We have a rather nondescript room in our home that we rarely use. It’s an extra-long, extra-dark living room/dining room, and I’ve tried so many ways to make it special using furniture. Inevitably, we default to our kitchen or family room, and don’t end up using this space except for formal sit-down dinners.
Especially since renovating our kitchen early this year, we all end up crowding around the island to eat together. We just love being in the new space so much! It’s so bright and beautiful, and has become the center of our home. Which made me realize… in order to create that same excitement around our dining room, we needed to elevate that space, too.
At the end of the day, this drab, cookie-cuter space just needs a little architectural refinement to inspire more intentional use of this room. In order to get us out of our kitchen and into the dining room, this needs to be a corner we love to live in! So, we decided to add tambour wall paneling to our dining nook to create a sense of arrival and purpose.
Our Choice of Tambour Paneling
Over the years, I’ve played so much with this wall! It’s hosted a greenwall of ferns in hanging pots, a bookshelf, oversized art. I remember with fondness the huge macrame art piece I hung one winter. Nothing has lasted—or invited more intentional use of the room. Which is why I’m determined to bring intention into the very walls!
Paneling is the perfect choice because it creates depth and infuses a room with importance. Nothing about paneling a room feels like an afterthought: this detail is PERMANENT. It’s not like you’re just slapping something onto a wall! You’re building an actual custom structure, which helps a space to feel more deliberate and refined.
There are many different types of paneling to choose from, depending on the vibe you’re trying to achieve. We’ve already added a few paneling DIYs to our home, including a board & batten on our bedroom wall and (more recently) this funky triangular wainscoting, both in this green! Each type of paneling brings its own special flavor to a space, but this detail always makes a room feel bespoke. This time, we’re going with a rounded tambour to add texture and dimension.
The paneling we chose for this space is really special, with a curvy, welcoming detail that makes you feel like you’re in the hotel! Tambour is trendy for a reason—it’s sleek, while building visual interest that still manages to feel playful and friendly thanks to its round shape. Bringing this classic look into our home upgraded our dining room instantly.
Always Start With WHY!
My background as a licensed therapist guides all of my interior design choices. After all, we’re creating space for the experiences we most want to have! In this case, I chose this look specifically for our dining area, because our family uses the dining room as a neutral place to communicate. So many amazing conversations can be had in a room where everyone feels open and at-ease!
This has worked wonders for our family. There was a moment just last year when my daughter was set to start her first week of high school, but couldn’t go on campus during Covid. Her class schedule was all mixed up, but we couldn’t find a real person to talk about it with, and stress was running high. As a family, we were able to use our quiet dining space to empathize and work out the problem together.
Often, in order to get to common ground, the environment where we share these moments needs to hold that frequency of loving acceptance. All of us just want to feel safe and secure. It’s human nature! Maybe you’ve heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? It goes something like this:
When our basic needs for food and shelter are met, we can start to feel safe. And once we feel safe, we can find belonging in our communities. With a clear role and sense of connection, we’re able to build confidence—which, in turn, brings success! Conquering our own goals makes us more likely to help others, as we finally become self-actualized individuals.
This whole pyramid is built upon those basic human needs for shelter and food. And we fulfill those first needs at our very own dining room tables! By decorating and styling a dining room that also fosters safety and connection, we can build esteem and self-actualization right in our own homes. Form and function go hand-in-hand.
So for us, this is more than just a paneling project! We’re cultivating an intentional space where empathy is grown and invited—a little enclosure where no one can be judged. Over time, the brain starts associating that space with those feelings. So when you feel sad, you know that’s where you can go.
How To Determine The Number Of Panels You’ll Need
Building this little dining room sanctuary is actually a LOT easier than you would think! Paneling is a wonderful DIY for beginners, because you’re just using a nail gun and wood glue. Depending on how much wall area you’re covering, you may need to cut a few holes for electrical switches and outlets, but Home Depot can even do that for you if you have the right measurements, or rent you the equipment to cut the material yourself.
Otherwise, you’ll just need the panels themselves. To figure out how many panels we would need for our dining area, we started with a sketch of the wall, including our existing shaker-style bench and arched doorway. Travis then measured the open areas of the wall, minus the bench and door, and marked the measurements on the sketch. I often call Travis “Mr. Meticulous,” and with this project, he was in his element!
