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When speaking of wood paneling, most homeowners think of the 60s and 70s rustic designs. Interestingly enough, this trend is reemerging in the 21 century and is even more awesome. It provides homes with an elegant, and yet old-school and retro vibe.

Does this sound like something you would like to try? How to decorate a living room with wood paneling yourself? Let us address these questions.

Wood panels give rooms more texture and visual interest. Wood panel walls are among the limited design options that are modern and traditional at the same time. Better yet, there is no rule to as where to use decorate wood paneling – it is a great idea for any room!

How to decorate a living room with wood paneling?

This is the obvious choice for wood paneling in the living room, as this is where we spend the most time. Wood panels make the room look warmer and more inviting, and easily turn into focal points.

Here are some tips that can help you on how to decorate a living room with wood paneling.

Repaint the existing wood paneling in the living room

1-26-3 How to Decorate a Living Room with Wood PanelingImage source: Beckwith Interiors

Many homeowners decide to remove outdated wood paneling. Instead of doing that, you can repaint the wood panel walls and refresh the look. Wood paneling is relatively expensive, so you can recreate the rustic feel with paint. You can even improve your work with some faux wainscotting.

If you decide to cover the paneling with a single solid color, pick a finish with the ability to capture natural light. We recommend high-gloss finishes, as these also highlight the depth of the wall panels. A mid-tone color will also be able to catch shadows, and therefore enrich the natural texture of the wood.

1-69-1 How to Decorate a Living Room with Wood PanelingImage source: Tuckahoe Creek Construction, Inc.

For a more contemporary scenario, repaint the wood panels in white and use an eggshell finish. The wood-paneled walls will look adorably elegant and expensive.

Before you proceed, remember that paint can do just as much damage as it is useful. If you possess original wood paneling in a solid condition, the paint may not even be necessary. If you still opt for painting, take all necessary precautions and consult a specialist.

Bring the paneling work in sync with your decor

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Be creative, and don’t let your decor limitations determine the course of action. You will have many obstacles – the wood panels may be ugly and damaged, and the repair work may require a small fortune. But there is still plenty you can do!

You can remain flexible even on a decent budget, by working with the wall decorations you have and letting warm wood become the main motif in the room. If you lack inspiration, think of lodge decore in log cabins, for instance.

1-71 How to Decorate a Living Room with Wood PanelingImage source: JKA Design

The theme will be rustic, of course, and highlight the paneling. It will work perfectly with overstuffed chairs or a large leather sofa. As for colors, consider red or saddle brown for the furniture or the area rug. All Native American-style ideas will work, you just have to try different patterns out.

What may surprise you is that most wood panels are not even made of wood, but even the faux material adds warmth to the room. The darker the panels are, the more elegant they look, so stick to these principles when choosing the best wood paneling ideas.

Here are some suggestions on how to complement a wood paneling room feel

Use rustic accessories for the interior design

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You can frame the windows with a pair of textured panels. Then, add a few rustic accessories to pull the look together, such as textured drapes or hand-thrown pottery in plain sight. We also encourage you to throw woven pillows on the sofa and the chairs or purchase rustic wall hangings and tribal tapestries.

1-28-2 How to Decorate a Living Room with Wood PanelingImage source: John Harrison Jones, AIA Architect

To liven up the room, get some sculptures or vases. Instead of regular bouquets, fill the vase with Bold branches, partially colored in bold, visually aging colors. This way, you can turn a miniature forest into an in-budget permanent decoration, and secure a focal point for your guests.

If you need some extra storage, place baskets on the wall, or even hang some of them on the wall. There is still the possibility to display commercial decorations on the wall, as long as you provide them with a rusted finish such as a weather vane.

Opt for darker wood paneling to create a mood

1-70-1 How to Decorate a Living Room with Wood PanelingImage source: IN Studio & Co. Interiors

As you can see, there are many benefits of wood paneling in the living room. If you pair wood panels with the right material and colors, they can only enhance the mood and the character of the room.

Opt for masculine and sturdy elements, such as slate, metal, leather, or any other natural piece. You will love how dark wood wraps the place, and how comfortable it becomes.

Don’t even worry about the decorations that much! A dark accent wall with wood panels will take set the stage in the entire room, especially with exposed architectural details. We recommend you add a couple of floating shelves to add interest, or even to expose the ceiling beams to complete the sophisticated scene.

Replicate a seashore setting 

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Surprisingly, dark wood paneling can also be used in cottage-like breezy rooms. Pair it with the softer and brighter colors you associate with the coast, and you will have the perfect sea cottage.

You can even paint the wood with sea-inspired colors, as long as you do all prep work. Clean the paneling, prime it, and apply the color in line with the architectural details. Once done, finish the decor with beach glass colors and natural fabrics. Don’t forget about the windows – dress them up with full-length gauzy panels on both sides, and the living room will look amazing.

