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Should We Paint Wood Paneling?


Hey all, it’s Ginny here with another design agony and this time we’re talking about painting wood paneling. Our client Mickey emailed us with the following question:

Should I paint our den/office? I know it’s ugly paneling, but the built-ins are beautiful solid wood and very high quality. I cannot decide what to do! I’ve been contemplating this for 3 years now. I feel like the room is dark (the curtains aren’t helping), and I haven’t put any style/decor effort in because I don’t love the space. My husband LOVES this room just the way it is (of course, men love that gross paneling!). So, my question is, should I paint it? If so, do I have to paint everything (paneling, built-ins, and trim)? Or can I simply paint over the paneling and leave the trim and built ins? And if I leave the built-ins as is, do I paint the paneling that’s behind them – you can see it in the shelf space. Also, if I paint the room do I have to paint the section of ceiling in the bay window that is wood (last picture). Finally, if you do think I should paint it, do you think I should go light or with a cool indigo or bolder color? I need help!!!!

The rest of our house is painted in whites or very light greys/beiges, with white trim. I would say the style of the house is cottage-y. We live in a rural setting in Pennsylvania.

Mickey Menichetti Wood Clad Paneling Home Decor Painting Redesign BEFORE 1

From the before photos you can see that the bones are pretty good, and the cabinet doors are simple in style with no fussy flourishes. But the main issue here is definitely the color – it’s just way too orange. We narrowed it down to two main design directions (white vs blue) that Mickey could follow, and in both instances we recommended painting all of the wood work in the same color, including the shelves, framing and back wall.  By doing that it would feel more cohesive and impactful. Let us be clear – if you have a beautiful wood den, or wood paneling in any color in a pretty tone that you love, KEEP IT. We love beautiful original wood as much as the next guy. But if its orange and dated then you do have some options.

Mickey Menichetti Wood Clad Paneling Home Decor Painting Redesign Option 1

Paint Colors: White Dove by Benjamin Moore | Cabbage White by Farrow and Ball | Wevet by Farrow and Ball

This is what we sent to Mickey along with our recommendation:

With what you have said about the rest of your house being light and airy it might be nice to bring that theme into this room too.  In option 1 we are suggesting that you paint everything in a soft white, something that it not too stark but has a calming feel to it.  You could also add some other pops of colour in here on your seat bench, and we’d suggest that you paint the underside of the window seat ceiling to match.  It will feel super fresh and compliment the amount of natural lighting you have coming in through the windows.  We suggest to remove the drapes and instead do simple roman shades.  We also think that you could do away with the window treatments altogether, unless you need them for privacy.  With either drapes or shades, you’re going to lose some light because they are mounted on the inside and will end up covering part of the window. This is another reason for us suggesting to remove them.  We would paint out the room first before tackling the windows.

Mickey Menichetti Wood Clad Paneling Home Decor Painting Redesign Option 2

Paint Colors: Cooks Blue by Farrow and Ball | Stiffkey Blue by Farrow and Ball | Lulworth Blue by Farrow and Ball

Our second option is to go for a dusty blue colour.  We feel this is the one we would suggest you go for, because it’ll bridge the gap between you wanting to repaint and your husband wanting to keep it dark. Whilst we love the idea of the white, it might be really fun to bring in some colour to your house if you mainly have whites, greys and neutrals elsewhere.  This could be a super cosy reading room, and you already have the leather chairs that would look amazing against the blue.  We’re also suggesting to do the fabric on the built-ins blue too, with maybe a stripe or pattern to give some texture.  We would take the drapery advise above and get another great blue that works with the wall colour.  You could always do a white shade to keep the windows feeling white if you didn’t want to go full on blue. Accessorize with leather, white and greys.  We are actually very excited by this route and I hope you go for it! 

We also suggested that they replace the hardware to something that would pop more against the new colour. Take a look at what we got back from them after they painted.

