Home Decorating Your Decorating Dilemmas Solved! (Part 2)

Your Decorating Dilemmas Solved! (Part 2)

Kippy Jo asks: I have a 1925 Craftsman attic space, with wood paneling on the walls and ceiling. It may be Western red cedar or perhaps knotty pine. The wood flooring looks like fir or maybe even oak. I love the casual feel of so much wood, but it makes the attic space very dark. I have resisted painting it due to the value in the old wood.

My master bedroom is in one half and my office space is in the other, wrapped around the stairway entrance. The windows face north and south. Is there any way to brighten up the space with accessories? And how do you discern when it’s okay to paint wood in old houses? (The attic wood paneling has been salvaged from area houses that have been razed.) Also, with the knots in the wood, I never know if the linens/fabrics I use should be solid colors to avoid too much texture. The wood paneling is coated with a clear coat and the wood has aged to a golden-orange-peachy color. The floor is a medium to dark brown.

attic masterbedroom

Annie says: Some people might not agree with me on this, but I have no problem painting wood—even old wood! I have whitewashed walls, I have bleached oak floors, and I have painted knotty pine paneling. I am always seeking a lighter space. But this is your space, and you should make it feel the way you want it to feel.

That said, it looks to me like you could whitewash the walls. (Note that they can always be refinished to a darker shade, if you or a future owner so desires.) In fact, I recommend it, because the lighter backdrop will be more welcoming for whatever fabrics and textures you choose to use.

If you still can’t bring yourself to paint, get a large, light-colored rug, like one of these, so at least you are not stuck with a dark floor. Pale upholstery on a sofa or other furniture and on curtains—feel free to mix in colors, as long as you keep them on the pastel side—will also help lighten up the whole space.



Was this article helpful?


cheryl bourgeois August 9, 2013 at 10:42 pm

“Have brushes, will paint!” I have lived with older, dark paneling in my Dining Room ( of all places!)for years. It was here when I moved in & I have always despised it. I’m NOT opposed to painting it & I ‘think” I’ve worn-down the Mr. on this subject. Since it’s plaster walls behind, he does NOT want to deal with that! How would you suggest I prep the surface of the paneling to take paint..any tricks? It is good quality paneling, with smooth surface.. probably Birch. (Hung in the ’70s.) The room only has one pair of double-hung windows facing East. My house is circa 1937, so lots of doors & windows, 10″ baseboards, etc. I’m decorating in keeping w/ the proper “Retro” furniture styles / scale, but in current color schemes: Charcoal, Turquoise, “gun metal” blue, Pale gray.

Fresh American August 12, 2013 at 8:57 am

Hi, Cheryl! Sounds like you’re ready to take the painting plunge, and we love your color choices. As for paneling prep, first figure out whether the paneling has a finish on it. If it does, you’ll need to sand or strip off the finish; stripping may be better for your paneling, since it will be less wear and tear on the plaster walls behind. (Try it in a small area first, to make sure you get the effect you want. Then follow the manufacturer’s instructions for after-application cleanup—for example, wiping with a wet cloth to remove residue—and before you apply the whitewash.) If there’s no finish, you can skip right to the bleaching step, and then on to whitewashing.

Let us know how it goes! We’d love to see a pic, when it’s finished.

jes July 3, 2015 at 4:41 pm

I am in the same boat here and ready to take the plunge but its a huge room so Im nervous to start. How would you recommend “stripping” the finish? Also, what is the purpose of the bleach? Ive seen one method where they used wood putty in the creases, would you recommend that and why or why not?

Thanks so much!

Fresh American July 6, 2015 at 10:31 am

Hi, Jes! When it comes to stripping the finish off wood paneling, you have two options: chemical strippers or good, old-fashioned sanding. They both have their pros and cons. Chemical strippers are, well, chemical, so not exactly all-natural. They do, however, strip finish like nobody’s business, and cleanup is usually less of a hassle. Sanding works just as well, but it makes a pretty big mess and usually requires at least a couple rounds of cleanup. You’ll want to wear a mask for either method, to protect yourself from inhaling any nasties.

The bleach serves to lighten dark wood — this might not be necessary if your paneling is already light to begin with, but it’s a must for darker wood. The putty-in-the-creases method has us stumped; we’ve never heard of this! We’ve always whitewashed directly on the wood and the creases without issue, so we can’t speak to the effectiveness of the putty, but we’re intrigued.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes!


Leave a Reply to jes Cancel Reply