Back in the 1970s, wood paneling was both a popular decorating accent and all-purpose cure-all for damaged walls. For homeowners who were tried of painting, patching, scraping, and wallpapering, wood paneling must have seemed like a miracle product at the time.
These days, wood paneling is more of a nuisance than anything else. It's hard to decorate around, hard to keep clean, impossible to patch, and creates expensive restoration work when removed.
While painting over the wood paneling is one option, chances are you won't be pleased with the result unless you've apply a textured wallpaper over the paneling first. For many of us, the cheaper and easier solution for lightening up a paneled room is by redecorating.
Switch out the window coverings. Draperies and wood shades naturally darken a room which is fine when the walls are white. But when walls are panel covered, heavy drapes can turn the room dreary. To lighten both the room and the wood paneling, replace your drapes with light colored slatted blinds. Faux wood blinds bring ambient light into any room (even north facing rooms) and will make the room seem much more spacious and cheery. Painted faux wood blinds are available at all home improvement stores. A cheaper option is to call a window blinds store for a quote. Business is so bad right now that we got the 5 foot-wide blinds we wanted at $87 each which included the installation.
Paint the ceiling. If the ceiling in your wood paneled room isn't white, egg shell, or ecru, it should be. Light colored ceilings in a paneled room make the ceilings seem higher and will also lighten the room. If you don't care for white, be sure to select a color that complements the natural wood coloring of the paneling. A gallon of paint runs between $15-20 each. Check out the mismatch bins for cheaper prices yet.
Switch out light fixtures. If the light fixtures in your paneled room throw light downward, switch them out for fixtures that direct light onto the ceiling. Upwards directed lighting also makes a dark room lighter and larger. Inexpensive ceiling fixtures can be found at home improvement stores for $30 or less.
Buy some cheap, light color floor rugs or other room decor. If your carpeting is dark, try lightening it up with inexpensive floor rugs in lighter shades. Places like Ross and Tuesday Mornings sell inexpensive 6' x 9' patterned rugs for $50-$60 each. These discount stores also sell inexpensive room decor such as pillows and lampshades will also lighten up a dark wood paneled room and make it a more inviting place to be.