Mickey Menichetti Wood Clad Paneling Home Decor Painting Redesign Makeover 1

They wasted no time at all in painting the room and sent us some progress shots along with a note:

We absolutely loved the design and went with the stiffkey blue. I started priming that same day. I was able to restore the existing hardware. I attached some pictures, but the lighting isn’t the best. For the decor I used pieces around the house that we already had and will continue to refine as time and budget allow. It is still very much a work in progress.

Thank you for all your help. Our den is a million times better now and we LOVE the blue – even my husband is glad we made the switch 🙂 I couldn’t have done it without your help!

Mickey Menichetti Wood Clad Paneling Home Decor Painting Redesign Makeover

We love the leather and wood accents that are in here now.  And I think swapping out some of the wood photo frames to black on the shelves will help them bring in another colour to the room.  I think a mix of blue, white and black pillows would also look awesome in here too.

Mickey Menichetti Wood Clad Paneling Home Decor Painting Brass hardware

Look how amazing her knobs came out that she restored. They are super fun and full of character and well worth keeping. They pop off the cabinetry way more now and accent the wall colour beautifully.

Mickey Menichetti Wood Clad Paneling Home Decor Painting Redesign Makeover 2

Even though I don’t love the idea of blocking the light,  I might be tempted to hang roman shades on the windows just to add some softness for the colder months.  I also like the pop of white from the seat bench but I’d still love to see a patterned fabric on here or even a throw blanket draped over.

Mickey Menichetti Wood Clad Paneling Home Decor Painting Redesign Makeover 3 copy

Mickey Menichetti Wood Clad Paneling Home Decor Painting Redesign BEFORE and After 2

Considering Mickey pulled together a few things she had from around the rest of the house, it’s looking really cute.  I’m actually really glad they went with the blue because it makes it feel like a cozy library and really modernizes the paneling. If it were my space I’d totally want to hang out here and read a book with a cup of tea.

Interested in having us help you out with a room layout or full redesign? Visit our services page for more details.

***Design boards by Melanie Burstin for EHD with design direction by Ginny Macdonald, overseen by Emily Henderson. Post written by Ginny (with a few additions by EH). 

Want more Design Agony and E-Design posts? Check out some of these: How To Lay Out A Narrow Living Room, Master Bedroom Refresh Plan,  Kitchen Nook Refresh,  Cures for a Maple Orange Kitchen, Rustic Mid-Century Family Room,  Neutral California Nursery,  Moonrise Kingdom Kid’s Room.


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55 thoughts on “Should We Paint Wood Paneling?

  1. That blue is interesting. My parents had a paneled accent wall in their house (very 1960) and it looked dated then fashionable again.
    An entirely paneled room is a little overwhelming, though.

  2. Do you know what I love about this post? That it is real and from a “normal” person who took a risk! For me it’s not perfectly styled, but I love the improvement and it looks so much better! Posts like this show that everyone can achieve a nicer/more beautiful home. Looking forward to more Design Agony posts.

    1. I love the reality of it too! Mickey added a few stylized touches to the library but a real level of style that the average person would have. What an improvement 🙂
      XO, Amanda @

    2. Right there with you, Sandra! I appreciate your beautifully shot and styled work, Emily, but I also love seeing how non-designers can be stylish too! This is something just about any homeowner could do, and hopefully seeing these folks take a risk will inspire other folks to do the same.

    3. I’d agree with everyone else! I would love to see more “real” before-and-after problem areas from your readers who choose to tackle it on their own.

  3. So good! If their’s is an older house in rural PA it’s likely in a colonial style. My beloved home state is full of old old colonials. If so this design is absolutely in the original style of the home. Wood trim and paneling was almost always painted in the Georgian and Federal period.

  4. What a turn around! Great job Mickey and EHD team! I love that Stiffkey Blue from F&B, it’s just so delicious! I painted our hallway that color in my near-zero light Miami apt. (I know!) and it’s like the perfect pair of denim jeans; the ones that make your butt look good.

