking to much like painted wood (if that makes any sense!) vs just let it be wood and stain it a different wood color ?

    • Jane Maynard

      thanks on the green – it was a little scary but I’m happy with it! 🙂

      okay, so, I’m one who is totally into staining wood whenever possible because I feel like it’s wood and it’s beautiful and it should be embraced. that said, the paneling that we had was not beautiful high quality wood, so it just wouldn’t have been pretty no matter what. it was kind of fake looking, you know? and the lines between the panels were black, so, it just needed to be painted if it wasn’t going to be removed.

      my paneling was quite flat, so the texture you see is just the texture of the paint/roller, like with a wall. there is no wood grain. you CAN see the lines between the panels, but I actually like how that looks – that would definitely be a personal preference thing. we had wood paneling in our last apartment – that paneling was actual quality wood and it had been painted. the look of it really grew on me, which is probably one of the reasons I ended up painting this paneling!

      so, I think in the end it really depends on the quality and look of the paneling that you’ve got in your house. hopefully answering the questions in regards to my paneling is helpful! 🙂

  11. 11
    Carrie Smith

    What would you suggest for wood paneling with knotty pine holes in it.

    • Hi Carrie! If you want to paint over the knotty pine holes you should fill them with wood filler and give them a nice sanding…then a few coats of primer to make sure the knots don’t show through the paint! Good luck with your project!

    • hi carrie – I had no idea how to answer your questions, so I put my amazingly talented friend emily on the case (that’s who responded to you!)

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