Dark wall paneling with grooves, so popular in the ’60s and ’70s, is being phased out by many homeowners because it robs rooms of precious natural light.
While the thought of trading dark, dingy and dated paneling for a lighter, more attractive wall finish may appeal to you, the prospect of removing the paneling may be discouraging. Fact is, you don’t have to remove it. You simply can brighten up paneled walls with a fresh coat of paint or wallpaper.
Start by making sure the paneling is properly anchored to the plaster or wallboard below. Reattach paneling which may be bowed or buckled with paneling adhesive and some ribbed paneling nails. The nails should be driven into studs for added strength. An electronic stud-finder will come in handy. Use a brace (a long piece of wood) that will span completely across the room so that it can be wedged against a small sheet of plywood to really clamp down on the paneling during regluing.
Once the material on the wall is smooth again and firmly attached, it’s time to prepare the surface. Washing the entire surface with a solution of trisodium phosphate (TSP) with a cloth or sponge comes first. For best results, do a section at a time, rinsing between applications with a damp sponge. TSP is caustic and should be used with caution.
Be sure to wear safety goggles, rubber gloves and other protective clothing. Oh, and don’t forget to ensure that there is plenty of fresh air circulation in your work space.
After the paneling is dry, prime it with either an oil base or shellac-based sealer. These heavily pigmented primers will act as an excellent base for either paint or wallpaper. If you intend to hang wallpaper or simply don’t want grooves in your painted finish, there are a couple of alternatives for a groovy groove removal.
The simplest way is by filling grooves in with a vinyl spackling compound using a small putty knife. More than one application may be required since the spackle is likely to shrink. Once the spackle has dried, lightly sand the entire surface of the paneling with 150-grit sandpaper. Seal the areas where the spackle was applied with a coat of primer.
If you plan to paint the wall, apply a light wall texture beforehand. The texture, which can be applied with a trowel or portable spray gun, will give the wall a uniform finish by hiding blemishes and other imperfections.
Finish the job with one coat of a top quality interior acrylic latex wall paint.
If you plan to paper, an alternative to filling the grooves with spackle is to install a base sheet of lining paper.
The lining paper is slightly thicker than wallpaper and disguises bumps and irregularities. Wallpaper can then be installed over the lining paper.
Decorating possibilities are many. For example, you might consider doing a combination of paint and wallpaper separated by a chair rail. Or using coordinated wallpaper on either side of a chair rail. Once you’ve made this improvement, your home will be brighter and cheerier. You may find that you don’t need that larger window or skylight you’d considered, after all.