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Ask Jennifer Adams: How to paint old wood paneling

Wondering how to paint dark, wood paneling for a brighter space?

Painting wood paneling is trendy right now.
Painting wood paneling is trendy right now.Read moreshutterstock

Q: Can you paint wood paneling from the 1960s? I moved into my parents' basement apartment to save money while I'm going to school. I'm super glad my parents put in new carpet, but my room is still so dark.

A: Living with your family is a smart way to save money. And, the answer is yes, you can paint paneling. In fact, a rustic or reclaimed plank look for wall decor is very trendy right now. It's a great idea for freshening the walls, brightening the room for an airy, modern feel, and customizing the look of your space inexpensively.

These days, the trendiest look for wood plank walls is a distressed white or pale gray. Some people are paying good money for wallpapers that look like wood planks! This will definitely lighten up your apartment as well as let the texture of the "planks" shine through.

Depending on what your paneling is made of, start with a good primer/sealer or tinted stain to make sure the paint will stick. Ask at a paint store for options, and test each one. Let the primer dry, and see if you can easily rub or scratch through to the paneling. If not, that's the one to use!

To add a distressed look to your paint finish, think about tinting the primer a soft warm gray color. Then, using a brush in the direction of the longest lines of the paneling, paint one or two very thin coats. You want to achieve the wood grain look; using a roller will apply too much paint and you'll lose this effect.

Consider a low- or no-VOC primer and paint. They might be more expensive, but they won't knock you out with the fumes. Even so, open a window or two and have a fan going. And plan on staying upstairs for a day or two until the air clears. Good luck, and let me know how it goes.

Have a design dilemma? Jennifer Adams is an award-winning designer, TV personality and author of the upcoming book "Love Coming Home: Transform Your Environment. Transform Your Life." Send your questions to or for more design ideas, visit Jennifer's blog on her website at