How To Update Wood Paneling

How To Update Wood Paneling

It’s enviable when I’m staging homes, that every once in a while, I’m going to come across a room, usually a family room or a basement, that has dated dark old wood paneling.  Nothing screams 70’s more than old wood paneling.  NOT only does wood paneling date a house it devalues the home as well.  Sure, you probably will find a potential home buyer that would be willing to take it on and put in an offer, but be warned that they are taking $$ off their offer to compensate for the work that awaits them.
If you have a room that has dated wood paneling, put your mind at ease.  There are several ways to remedy the problem and they won’t cost you a whole lot of money either.


Painting the walls is the fastest and most economical way of updating the look of wood paneling.  Whether the paneling is wood or veneer, it’s an easy fix and will give your walls a fresh updated look.

wood panelling, painted, labelled










Preparing the walls for painting There are two options to prepare your walls for painting:

Option #1 – Sanding: The paneling will have some type of varnish or stain on it even if it has worn a little over the years.  Fill the grooves and any holes with caulking or wood putty to create a smooth surface.   A smooth wall will give the room a sleek and modern look. Leaving the groves will be visible and is a more suitable style for a cottage or country home, not a city or suburban home.


sunset paradise, living room with logo
This cottage had wood paneling dating back to the 50’s (even before the grooves were happening in paneling.) It made the cottage appear dark and dingy.

A light sanding with a palm sander will remove any finish or rough spots in order to prepare the wall for primer. Clean the wall with a damp rag to remove any dust before painting.

For either laminate or a wood panel, priming with a primer like Zinsser will give your wall the grip it needs for paint.

After priming, you will be ready for painting.   You can expect at least two coats of paint to cover the dark wood.  Use a foam roller for a smooth finish.  Choose a fresh trendy color to give your space a new look.  Enjoy your new room!


Sunset Paradise, living room, after
After one coat of Zinsser, two coats of trendy aqua paint transformed this dated and dingy cottage into a cool and trendy beach cottage.


Option #2 – Plaster or Drywall finish: Applying a drywall finish or plaster over your wood paneling will give it a smooth polished finish.  It will look just like a drywalled room.

Applying a plaster or drywall finish can be applied right over wood paneling with the right preparation. Regular plaster takes some skill to apply so it may not be a good option for the first timer.  Read the manufacturer’s directions on the package and ask a friend who has experience to help if it’s your first time.  However, if you feel confident that you can do a professional looking job, applying plaster or a drywall finish over the paneling will not only look sleek and contemporary, it will increase the value in your home.

Remove the wood paneling

In one house I staged, I suggested to the homeowners that they remove the wood paneling.  The paneling was on the main floor and was giving their city home a country look. They knew that under the paneling it was just 2″ x 4″boards, not drywall, so it would have been an enormous undertaking.  We came up with another solution.  Before you remove the paneling, know what you are getting into.

Other options?

Solid wood paneling can be sanded, stained and varnished the same way as wood furniture is refinished.   The challenge however, is that it can look like refinished wood paneling from the 70’s and in the end, will not offer the increased value in your home like the above mentioned options.  If you’re going to put in all that work and elbow grease, you should choose an option that will increase the value of your home more significantly than refinishing an old dated panel. Wallpaper Another option instead of painting is to apply wallpaper.  You will need to prep the paneling just as if you were going to paint it by filling in holes and the groves. You will also need to sand and wipe down the walls just like if you were going to paint the walls.  Use a paper liner to help the wallpaper adhere to the wood.  Stay away from dated wallpapers as they won’t achieve your goal of updating the room.  Choose a trendy wallpaper like a geometric or a pattern.


Debi Collinson is a Designer.  She renovates “fixer uppers” to flip or to rent.  She staged houses for 10 years. She has seen houses at their best and their worst. Debi passes on her knowledge to help people Add Value to their Home while making their home a stunning retreat at the same time.


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