1-79-1 How to Decorate a Living Room with Wood PanelingImage source: Laura Hunt Design

The sofa and the overstuffed chairs will accompany the mood with painter’s canvas tarps and muslin fabric. The accent tables will also bring a vintage note, ideally painted in teal, coral, or grey. Remember to throw some rattan baskets here and there, and to accessorize with glass jars and shells. Doesn’t it sound amazing?

Choose the appropriate rugs and cushions

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To add more character and live up the room, throw several fancy rugs and cushions in the room. Since the room scenario is relatively neutral, choose pillowcases in lively and vibrant colors. You can combine them in the following schemes:

  • Navy blue and apple green
  • Deep purple and avocado green
  • Raspberry red and bright lemon
  • Silver gray and blackcurrant
  • The classic cult of black and white

1-85 How to Decorate a Living Room with Wood PanelingImage source: WNUK SPURLOCK Architecture

You will be naturally driven to brown and beige nuances, but stay away from them. You want your accessories to stand out, so make them as bold as possible. Even if you are not satisfied with the result, you can always replace the pillowcases with new ones.

If the room has wall-to-wall carpeting in a good condition, leave it there. It can only contribute to the rustic scenario, and you can still throw a couple of smaller rugs over it.

An even better idea is to hang tribal rugs on the floor, as long as they are not too large.

Choose a statement piece that plays along

1-72-1 How to Decorate a Living Room with Wood PanelingImage source: Ana Donohue Interiors

Wood paneling was created with the idea of a more dramatic living space, so keep this tradition alive. Pick bold art pieces for the walls, such as large mirrors or vibrant paintings. This is one of the rare elegant scenarios where you don’t need to keep things understated.

When it comes to wall art, there is an array of items you can use to complement the wood paneling. This is why paneling is so adored by artistic and creative homeowners.

1-76-1 How to Decorate a Living Room with Wood PanelingImage source: Southern Living

To give you an idea, you can hang upscale totems or exotic abstract pictures on the walls. Recently, wood paneling has been paired with intriguing pop-up art, which makes the rooms more playful.

If you can brag with some artistic DIY skills, take the project to the next level. Hang eye-grabbing pieces you’ve created from unexpected materials. It is true – you can design wall art even from old tires!

Follow the shiplap trend

1-71-1 How to Decorate a Living Room with Wood PanelingImage source: HOME Stagers, Inc.

A shiplap moment in the wood paneling interior design can create a unique space. Boards like those that were used to construct ships can add value to any stylish room, and designers encourage this idea.

Consider shiplap wall paneling if you want your space to look more modern. Complete the project with a coat of white paint, and the result may surprise you. This is also a more budget-friendly option compared to classic wood paneling, and a much easier approach for DIY enthusiasts.

Here is a bonus tip: You can brighten up the panels with an additional coat of grey paint. This helps recreate the shiplap experience to the smallest details.

Whitewash the wood paneling

1-73-1 How to Decorate a Living Room with Wood PanelingImage source: Jobe Corral Architects

What seems to be a downside for some homeowners can become the point of interest for others. The original wood grain texture of the panels may look outdated, but it is the most valuable feature the wall has to offer.

If you like it too, there is a great technique known as ‘whitewashing’ that preserves the weathered look of the grain. At the same time, it enables a strong ‘seen better times’ moment in your DIY log cabin. Be careful when you apply it – this is not the traditional lime whitewashing technique!

1-74-1 How to Decorate a Living Room with Wood PanelingImage source: Rauser Design

How can you whitewash the original wood paneling? Water down the paint, brush the wood carefully and wipe it, and repeat the process until you have a color that works with the rest of the furniture.

You can also take a completely different turn and add stripes to the wood panels. Instead of whitewashing, paint the panel grooves in the exact color you need, and leave the slats in their original color. If you are handy and talented, you can even take a shot at mimicking wood texture, for instance, oak or pine.

Add contrast with lighter colors

1-75-1 How to Decorate a Living Room with Wood PanelingImage source: GDG Designworks

An even better way to put wood paneling in the spotlight is to contrast it with lighter colors. The dark color of wood panels is the reason why most homeowners decide against them. Luckily, you can brighten things up with the curtains or the flooring.

Final thoughts

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As you saw, wood paneling is neither outdated nor difficult to adapt in modern design scenarios.

It is a chic addition to every room that restores glorious old times and makes our house what it is supposed to be – a home. There is plenty you can do to turn paneling into a focal point or to incorporate it into an otherwise modern and clean design.

You can only panel a small portion of the wall, or opt for an all-around scenario paired with bright furniture and sea-inspired accessories. Your possibilities go as far as your creativity goes – all options are on the table!

Learning how to decorate a living room with wood paneling yourself will also cut the necessary budget, so do some research in advance. To us, it sounds way more fun than plain white walls!

If you liked this article on how to decorate a living room with wood paneling, you should check out these on how to hide exercise equipment in the living room, how to hide the office in a living room, or how to fill the empty space in the living room.

We have plenty of other living room-related articles, such as how to create a foyer in an open living room, how to hide a pillar in the living room, how to arrange plants in the living room, how to store blankets in the living room, and how to decorate living room shelves.