  5. Wow! I love how the blue looks! I probably would have chosen the safer route with white but I think the blue looks so much more dramatic.
    If I lived there I would probably remove the shelf about the little window seat and hang a roman shade (that you suggested) high up so it wouldn’t block any light when up.

  6. I love that they went with the blue! It looks so great now that the space is painted. I’m so into dark, rich, blues right now. Awesome job!

  7. Love that you supported her decision to paint the wood!

    I have been agonizing over our family room that has coffered ceilings and wood walls with picture rails over the past two years, and we finally had it painted white a few weeks ago! We used Sherwin Williams Snowbound. The contrast it created with the dark brick fireplace and wood floors was SOOO worth it. And you can actually see what’s on our bookshelves now 🙂

  8. Yes! This is fantastic. My parents had a wood-paneled room in this same orange finish in their Tudor home a few years back. I always wanted to whitewash it or something, but this blue is GORGEOUS.

    1. I wouldn’t paint over anything older than 1920’s – the woods used back then are so amazing, redwoods and oak and mahogany… and the thought of it having stayed the same for a hundred years, only to be painted over now… just sad. Because once it’s painted, you can’t ever get it back. Me and hubs argue about this all the time, our dining room has redwood paneling all over, it’s from 1906 and I will not allow it to get painted over. Half of the trim rooms had been painted previously, some were a beigey gray and some a light salmon… no qualms over painting those over! The original wood though just gets orange oil and “good luck for the next 100+ years” wishes from me 🙂

      But yeah, this ubiquitous 1950’s/60’s/70’s “mancave” paneling always deserves to get painted over. It’s cheap, not always even real wood, and just very orange and cheap. Same with cheap pine paneling.

  9. I’m glad these people did what makes them happy, but this blue really doesn’t work for me. In the library example photos it’s clearly a much older style of molding/paneling in rooms with high ceilings and and so the effect is very different. I don’t know, I really like the wood paneling! So warm! I think with different styling and furniture that wood paneling could be so beautiful.

  10. Are the inspiration pages (for the blue) painted in a more matte color? The after photos appear to be a super high gloss comparatively. Do you find a particular finish works better for built ins?

    Love these design aides that come with ‘after ‘ / ‘in progress’ shots.

    1. That was my question. The paint she chose seems like semi-gloss or even high-gloss, which gives it an interesting, almost lacquered look. I wondered if that was her idea or the design team’s.

      It’s really gorgeous.

    2. I like the photos. I’d like to understand what are the “rules” of using different paint sheens in different environments? I understand the generals (Generally egg shell on walls, something higher gloss on trim. Bump up a level for Kitchens and bathrooms), but what about all wood rooms such as this one? Are there rules that are generally followed?

      Regardless of the rules, I like this room and how it turned out.

    3. Yes, the inspiration pictures definitely look waaaay more matte than the redesign pictures. Personally, I prefer the matte look, as I feel that the reflective quality of the glossy paint takes away from the moody dark paint’s “cozy” feeling. Okay, that was a really verbose way of saying this: dark paint looks more cozy when it’s matte. I’ve been trying to nail down a good deep teal for one of the bedrooms in my house, and thanks to this post, I’m now sure what finish I’d like to choose. Now just to find the right balance of blue and green and gray…

      1. HA. It’s funny. I texted Ginny that immediately – wondering what sheen they chose. They didn’t tell us, and Ginny doesn’t remember if we specified. It definitely looks glossy but not sure if its semi or high. I like it, though. Its more Miles Redd than country cottage but that is a good thing. xx

  11. Great job! I love the chairs, gold, and blue all together. I completely agree with Emily that you need a little more pattern in the room – perhaps through a few throws scattered throughout the room.

  12. I love this! The paint completely changes the room from feeling outdated and sad to fresh and happy. That shade of blue is so pretty. I had dark paneling ALL OVER my house when I bought it and painted it a very light gray. If you’re interested, you can see before and after photos here:

    It’s really amazing what paint can do to change the feel of a room!