Panels come in 12” widths, and we planned to place them vertically along the wall. (I always recommend vertical lines—they draw the eye upward and make your ceilings feel taller!) Travis used our to-scale sketch to plot out the 12” increments. We determined we’d have a few different lengths to accommodate, and tallied up all the total number of panels we’d need:
- 3 full panels between the bench and the doorway
- 10 shorter panels between the bench to the ceiling
- 2 panels cut to various smaller sizes for the space above the arch, above the window, and between the window & bench.
The archway would be the toughest detail we needed to account for, and we planned to outline this feature with moulding. Because our archway is wider than average, we had the trim custom-made by a moulding shop. To figure out the measurements for the moulding, we took a piece of cardboard and traced the arch to make a template when ordering the trim. This worked out great to get the right-sized curve!
The Tools Of The Trade
With all the ingredients prepped ready, it’s time to get into the installation! We used:
- 5 total panels from Surfacing Solution
- Pre-fabricated moulding from Advanced Moulding
- Tape measure
- Multi-tool oscillating blade (to cut baseboard)
- Miter Saw (to cut panels)
- Jig Saw (for archway and detailed cuts)
- Wood glue
- Brad nail gun
- Wood putty and sand
The panels come in a raw, wood state, and we decided to paint them a bright white. When it comes to impact, one of the biggest game-changers in any space is paint! Color sets such an important first-impression and informs the mood of the whole room.
In my heart of hearts, I wanted to paint the paneling a fun color—but after 12 years experimenting in this low-light space, I know better. For a room this dark, we need to use white for its high LRV (light reflectance value) in order to help amplify what little light we have. We chose Sherwin Williams Pure White to help illuminate the space. Since we’re in the dining room, I used a satin finish: you always want to be able to wipe it down!
1. We started with the hardest part: the archway. To prep for the archway moulding, Travis first had to remove the baseboards where the moulding will need to fit. Using a multi-tool oscillating blade, he made a vertical cut to the baseboards at the moulding’s edge. He then scored the excess baseboard where it met the wall and pried it off.
2. The arch we ordered was accurate, but longer than necessary, since we had to order a 6’ minimum at the moulding shop. Travis re-measured and cut the arch and side mouldings using a miter saw, so they are able to join together as seamlessly as possible.
3. We painted the moulding before installation, and added the sides first, using glue and a brad nail gun. The moulding arch will go on last, since we’ll need it to help measure the panels above the archway. Travis cut these more precise panels with a jigsaw.
4. Compared to the archway, the other panels were a piece of cake! Travis measured out each panel and cut the lengths with the miter saw. Since walls, ceilings, and floors can be uneven, he measured the length of each panel again just before cutting.
5. We painted the panels first, then installed with glue and the brad nail gun. It might help to note that these particular panels have been harder to nail because of the grooves. Some panels weren’t exactly flush, because they were a little warped. It’s almost impossible to tell, but of course Mr. Meticulous wasn’t that happy about it;)
6. Finally, Travis used wood putty and sand to fill in the nail holes and seams between each panel, and we did a final touch-up with paint.
The Final Reveal
Table | Chairs | Woven Bowl | Trays | Happy & Calm Stoneware Mugs (set of 2) | Lemon Stoneware Salad Plates (set of 4) | Paint Daubs Linen/Cotton Napkins (set of 4) | Spiral Cork Placemats (set of 4) | Pendant Light
We LOVE this result! Of all the techniques I’ve tried to spice up this space, nothing has worked quite like this wall treatment! The success of our paneling project goes back to my conclusion about cookie-cutter homes: the solution to a room that’s dark and difficult is to elevate the space. When there’s only so much light, you have to invest a little more than just furniture.
By putting a personal stamp on the very walls themselves, we make the room feel more like our own, and less like a template we have to fit into. When you’ve tried every type of art-and-furniture variation, and it still doesn’t work? That’s your clue that some next-level detailing is needed. Otherwise, you’re spinning your wheels and wasting time and money swapping out objects that have little impact on the space itself.
For a real fun showstopper moment, here’s the BEFORE before:
And our beautiful after:
So while paneling can feel very cost-prohibitive because cabinetry and woodworking are so expensive (!) ultimately, this wall treatment is a long-term investment in our home, and we went in with our eyes open. But if you don’t want to use Tambour, beadboard is a less expensive option that can achieve the same results: a more streamlined, sophisticated space. Actually, Em did a post a while back that has lots of good info. Go for it!
*Design and Photos by Anita Yokota