Paneled Walls Aren’t A Death Sentence

Paneled walls.  I’m not sure there’s anyone who would willingly put these up in their home in the 21st century.  And any time I come across them, my first instinct is to RIP.  THEM.  DOWN.  But I’ve watched enough HGTV to know: you never know what’s behind those walls.  And without a Mike Holmes on my side to clean up any reno job gone wrong, this DIYer has to find an alternative.

Such was the case when Jefe proposed the idea of redoing the guest room and office at his parents place.  He got the idea after we painted an accent wall in our own office at our last apartment.  We had a bucket of blue paint left over, his parents place needed some sprucing, so why not use what you’ve got?  Well it turned out we and his parents loved the idea of redoing their 2 rooms, but thanks to our very hasty move last August, we no longer had the blue paint.  And after having some time to reflect on it, that particular shade of blue was definitely a little too bright for our of our liking.

Here’s what we had to work with:

(The office, aka - Jefe's old room)

(The office, aka – Jefe’s old room)


(The guest room – aka Jefe’s brother’s room)

So a few weeks ago, after we all ventured to Ikea to check out the furniture I had picked out for their new office, Jefe and I took his parents to Home Depot to pick out the new paint colors.  His parents were having a few of the rooms repainted so I thought that with each room having a single paneled wall that they would be best turned in to accent walls with some color and the rest of the room done in Behr’s Decorator White.  For the office, we chose a similar but slightly more muted shade of blue as our own former office.  We chose a similar color for the guest room, but in the minty green family.

Martha Stewart Salt Water

Martha Stewart Salt Water


Martha Stewart Lemon Grass

But here was the challenge – like most professional designers – you have to cater to your clients.  In this case, Jefe’s mom Gloria.  She had a few items that she wanted to integrate in to the design of the guest bedroom, namely a traditional woven rug from her native Ecuador.  The rug was tan with shades of cream, burnt orange and gray.  Needless to say, my minty green paint swatch was quickly pitched in the garbage.


As an alternative, we choose a light tan with grey undertones (Martha Stewart’s Potters Clay) that coordinated nicely with the rug that will hang on the accent wall and will act as a neutral for the rest of the room.  And I have to admit that as much as I loved that green, it would not have gone with their current bedroom furniture (at least the stuff that we’re keeping).

Martha Stewart's Potters Clay

Martha Stewart Potters Clay

But now the trick is going to be finding those pops of color to really bring the room to life and give it some excitement.  I’m hoping to have a full design board for this room for all of you soon!

So after Gloria & Harry headed east for a trip to visit Jefe’s brother and family, we headed to their house for a weekend of painting.  Step 1, the prep work, was probably the hardest.  Those paneled walls had seen better days.


So for the next 3 hours I sanded, patched holes, pulled down ancient pieces of Scotch tape and sanded again (Jefe was clearly a fan of taping up his Red Sox posters).  I also gave the walls a good wipe down more than once particularly after noticing patches of crayon in the grooves of the paneling….  Here is the finished patched but pre-painted version of the guest room:


But back to the painting.  After years of reading the blogs of fellow DIYers, I knew the paneling was going to present some challenges.  As paneling is not like drywall which sucks up paint like a sponge, it can be slick.  And most paneled walls, particularly if it’s real wood, have stain, and/or some sort of protective coating over it.  Both of which make it even slicker and hard for paint to adhere to.  Both can also bleed through primer and paint, leaving weird stain marks like a napkin after a dinner of greasy NY pizza.

So getting the right paint and particularly the right primer was key.  Enter ZINSSER stage left.


I knew if fellow bloggers had used it to success when painting veneered furniture and it was a similar type to what Young House Love used on their own paneled walls, I had faith this would do the trick.  Well, 3 coats later, I was still skeptical.  The guest room’s paneling was older and more like a real wood.  And much much lighter in color so that appeared to be fine.  But the office, however, was a slick veneer with VERY dark stain in the grooves.  After 3 coats of primer, the stain, although much lighter, was still seeping through and yellowing the pristine white we just spent hours getting on the walls.


So with a hope and a prayer (and less and less daylight), Jefe and I cracked open the paint cans.  Because I’m a paranoid DIYer and have had strokes of bad luck my whole life (my name literally means ill-0mened, I kid you not), I decided I couldn’t be cautious enough.  It cost about $10 per gallon more, but I chose to go with Behr’s Premium Plus Interior Stain-Blocker Paint & Primer.  I figured that if the Zinsser and the stain-blocking paint with primer couldn’t do the job, nothing could (short of ripping down the paneling entirely which you now know was not really an option, particularly for a two day weekend-ony project).  So we slapped the first coat of color on both walls and called it a night.


