I know that some people are scared to paint paneling or perhaps are against it, especially if it’s wood. As with any to-paint-or-not-to-paint debate, I take this stance. If you love it as is and/or you think that painting the subject of the debate will devalue or damage said subject, then don’t paint it. If you don’t love it as is and it’s a good candidate for paint, then paint it. There are always what-ifs to consider but the thought that someone else down the road might not like it painted isn’t a good reason to not transform it into something that feels more like your style. And I am no stranger to painting paneling so I figured I would share some things I’ve learned.
The first paneling I painted was in my friend Shari’s farmhouse. Not to confuse her with my Minnesota antiquing buddy, Cheri. Shari and Cheri are actually very similar friends that I lived close to in different seasons of my life. Both are about 10 years older than me and took me under their wing when I didn’t live close to my mom. And they both shared my love of decorating and antiques. Anyway, Jeff and I used to farm-sit for Shari and her family when they traveled. One of those times, I told Shari to leave primer and paint so we could paint the paneling in their family room for them. I really am not sure where my love of painting came from, but I just remember being very excited that I could paint their house!
So, in addition to feeding goats and haying the horses, Jeff and I painted their paneling. It was during that painting session that we developed the highly effective “glop-n-schmeer” technique. The pain about painting paneling is that you have to apply all of the paint in the grooves with a brush by hand, slowing down the painting process. We found loading the brush with a healthy amount of paint (or “glopping”) and then smearing the paint (or “schmeering”) down the grooves was the most efficient way to get good coverage in all of the channels. Hence, the glop-n-schmeer. We’d then follow with a roller. Telling this story makes me smile because I just love the goofy little things we invent to make a more tedious job sound fun. Do you want to glop-n-schmeer or should I?
Since then, I’ve painted paneled ceilings and walls in our PA house, in the sunroom-turned-studio in our Minnesota house…
This was solid wood paneling and it was quite a chore to go from all of that dark wood to bright white! You can read about how we painted it HERE.
I also painted the faux wood paneling we installed in my home office. You can read about that HERE.
And I installed and painted paneling in our laundry room, too.
Just last week, we painted the paneling in the living room in our current home.
So, here’s what I’ve learned…
painting paneling | work from the top of the room down
This is just general advice when it comes to giving a room a makeover. If you need to paint your ceilings, do that before you do anything to the walls or floor. It really is just about gravity. You don’t want to drip ceiling paint on freshly painted or papered walls, your floor, rugs, carpet, or furniture. Of course, if those are already in place, just cover your area well with plastic and/or dropcloths and it’ll be just fine. It’s just ideal if you can get the ceiling done first.
painting paneling | plan on it taking longer than painting regular walls
Most paneling is going to require the glop-n-schmeer technique, which means a lot of brushwork and hand-painting. It’s not hard, but it just takes a lot longer than rolling a flat wall. It took three of us all day to apply two coats (one primer, one paint) on three walls in a small-ish room. And I’m a fast painter. Just give yourself plenty of time and maybe even plan on painting one wall at a time to limit the upheaval and finish the project in a way that isn’t stressful or rushed.
Also, be prepared for multiple coats. Oddly enough, you’re likely to require more coats for white paint even if you use white primer and are painting paneling that is already white or a light color. White just takes more coats to get good, even coverage. I always plan for a coat of primer and two coats of paint and then I’m pleasantly surprised if I only need to apply one.
painting paneling | Use a quality primer
Whether it’s solid wood paneling or faux wood paneling, I cannot overstress the importance of using quality primer. I would suggest a bonding primer if you’re painting a surface that’s slick or smooth in order to help the paint layer(s) adhere better. If your walls are stained, have an odor (pet, smoke, etc.), or real wood with tannins that might seep through, I would use a stain & odor-sealing primer. I do not recommend using primer & paint in one products to save time or coats of paint. Using products that are specifically formulated for the walls you are painting will produce a much better, professional-looking result.
If you are painting the paneling in a color other than white, ask for the primer to be tinted to match your paint color. In the photo below, you can see the tinted primer on the walls and the final coat on the beams. Because we used tinted primer, we only needed to apply two coats in total. If we had used white primer, it would’ve been three, increasing the cost and time spent on the project.
Especially if your selected color is very dark, the color won’t be an exact match, but it will help with coverage and reduce the number of coats you need to apply. I always, always use tinted primer. It makes a huge difference.
painting paneling | use a trim roller
In the photo below, you can see that my dad (who was the roller in our operation), was using a 6 1/2″ trim roller instead of the traditional 9″ roller used for applying paint to walls. It means covering a larger area with a roller that’s made for smaller areas like doors, trim, and furniture, but it also means that you’ll get a smooth texture on the walls, which makes sense for paneling. Nothing screams “painted paneling” like stippling from a 3/8″ nap on a roller. My ideal roller for painting paneling is a 6 1/2″ microfiber trim roller with a 1/4″ nap like THIS. It will hold more paint than a foam roller, but it won’t leave marks like a roller with a 3/8″ nap.
Cut in along the edges and in the grooves with a brush and follow behind with the roller for a professional, smooth finish. With a smaller roller, you can also get closer to the edges, reducing the texture difference from where the paint was applied with the brush vs. the roller. This is especially important if you’re using paint with a sheen to it.
One thing to keep in mind if you’re painting real wood paneling is that it will expand and contract as the temperature and humidity in your home change with the seasons This means you’ll see some gaps where the wood peeks through the paint. I noticed that in my studio and laundry room over the years, but I would just touch up the areas of exposed wood every year or two. If and when that happens, it’s just the nature of wood and not an indication that you did anything wrong. If your paneling is in a sheet or it’s faux wood, this isn’t an issue.
I know painting paneling can be controversial (some people really, really love their paneling), but it is a great way to revive a dated room or simply make it more to your taste. I think that paneling, especially solid wood paneling, can look charming, sophisticated, and timeless. It all depends on the look you’re going for.
You can read more tips on painting everything from ceilings to furniture to tile to floors in my painting & refinishing archives HERE.