How to Make Wood Paneling Look Modern Without Painting It: Five Ways


Is part of your home sporting those 70’s wood paneled walls? Before you paint the paneling, give these ideas a try first! Keep reading to find out how to make wood paneling look modern – without painting it! You might just be surprised at the outcome! 

Not to be Captain Obvious, but I am all for making your home look good, especially considering this is primarily a home decorating blog.

I am all for updating those laminate countertops, hiding those popcorn ceilings, ripping up the wall-to-wall carpeting and other things of that nature.

But sometimes, every once in a while, I prefer to keep those “old” design aesthetics and work with them, instead of against them.

I’m talking about My Jungle Room, folks.

How to Decorate Wood Paneling Without Painting

In the Jungle Room, or the den if you want to be so boring as to call it that, we kept the original wood paneling.

I will be the first to say that my initial instinct when I saw this space was to rip all the paneling out. However, budget and seeing a friend’s updated 70’s paneled walls in action helped to change my mind and give it a whirl. Here’s what the space looked like before:

How to Make Wood Paneling Look Modern: The Paneling Before

Sexy, no? hehehehe

Now, here’s what I did to make that paneling work and look good.

How to Decorate Wood Paneling Without Painting It

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1. Paint the trim

Yes, there is some painting involved, but NOT of the paneling – just the trim around the paneling.

I first saw painted trim paired with paneling at my friend Kellie’s house. She had paneling in much of her den and kitchen and had painted the trim in those areas black. It gave off a really vintage, retro kind of vibe to me and I liked that.

How to Make Wood Paneling Look Good Without Painting

I painted all the trim, the bookshelves, the ledge that runs along one side of the room and the fireplace Limousine Leather by Behr, which is my go-to black paint color. After doing that, the paneling was definitely looking better, but I wasn’t completely sold just yet.

2. Bring in solid colors on furniture.

From that point, I decided that to make the paneling more of a backdrop rather than a focal point, I needed to bring in more solid colors on the furniture.

How to Decorate Around Wood Paneling

Sofa / Fur Throw / Rug

Luckily, I found this sofa on Craigslist and it worked perfectly. It added more black into the space which helped to pull out the black on the trim even more.

Wood Paneling Ideas

Navy End Tables

I also brought in these solid navy side tables, which brought more color into the space. Side note: I am planning to paint these red, which I think will look even better in the jungle room. 

3. Create multiple focal points.

I know. I’m probably breaking some design rule with this one. That never stopped me before and I certainly didn’t plan on letting it stop me now though. Once more, to make the paneling seem like more of a backdrop, I created two different focal points when you first walked into the room. The first was the fireplace.

What To Do With Wood Paneling

By painting the fireplace a solid black, it actually stood out more, rather than blending into the paneling as it did before with the reddish bricks.

I also created another focal point above the sofa.

Wood Paneling Makeover Ideas

Ocean Avenue Art 

There, I used the ledge above the sofa to place a vintage brass lamp, the Ocean Avenue art, a family picture and antlers on the wall.

4. Use eye-catching art.

This one is kind of a no-brainer. What’s the best way to distract someone’s eye? Give them something eye-catching to look at.

Of course, you just saw the vignette above where I did this with the Ocean Avenue art above the sofa. I also did it on the fireplace mantel.

Wood Paneling Makeover - Black Fireplace

Cheetah Print

On the fireplace, I used a traditional piece of art, this cheetah print, and something a little non-traditional, but that grabbed the eye’s attention – those little red cowboy boots.

How to Update Wood Paneling Without Painting - paint the fireplace black

Also along the fireplace mantel is a framed record, mine and Grunt Labor’s song, and some DIY text art that also snags the eye with it’s red hue.

5. Layer in texture and pattern.

Not only did this final trick help to make the jungle room a tad more cozier, but it also brought in other elements that worked well with the paneling – texture and pattern.

The biggest way I brought these two things in was with the rug.

How to Make Wood Paneling Look Good

Zebra Print Rug

Without the rug, the floor would have been quite bland. The pattern and texture of the zebra print rug worked well to bring the eye to the floor.

How to Decorate Wood Paneling

Fur Throw / Malachite Side Table

I also added in more texture with the fur throw (which added to the jungle room vibe as well). The malachite side table brought in more color, which the room needed, as well as pattern.

I also used the snakeskin lamps, green throw pillow and black and cream pouf that you saw in earlier photos above to bring in more texture and pattern.

I realize wood paneling is still something many would prefer to ditch. That’s cool – to each his own. Around here though, we choose to decorate around wood paneling. You’ll find us here flying our freak flag in the jungle room clad with 70’s wood paneling – and loving every minute of it.

Share your tips for how to make wood paneling look good in the comments!

You might just find these posts interesting as well…

Full Jungle Room Makeover – the full before and after of this space.

The 70’s Landing Pad Home Tour – we embraced the split-level and went 70’s style – with a touch of glam for good measure.

How to Distract from Popcorn Ceilings – six ideas to help hide those popcorn ceilings without the mess of scraping them off!

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Wood Paneled Walls Decorating Ideas
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Decorate a Room with Wood Paneling Without Painting

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