Why We’ll Always Love Wood Paneling

Everything to know (and love) about wood paneling.

After: Stable Overhaul Living Room
Photo: Photo: Laurey W. Glenn

Who among us doesn’t have memories from when we were younger of unwrapping presents, sharing a meal, or watching television in a wood paneled room? At times, it’s been considered cheap and chic. At others, people say it’s distractingly dated. The truth is, wood paneling is so much more than a design element—it’s a connection to our pasts. In addition to refurbishing original paneling, we’ve also taken to reinstalling it entirely. “Bringing a home back to its roots creates timeless design and a love of history for all to share,” emphasizes Ashlee Little of Ashlee Marie Interiors in Birmingham, Alabama. “Adding reminiscent character is important in layering any space.” Although our love for wood paneling has remained unchanged over the decades (same with realtors), the way we incorporate it has. 

Wood Paneling Design

Today, wood paneling is often installed to bring a sense of warmth and nostalgia. Kelly DeWitt of KKDW Studios in Austin, Texas, recalls the design and build of a beloved local bar called Frazier’s Long & Low. “We wanted it to feel like it had been there since the seventies, so the inspiration to achieve that came from the mahogany wood paneling. When you walk in, it is an instant time warp.”

Types of Wood Paneling

The meaning of wood paneling is more expansive than most realize. The 70s era gave us the retro vertical wall paneling, while today DIY projects including 3D wood, board and batten, and reclaimed wood have become common. In historic homes, you may find beadboard, shiplap, or wainscoting.

Buried Treasure

In some places, the original wood still exists but is waiting to be uncovered after many decades of changing trends, like in the 1940 home of Austin, Texas, artist Erin Donahue Tice. “We stripped a million layers of old paint and wallpaper in my boys’ bedroom because we were going to wallpaper it, but to our surprise—and delight—we uncovered original shiplap all the way around the room.” (Yes, shiplap is wood paneling!) A fresh coat of white paint instantly brightened up the space while maintaining its personality.

Adding Wood Paneling To Your Home

Not all of us are lucky enough to already have wood paneling installed in their home. The benefits are strong enough to make us consider DIY though. Compared to many home projects, adding wood paneling (depending on the type) is relatively simple, especially as feature walls are trending. Plus, in addition to having a ton of personality, it also creates sound and thermal insulation (again, depending on the type). While we’d be happy with wood paneling anywhere, some spots it looks best in include the dining room, bedroom, den, and ceiling—seriously. 

No matter where you add it, it's important to consider all the details. “For wood paneling to feel special and not cheap—like it used to—you need to take care to trim out any paneling with quality materials, like matching solid wood,” DeWitt explains. This simple and cost-effective trick makes it feel more intentional.

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