Q:

I was wondering: Can I paint old paneling from the '70s? I just moved into the parents' basement apartment to save money during school. Super-glad there's new carpet, but still, it's so dark. Thanks.

- JJ
A: That's a smart move to save money. And, fortunately, the answer is yes, you can paint paneling. You can also do the same with old brick. In fact, a rustic-plank look is trendy now. That was the whole idea when faux wood paneling was popular, though it was the dark stuff that was in then.

These days, the trendiest look for wood plank (or brick) is a distressed white or pale gray. Some people are paying for wallpaper that looks like rustic wood planks or painted brick. The whites and gray will definitely brighten up your apartment, as well as let the texture of the "planks" shine through.

Start with a good primer-sealer to make sure the paint will stick to the paneling. Ask at a paint store for options, and test each one. Let the primer dry, and see whether you can easily rub or scratch through to the paneling. If not, that's the one to use.

For an easy distressed look to your paint finish, think about tinting the primer a soft, warm gray color. Let the primer dry. Then paint one or two very thin coats of white paint, lightly brushing in the direction of the longest lines of the paneling. You're after the wood-grain look. Using a roller will apply too much paint, and you'll lose this grainlike effect.

Also consider a low- or no-VOC primer and paint. They might be more expensive, but they won't knock you out with the fumes. With any paint, open a window or two and have a fan going. Plan to live upstairs for a while until the air clears.

Enjoy your space, and send me pictures when you're finished.

Jennifer Adams is a designer, author, and TV personality.

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