(Gotta love a man with a baseball hat and jeans on with a paint roller in his hand…)

I also discovered that it was best for me to go over ALL the grooves first to really get the paint in there as the foam roller didn’t quite cover it:


We came back the next day and much to our surprise, our hard work of the day before had clearly paid off.  Not only did the paint stick to the walls like a champ, but they looked as smooth as a baby’s bottom thanks to my extensive prep work and the stain had NOT leaked through.  I was ecstatic.



(Ignore Jefe touching up the corner and the tissue box.  Painting with a sinus infection is NO fun)

So we put another coat on and called it a night as Jefe had a plane to catch the next morning at 6am.  The paint was still VERY wet and it was so late we decided to forgo pulling the painters tape from the edges.  I came back later in the week to do that.  This is where my excitement was dulled by peeling paint…

The walls’ edges for the most part looked really good.  I took my time pulling it down, using an Exacto knife to get it straight where it needed to be.  And I had always heard that you should pull the tape when the paint is wet, but I was just so afraid of messing it up, as I have been every other time I have painted.



Well, needless to say, the trim under the painters tape had seen better days once I pulled it off.  Gloria & Harry just had the rest of the rooms, including the trim on our accent walls, redone.  Now I knew the white paint was probably not fully cured when we put the tape down; the trim had only been done a week before so I had anticipated that there would be some peeling.  While I was prepared to touch up what was needed, we also discovered that the guy on the painter’s crew who did the trim had only done one coat, not two.  To top it off, he had also mistakenly used the satin wall paint, not the semi-gloss they used for the rest of the trim in the room.

So I busted out my sanding block, smoothed it down, and then broke out the Zinsser again.  I was afraid that  the areas missing larger chunks of paint would be visible under 2 coats of semi-gloss.  So I primed the heck out of those puppies.  One thick coat of primer and one coat of semi-gloss later and we had ourselves some beautiful baseboards.



And this time, I decided to suck it and try to pull the painters tape while it was still wet.  OMG WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG TO TRY THIS?!  My lines were perfect!  No need for an Exacto knife, no worries about pulling off thick chunks of paint creating an uneven edge.

It was like a light bulb had finally been turned on.  I, Mallory, will never again wait for paint to dry to pull up the tape.  It truly does make a world of difference.  I guess I just had to see it for myself.

So there you have it: two fully painted rooms.  The combination of the Behr Decorator White along with the colored accent walls is a vast improvement.  The rooms automatically feel fresh and clean.  They are small spaces and the white really brightens things up.



Later this week I’ll post the first update with some furniture!  Jefe and I ventured to Ikea this weekend to finally purchase what we are using for the office.  And can I just say: Jefe and I are Ikea masters.  We can put together a Besta with optional leg extensions in under 30 minutes.  Team Sledge/Jefe for the win (someone help me find a better combo name.  We’re no Brangelina, but we owe it to ourselves to have a better team name….)


3 thoughts on “Paneled Walls Aren’t A Death Sentence

  1. Pingback: Gloria & Harry’s Guest Bedroom | Sledgehammer With Style

  2. I enjoyed your paneling redo project since I’m working on a whole room of this ugly stuff. My paneling looks like yours, whitish fake wood w/ darker grooves. After one coat of same primer you used, I can still see the grooves, only now they look kind of aqua! I naively thought one coat of primer and then move onto the paint, but now I guess another coat of primer is needed. Ugh!! I still see the wood grain pattern too. 2 coats of primer is the maximum I can stand to do and I hope one coat of good paint, whitish, will be enough. So far, it’s my project that won’t end. Any more advice, or should I just keep on?


    • Keep on! Each type of paneling is different – we dealt with two completely different types for our room redos. The first was real wood, was much older, and stain wasn’t a problem. But the wood grain still showed, which we didn’t mind. For the second type, it was a bit newer, was cheaper laminate and had some SERIOUS stain in the grooves to the point it was almost black. As I’ve only tackled this project once, here are a few extra pointers from my experience:

      1) Paint the grooves FIRST and then roll the panel. You can get more paint in the concentrated area, covering it with a slightly thicker layer, and it will get in to the grooves much better.
      2) Sometimes two coats isn’t enough. I’m sure this is the last thing you want to hear, but with our project, we had to do 3 coats of primer on the wall with the dark stain. And it still seeped through. But like you, were on limited time (and patience), so after 3 coats we forged ahead with the actual paint.
      3) We used a paint & primer in one with a stain blocker built in for extra protection. One coat managed to cover up any stain seeping through (disclaimer: we used a colored paint, not white), but the coverage on the wall wasn’t as nice as we desired. So we did a second coat of paint to really finish it off which would also help you minimize the wood grain if that’s one of your goals.

      I don’t know the square footage of the area you’re working on, but I would suggest to just keep going! In the end, I’m sure any paint job is an improvement over old paneling. At least that’s my opinion :-D. Good luck with the rest of your project!


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