Decorating a house with brown paneling is like taking a trip down memory lane. Recollections of co-ed parties held in basement rec rooms complete with singing along to Madonna songs and playing records backwards can send even the most contemporary mom into the closet for her leg warmers and rubber bracelets. Decades later, rec rooms have became man caves, and records are almost obsolete. However, Madonna and brown wood paneling aren't only still here, but are often still in vogue.
Sweet, Embraceable Paneling
Wood paneling's strongest attribute is that it can cover the worst of drywall installations. However, as useful as it is, brown paneling can look dated and dull when paired with outdated furnishings. Embrace the brown paneling by replacing the old and adorning the room with new decorative elements that match your style, enhance the wall's brown hue and bring out the beauty of the paneling. Pair light brown paneling with lavender and pink accessories, but balance those feminine colors with cream or chocolate brown furniture. Go bold with dark brown paneled walls and use dark orange accessories. Add light to the dark brown walls with mirrors in silver or chrome frames and buttery yellow accessories.
When paneling is in good condition, but you don't find it appealing – paint it. Clean it thoroughly first, and let dry. Apply two coats of water-based primer, which will seal the paneling's slick surface, let dry, and then apply two coats of latex paint. Choose a soft white paint to bring in light, sage green paint to reference nature, or soft gray paint for a sense of calm. If you have extra energy, create an accent wall with a stenciled pattern. Use a stencil that fits within the paneling's natural borders; go bold and graphic with black stenciling on a white wall, or subtle with gray stenciling on a white wall.
Don't just embrace the brown paneling, use it to create a theme room. Transform a room with light brown paneling into a seaside cottage with shabby chic furnishings and beach-inspired accessories. Cover your current couch with a custom-made linen slipcover or with a canvas dropcloth, paint the remaining furnishings a creamy white and decorate with conch shells plus pictures of the ocean. Solid, pale blue window treatments with seashell-shaped tiebacks complete the look. Convert a room with dark brown paneling into a rustic lodge. A red-and-black plaid couch, or solid color couch with plaid throw pillows, paired with dark brown furnishings and a kilim or worn oriental rug, add rustic comfort. Keep the window treatments a solid color so as not to compete with the other patterns. Adorn the walls with nature-inspired artwork; you need at least one black bear picture, and add whimsy with a do-it-yourself papier-mache deer head.
Paneling in Disguise
Use fabric panels to create an accent wall or to completely disguise the room's brown paneled walls. To ensure smooth panel movement, mount curtain tracks on the ceiling and floor near the wall. To create an accent wall, use panels with bold botanical or batik patterns which won't compete with the horizontal or vertical lines of the paneling. Adorn the room's remaining windows with solid curtains in a color found in the accent wall curtain. When covering the entire room, opt for solid-colored panels in light neutral colors, such as tan or soft gray. These panels will obscure the paneling without causing visual confusion.