We recently purchased a home that has a lot of dark yellow or brown oak paneling and molding, which looks great in our library but rather oppressive in other rooms of the house, especially in combination with our equally heavy oak furniture and the dark stained floors. Can such paneling be bleached? Would light carpeting make a significant difference?
Sure, you can bleach the paneling, but first you must remove the existing stain and finish. If you have the patience for this, it will probably make a significant difference. So too will a light-colored carpeting, but remember, "significant" is a subjective term.
A couple of additional options would be to sell the house and keep the oak furniture, or keep the house and buy new furniture.
Another, less drastic possibility would be to install drywall over // the paneling in the more oppressive rooms. The new layer can then be painted or papered to create a more cheerful background. Should that prove too expensive or complicated, and if you don't regard finished wood paneling as inviolable, you can simply paint right over it.
As the photo shows, a situation similar to yours was handled in just such a manner.
Here, the wall paneling has been painted in a semigloss but porous finish that still allows much of the wood grain to be seen. The floor, meanwhile, retained its dark finish, but a couple of decorative rugs now cover sections.
I realize that some people regard the notion of painting wood as nothing less than sacrilegious. But I have found that painting wood paneling can make a great deal of sense, not only from an economic perspective, which is often not my primary concern, but also in terms of how a room looks, which is always my chief concern. You may find, too, that this strategy will be the wisest. It's easier and less expensive than the others and might therefore provide the greatest degree of psychological comfort.