Rental Improvement: Painting Faux Wood Paneling

What I love about the playroom in The Rental is the space to put up the ride-on train or the bouncy house.  What I didn’t love was the paneling.  It was actually gray faux wood grain paneling which I had never seen before.  Grey is totally in, right?  Sadly, the walls were in rough shape between the splintering and stains…

black stained paneling

…and the holes from where dartboards had hung in two different locations.

dartboard holesdartboard holes 2

The landlord gave me permission to paint, then reneged because “it couldn’t be painted back”.  Then I sent him the pictures above, and he reauthorized me to paint out the paneling. I went with a light grey to keep the room as close to the original as possible.

Everything I read online lead me to believe this would be a simple Saturday project.  False.  There was no hugging it out Saturday night.  It took me all of Saturday and most of Sunday to complete.  I had planned to spend Sunday enjoying the fruits of my labors while the kids played around in their new digs, but instead, I had to toil away all day trying to finish this beast while they screamed upstairs with dad because they missed their toys.

Step One:  Fill holes with drywall compound.

I read you could use caulk or compound.  Because there were so many holes, I went with mudding over large sections of the walls.  After the compound dried, I sanded it flat and sanded creases in the paneling grooves so the mudding wouldn’t look too obvious after.  There were just so many holes.  Some of the little holes you can actually cover with latex paint alone if you swipe it right, but holes of this magnitude required serious attention.

mudded dartboard holesmudded holes in paneling

Step Two:  Nail in all the loose paneling and trim, then caulk the seams.

Every four feet or so, there will be a seam between the panels.  If you don’t fill it, it will look like a noticeable black canyon between painted sections.  I usually run my finger over caulk lines, but these paneling joints were so rough and splintery, I had to put on rubber gloves to do it.  Some folks like to caulk over every paneling groove to make the walls look flat.  I kind of liked the idea of the beadboard look, so I went with that.

caulked paneling seams

Step Three:  Cut in with shellac primer.

There are a couple of reasons to use primer.  I usually think of primer as coverage for changing color, however, some primers are meant to seal in stains or odors and others are like a glue to help latex paint stick.  The paneling is smooth and glossy, so shellac primer was recommended to help the paint adhere.

cutting in on trim with shellac primer on paneling

I used this awesome paintbrush which was recommended by Young House Love.  They were only $5, so I bought one for the shellac and one for the latex paint.  I wasn’t about to turpentine it up trying to salvage the shellac brush.  I did clean and save the latex one, though.  It worked great.

What was not so great was the shellac primer.  Not only does it give off the most pungent, horrid alcohol reek which filled the whole house and had us worried about everyone’s brains (the fumes are supposedly non-toxic), shellac based primer is So Hard To Work With!  The shellac primer I got from Sherwin Williams was the consistency of 1% milk.  Thin and runny, it dripped down the walls, splashed here and there, bubbled, foamed, you name it.  I hate that stuff!  UGH!  When I had used the whole gallon, I didn’t get another.  I went to Home Depot and bought Zinsser oil-based primer.  It worked so much better.  I will never shellac again.

cuttig in with shellac primer on paneling

Step Four:  Roll with shellac primer.

What should have been quick and easy, was messy and involved trying to get this watery poison onto the walls without creating puddles on the carpet.  When you do this yourself, just put on a thin coat.  The primer is like the wallpaper paste that will allow your paint to stick, so don’t expect it to look good.  Just make sure all the surface area is covered.

shellac primer rolled onto paneling

Step Four:  Cut in with latex paint.

cutting in with latex on primed paneling

I used Sherwin Williams Olympic White (grey) which turned out pretty blue.  I’m not impressed with Sherwin Williams.  I think I’m going back to Benjamin Moore after this.  My second cut brush did a fabulous job.  The cutting in just took forever because I had to do all the paneling grooves with the paintbrush.  My brush was great, but the paneling groves were extremely thirsty.  It ended up feeling like I painted the whole room with a brush.  So much work.   You can see how I painted on into the night.  I think the whole project took me between 16 and 18 hours.

cutting in with latex over primed paneling

Step Five:  Roll on the rest.

