How to Update Oak Paneling

If you have a home that has oak paneling installed on the walls, you are not alone. Once the hottest decor look for walls, paneling in general became very popular in the 1970s. If you own a home with oak paneling, you may find that in time you tire of the look and long for something different. While not as simple as updating drywall or plaster walls, updating oak paneled walls can be accomplished with a bit of creativity, some elbow grease and a relatively small budget.

Oak paneling can be updated.
  1. Determine what you wish to do to update the oak paneling. Research your options and determine what the look you are trying to achieve is based on the options discussed in Steps 2, 3 and 4. Each option involves different techniques and supplies, and will produce a different finished look. It is important to review the choices and decide on what option best suits your style and budget.

  2. Painting paneling is a very good and simple option for updating the oak paneling. Simply covering the wood with a coat of solid paint will instantly update and freshen the look of your room. It is up to you if you want to fill in the grooves of the paneling or not, many people simply leave them and apply the paint. If you decide to paint, be sure to wash the paneling down with a good grease cutting detergent and then prime it with a good bonding primer. Ask the retailer for their recommendation of a primer that will work on the oak paneling. After the primer has dried, apply two coats of latex paint in your favorite color.

  3. Wallpapering the paneling is also a possibility; it is more labor intensive than painting and more costly as well. If you decide to wallpaper the paneling, you will need to wash the paneling with the degreasing cleaner and prime the paneling first. Purchase and install a wallpaper liner, hung horizontally to bridge the grooves and seams of the paneling. Once this is dried and in place, you can install the wallcovering. It is best to pick a textured wallpaper as it helps to conceal the grooves if they are not completely bridged by the liner paper.

  4. Filling in the grooves of the paneling and applying a textured finish is also another option. Clean and prime the walls as mentioned in Step 2. Use caulk to fill gaps in seams and then apply a skim coat of drywall mud in the grooves. Allow this to dry and then apply the texture material. Once this is applied, finish it with two coats of paint. It is important to remember that this option will not provide a smooth even appearance, it will show texture.


  • Do not skip the washing or priming process, or your paint or wallcovering will not stick.

About the Author

Kelli Shaw has been writing since 2008. She lives in Michigan and is an experienced business owner with expertise in e-commerce and customer service. Shaw has been featured in "Entrepreneur Magazine," "Woman's World" and "The Detroit Free Press."