Keep wood paneling, but lighten room

September 27, 1992|By Rita St. Clair

Q: I have lived for several years in a stately old home with a wood-paneled dining room. As much as I have enjoyed this sedate setting, it's time to give the space a new look. Pulling out the panels, which extend about two-thirds of the way up the walls, is unthinkable to me, but I'm prepared to replace the

heavy oak furniture. How can this room be made more appropriate for contemporary furnishings?

A: Lots of people would love to have your problem. Wood paneling is usually considered a great asset in a room, giving it a certain masculine air because of the color, weight, detailing and texture of old carved oak. Still, I can readily sympathize with your desire to achieve a lighter, less somber look.

After several years, a room like the one you describe can $H become a bit oppressive. I also respect your wish to leave the paneling intact. Tearing it out would indeed mean destroying something irreplaceable.

The photo shows one possible route you may wish to explore. In this case, the original paneling was scrubbed and waxed, thus becoming the perfect shell for a more contemporary treatment. All the wallpaper above the wood was removed, with the upper walls and ceiling then painted in a textured off-white. The glass-and-chrome electrical fixture suspended from the ceiling replaces a brass-and-glass kerosene-style lamp. The comfortably upholstered chairs are covered in a bright green textured wool that contrasts beautifully with the golden oak. A chrome column base supports the white marble top of the dining room table. And the floor has been newly covered with a rust-colored carpet in a small diamond pattern with an off-white design.

The option of painting or bleaching the panels in order to create a brighter environment was considered but then rejected. The designers who carried out this renovation decided -- correctly, I think -- that it would be more proper and effective to preserve the wood in its original state. Furniture, fabric and decorations were used to update the room.

Readers who have always yearned for a wood-paneled room should know that this effect can be created as well as inherited. An experienced cabinetmaker can, of course, be retained to duplicate just about any style of wall paneling.

As a much less expensive option, the use of plywood panels merits consideration. Today, it's possible to buy good-looking, pre-finished veneered plywood or wood-fiber panels that can be cut on the job with ordinary hand saws. To add interest to the rather flat appearance of these boards, applied moldings can be installed in either vertical or horizontal patterns. With this type of installation, the moldings can then be finished in a harmonizing color or stain.

+ Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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