How to Update Old Wall Paneling

Go down into a basement built in the 1970s and there’s a good chance you’ll find walls that are – or were at some point – adorned with wood paneling. This dark, grainy, laminate wall covering can make a room feel dark and musty. And these Brady-Bunch-era walls weren’t just reserved for basements; their easy and inexpensive installation made them a popular choice for covering walls throughout the house. If your home is still decked with these dated walls, we’ve got some ideas to update that old wood paneling and give it a fresh modern look.

Cover It Up

You always have the option of removing your wood paneling and replacing it with drywall, but this job can be expensive, time consuming and messy. Luckily, in most cases, you can lay new drywall over the existing paneling without the need to take it down. You can screw your new drywall directly into your wall studs through the paneling, but be sure to use a stud finder and mark your studs before getting started. In some cases, adding drywall over paneling will mean that your walls will be too thick to align with your existing window and door trim. Start by removing all trim and baseboards in the room. Install the drywall and cover the seams with drywall tape and mud. When the mud has dried, sand it down, apply a good quality primer and then paint to the color of your liking. Before replacing your trim, add wood around doors and windows to compensate for the now thicker wall. The wood should stick out only 1/32nd of an inch past your drywall. Secure it with nails or screws and then install the trim over top.

Paint It

If you don’t want to cover the paneling with new drywall, you can still make these walls of the past a thing of the past by filling the paneling’s seams with drywall mud. By mudding every seam, you will be left with a smooth wall to apply your paint. Be sure to let the mud dry completely and give it a good sanding before priming and painting.

Alternatively, you can play up the seams in your paneling to make them a focal feature. Paint your paneling and its seams contrasting colors to create one-of-a-kind walls.

If you want to keep the look of wood walls but lighten up the space, you can whitewash your paneling instead of painting it entirely. To do this, skip the primer and add a little water to a high quality paint to create white walls that still show the wood grain through. While this technique is called whitewashing, you aren’t stuck to only using white paint, this can be done in any color to add an opaque color over the wood grain walls.

Before you do any painting, be sure to wash the walls to remove all dirt and dust. Use a good quality primer to be certain the paint doesn’t peel away from the laminate surface.

Obscure It

You can change the impact your wood paneling has on a room without the need to cover or paint it. You can draw attention away from your paneling by adding other elements to the walls. Built-in bookshelves will have the paneling looking like part of the bookcase, and if you stack the shelves with books, the paneling will be almost invisible. Bright shelving adorned with pleasing accessories turn paneling into a complimentary backdrop. Large eye-catching art or a well-placed and trendy gallery wall will change the focus of your walls and offset the dark paneling.

You can also use your décor so the paneling looks like it’s from more modern times. Steer your décor away from cottage-esqe or dated décor and opt for modern or currently popular designs. Play up the 70s vibe with bold and trendy mid-century modern furniture or strong accents like new lighting or furniture.

With these easy DIYs, your wood panelled walls can go from an eyesore to an opportunity. Get creative and decide how to give your old walls a modern makeover.