Step Five took half an instant after all the other steps.  This was the kind of speed and ease I’d envisioned after reading online about painting paneling.

painted paneling 2

Step Six:  Try to stop.

After the walls were done, everything else looks bad, or rather, even more bad.  I want to rip off the textured ceiling, paint all the trim, change all the outlet and switch plates, swap out the windows.  I have to remind myself, this is a Rental.  Cool your jets, Craw.  The grody switchplates which had looked bad before now looked unbearable, though.

switch plate beforeface plate before

Determined not to spend too much (more) money on The Rental, I bought $0.37 plastic face plates at Wallmart and sprayed them with the left over spray paint from the table and chairs.  Fluffy begged for the rainbow plate.

spray painted outlet plates

switch plate after

They actually turned out extremely cute and whimsical.  I love having that extra little touch in the room.  I’ll admit, the spray paint did not adhere as well to the plastic as it did to the sanded wood, so these are going to get pretty roughed up.

face plate after

face plate after 2

So now the playroom looks like this!

painted paneling 3

Well, often like this:

finished playroom

And sometimes like this:

finished playroom 2


or even this:

painted paneling

Which I think we can all agree is preferrable to this:

black stained paneling

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11 thoughts on “Rental Improvement: Painting Faux Wood Paneling

  1. Holy crap, that makes a HUGE difference. Huge. I admit to being skeptical that anything could redeem that funky paneling, but I stand corrected. I mean, it looks like a kid-friendly room now rather than a place where some shady business went down a couple of decades ago (seriously, those drippy stains? wth?). Well done.

    • Yeah, what was that? I tried scrubbing those black drippy stains in the corners of the room off–even with the magic erasers, but those stains were impervious to magic.

  2. Wowsas! That is one seriously awesome playroom! Nice job! We painted the wood paneling in our rental too and I love how it turned out, but it was tons of work. Ours wasn’t in such bad shape, so we didn’t have to do a lot of hole filling, but cutting in each stripe took forever. Ours had a built-in bookcase that had to be cut in too. Agony. We had great luck first washing the whole surface with TSP, then using KILZ as the primer before painting. Way easier than shellac, and it covered the dark wood wonderfully. However, let’s not talk about the number of times we repainted the accent wall because I just couldn’t find quite the right color. Robert was about ready to leave me by the sixth repainting, but I just kept going. And going. And going. Not good.

    • More than six? Now that’s dedication. The million dollar question is: did you finally find the right color? I wish I had talked to you about it before hand. I solemly vow never to shellac again. KILZ would have worked fine in our case, too. I read about contamination from TSP, so I wanted to skip that step by using the shellac, but then when I used the other primer even though I hadn’t done TSP, it still totally worked great. Well, for all future basements with wood paneling, I am good to go.

  3. Well done Heather! I’m going to email myself a link to this because I am sort of falling in love with a house here in Buena Vista that has great bones, but hasn’t been updated since the year of my birth. Wood paneling abounds, as well as a lovely hunting mural in the front room. If it works out, I’ll be begging you for tips!

    • I have to stop. But this house would look so much better if I painted everything. I have to stop. I have to stop.

  4. This is so beautiful! How has the paint held up over the past two years? Has there been any cracking along the seams? I did this years ago to my hallway, but I didn’t prime. I painstakingly filled in all the grooves with putty and now some of it is cracking as the panels “breathe” or when there is pressure on them (like leaning on the wall and it is not totally solid behind it allowing some flexibility and therefore cracking). I’m not happy with it but I’m kind of stuck. Thing is, I have two bedrooms with this horrible paneling and I hate it so much. I think I’m going to try your method since the results were amazing.

    • Hi Denise,

      We were only there for one year, so I’m not sure how it’s doing now. It looked flawless at the one year mark, though. And since paneling is making a comeback (in certain ways), I think it’s totally valid to let the seams show.

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