Q: As we go about remodeling a country house we're trying to retain its rustic flavor while also making it brighter and easier to maintain. The kitchen poses the biggest problem. It has dark and stained paneled walls with matching cabinetry. It is possible just to paper the paneled walls?
A: I wouldn't try it. Wallpapering a paneled surface is usually a bad idea unless it first has been covered with wallboard or treated with some kind of spackling material.
A simpler solution would be to clean the paneling and prepare it for high-gloss paint. The cabinets can be redone in the same way. White paneling, white cabinets and woodwork, and a no-wax vinyl floor-covering are the basic ingredients in the country-style kitchen shown in the photograph.
I would also recommend that you leave a part of the wall unpainted. After it has been properly treated, you could add a small-scaled and colorful wallpaper. Consider a dark red or blue background with a documentary or geometric design or a rustic pattern -- plaid, perhaps.
The wallpaper will make the room more cheerful. The kitchen's function as a sunny gathering place can be enhanced through the addition of pine furniture, black-painted Hitchcock-style chairs, gingham curtains and lots of plants. The hardware and accessories should be made of copper or black iron to introduce the right sort of accents.
And don't forget about lighting. Unless proper attention is paid to that facet of the room's design, your effort and expense will not be fully rewarded. White walls will not prevent a poorly lit working and eating area from looking dingy at night.
If possible, you should illuminate the counter tops. The best method is to install task lighting underneath the wall cabinets so the sink and stove are not enveloped in shadows.
Assuming your kitchen is large enough to accommodate an eating area, I suggest you hang a small lighting fixture above the table. Such an arrangement will add considerable charm to the setting. And remember, the bottom of the fixture doesn't need to be more than 5 1/2 feet above floor level, since there's no danger of walking into a ceiling-hung piece that's positioned over a table.
This cozy composition is feasible even in a room with a low ceiling, such as is typically found in older country homes. A kitchen that's only 8 feet high can still accommodate this type of suspended fixture, whether armed or a single, larger shaded style.