Wood Paneling: Not Just The Stuff of The ‘70s

Friday Mar 19th, 2021

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Wood paneling has been synonymous with ‘70s rec rooms, dart boards, and generational lakeside cottages for decades. It was forgiving, versatile, and a budget-friendly option to quickly elevate a basement or living room decades ago. Classic wood paneling still has its place, but its integration in modern design is gaining traction.

Wood panel walls with brick fireplace
Image via Flickr

If your current living room reminds you of a sauna (and not because of the temperature), you may want to consider decorative wood panel options such as shiplap, wainscotting, or wallpaper patterns that offer the depth and visual interest of molding. Wood paneling can also be painted with a generous coat of primer and flip a dark and dated room into a bright retreat without committing to a huge expense.

Wood panel bedroom
Image via Flickr

If these walls could talk

Wainscoting broadly refers to decorative panels used as both wall accents and historically, insulation. Typically, wainscoting covers the lower three or four-feet of a wall and includes a panel and frame. Styles include raised and flat panel designs, shadow box, board and batten and beadboard. Homeowners can skip the sawdust and intricate mitre saw cuts and achieve the elegant, textured look that mimics the real deal with wallpaper or panels. Wainscot half wall panels offer fool-proof installation and more time spent soaking in the bathtub, admiring it.

Navy blue wood panel walls behind a bathtub in a stylish bathroom
Image courtesy of wallsauce.com

Homeowners who want the wood pattern without the permanence can achieve the same look with self-adhesive, peel-and-stick made-to-measure wallpaper panels. This concept will appeal to renters who want to personalize a space as the wallpaper can be easily removed. Wallsauce has a 16-piece collection that will appeal to all discerning tastes from sophisticated vintage detailing to panels that resemble the worn paint of an English cottage.

The 3D effect of wallpaper panels is a game-changer for newly constructed homes as the murals convey a timeless look. For those intimidated by painting walls black, there are also almost-black wall murals that add luxury in an instant. Wallpaper murals are no longer the stuff of dentist offices—recent designs include life-size maps, bold florals, warehouse bricks and the first steps on the moon.

Decorative wood panel walls in a home gym
Image via Flickr

Cue up the Mad Men look

If the Mad Men set isn’t the exact look you’re striving for, traditional wood paneling has undergone several contemporary twists and interpretations. A mid-century abstract design requires some measuring and a mitre saw, but the result will be original and suit an Eames chair, turntable and Negroni.


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Wood panel walls and kitchen cabinets in a stylish kitchen
Image via Flickr

#Shiplap and Joanna Gaines

Shiplap was originally used as insulation in farmhouses. Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s Fixer Upper introduced the world to a style that has been duplicated in mudrooms, stairways, bedrooms and powder rooms.The rabbet cuts that define shiplap with a rectangular recess along the tops and bottoms of the wood planks, permit the boards to naturally space themselves out. Shiplap can warm a space when painted white or maintain a rustic vibe if left unfinished. Home building stores now carry impressive lines of MDF primed shiplap that still permit creativity as they can be installed horizontally, vertically, diagonally, or in chevron.

Get in the groove

Beadboard is a row of narrow wood planks lined up vertically on the wall, commonly installed in bathrooms with soaker tubs or on kitchen ceilings for an authentic farmhouse look. The “bead” is the indentation or ridge found between each wood plank. Horizontal molding is used to cap off the strips of vertical boards and the surface can be easily painted. It can be purchased as a MDF or vinyl panel as well. For a quick, clean update, beadboard is a resilient choice and ideal for hiding junior’s hockey puck target practice.

Modern living roo featuring a stylish wood panel ceiling
Image via Flickr

Barn bored?

Plywood, it’s come a long way, baby. Homeowners are applying it to walls in full sheets with high-gloss urethane finish and it can double as a durable flooring option too. It can be cut horizontally to resemble planks, adding a spartan look to a space with polished cement floors and minimalist furnishings.

For those who are drawn to all things barn board, the sustainable repurpose of “beetle kill pine” will be an attractive option. The unique blue stain fungus that spreads from the nuisance bark beetles affects species like the Lodgepole Pine, Douglas Fir, and Whitebark Pine trees. Beetle kill walls and floors are an eco-friendly nod to a different kind of “beetle juice.”

Maybe you’re ready to ditch the neutral tones of wood for the energizing colour punch of tile and mosaics in your kitchen. Why not switch out the wood panels for brick and the industrial coffee haus-feel of the German schmear technique? Or, for a slower, less radical transition–revisit the 80s and 90s with the Memphis Design movement! Be sure to visit Living Room’s Design Files often for inspiration.

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