  13. hey emily! could you post some ideas (sometime) for decorating a small entryway?

  14. Well I’ll be the one to say I’m not a fan of how it turned out. I think the blue looks just as dark as the wood was but the wood at least had a warm feeling to it.

    I probably would have considered leaving all the shelves and the wood behind the shelves natural (or just leaving the bench/window wall natural) and painting the rest a warm white. It would have kept the warmth of the wood and brightened up the space at the same time. It would also have allowed for a better variety of soft decor to choose from (pillows, curtains, furniture etc).

    But that’s just my personal tastes and all that makers is the client is happy with it in the end.

  15. I think it’s too monochromatic and a bit dark. If you wanted to paint the paneled walls white (as some commenters suggested), I might have done that and kept the shelves natural (just to see how it looked).
    Or, I would have painted the shelves white and then painted the paneled walls a different color. But, even if I painted the paneled walls I would have used white for the door frames and window frames. And painting the face plates on the light switches is overkill.

    1. I totally disagree. Looks MUCH more cohesive all painted one color. And I agree with the person who said get rid of the shelf above the window and do a roman shade; much cozier feel in the winter.

      1. I think having the two tones would have made the room look busy and smaller. I think all warm-white could have definitely worked, too, as we suggested. But I love the debate 🙂

  16. Does anyone know where the leather chairs came from? Love them. And I love the blue.

  17. I have a quick question for Emily/the design team: it looks like you recommended library lights if they painted white, but not with the blue option. Can you explain a little about why? I would have thought they would have a bigger impact in the blue room (maybe that’s even why?)

    For background: We’re looking at trying to turn a converted porch/sunroom in our new house (so excited) into a library, and I’ve been thinking about how to make lighting work so that it’s nice in the evening as well as during the day, so learning more about lighting choices is really interesting.

    Also, I love this series of showing how the design agony/e-design services work. Like other commenters said, it’s super relatable, and it definitely has me thinking I’d like to write in (but I’m trying to wait until we’ve unpacked a lot more).

    1. Hi Gwen! The second option was only meant to show a second color option – the recommended accessories (lights and shades) apply to both color options.

  18. Congrats Micky on your new office/den! GM and EH, I like that you throw in a reminder to keep panel if it is great shape and has a modern color because I tend to paint first, and then think later! with that being said- I would LOVE to have a room with this color scheme! it conveys a sense of history but with a modern twist! Wonderful!

  19. Painting over wood is definitely a tough decision, but I think you made the right call. That blue looks great!

  20. It looks so great now! Way better than before.
    Mickey, what is it with your love for Germany?

    Grüße aus Deutschland!

  21. People don’t be afraid to paint wood! Unless it’s some kind of amazing rare wood, it can be painted. Especially if you have orange or really dark wood. White paint can work miracles! Thank you for posting this, Emily. I come from a long line of wood paneling painters! 🙂

  22. Great work team! This blue reminds me of the historic homes I have toured around Philadelphia. White would have been modern and bright, but I think blue makes it cozy like a cool library. Not every room needs to be bright. Great work, Mickey! Excellent work shopping your house. I would love an old oriental rug with red and blue in it like in the first inspiration photo. I know you’re in a rural area, but you may find one on Craigslist if that’s possible.

  23. I love the new blue colour! What an improvement! We had an old house with dark panelling in the living room and I never wanted to hang out in that room. After painting it white I enjoyed the space so much more.

    Emily, I check your blog daily for inspiration and laughs…keep up the good work!

  24. I love how this turned out! It’s refreshing to see a real life design for a “normal” person. Orange wood paneling plagues so many houses, it’s sad. I think the high gloss is a great idea.

  25. I probably would have kept the paneling in wood (or at least the built ins) but lightened up the room in other places. For example, removing the shelves in the built ins and either painting that white or having luan/thing plywood cut to fit and painted. It’s a lot of blue, but most importantly, the client seems really happy with it. And they did a great job with the painting!

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