The resurgence of wood paneling: Why this old-school material is making a comeback

As a woodworker and DIYer in Chicago, I’ve noticed wood paneling making a significant comeback in home décor and architecture lately. This natural material is embraced creatively, from classic vertical plank walls to modern geometric patterns. In this post, we’ll explore the roots of wood paneling, what’s driving its resurgence, tips for working with it yourself, and how professionals utilize it in contemporary designs. Get ready for an in-depth look at one of today’s hottest interior trends.

A Brief History of Wood Paneling

Before we dive into the modern revival, let’s go back in time. Wood paneling has been used to embellish interior walls and ceilings for centuries. In medieval Europe, ornate wood paneling showcased wealth and status. Later, Colonial American homes used planks of pine or oak to line interior walls. Victorians took wood trim to the next level with intricately carved details.

By the 20th century, mass production made wood paneling affordable for the average home. Knotty pine was a rustic choice for cabins and dens, while sleek, minimal paneling gave an extraordinary Mid-Century Modern vibe. The 1970s saw the peak – and for some, the nadir – of wood-look walls in suburban homes and offices. However, overusing fake wood contact paper and linoleum permanently turned many people off from the look.

The resurgence of wood paneling

The Design Decline of Wood Paneling

So, what caused wood paneling to go out of fashion? Cheap, poorly installed paneling with artificial wood-grain patterns gave it a bad name. The carpeted walls didn’t help either! Maintenance was also an issue, as decades of cooking grease, cigar smoke, and humidity took a toll on those once-pristine planks. Homeowners in the 80s and 90s were eager to tear it all out and replace it with drywall.

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For designers, the look could have been more modern. But in recent years, they have begun rediscovering the warmth and versatility of natural wood paneling. Focusing on quality materials and innovative applications, wood walls have reclaimed their place as a coveted design element.

The New Wave of Wood Paneling

Today’s wood paneling is far from your dad’s knotty pine walls. Here’s an overview of what sets modern wood paneling apart:

A Focus on Quality and Sustainability

Consumers today demand both eco-friendly materials and enduring craftsmanship. Top choices include:

  • Reclaimed Wood: Salvaged from old barns, factories, and homes, reclaimed wood retains that aged patina while avoiding the need to harvest additional trees. These unique panels showcase the wood’s natural imperfections.
  • Sustainably Harvested Woods: Renewable and abundant species like bamboo and forestry-certified woods meet eco standards.
  • Engineered Wood: Materials like plywood and MDF minimize waste while delivering consistent quality and performance.
Use Wood Paneling to Bring Character and Charm to Your Home

Minimalist Scandi Style

Scandinavian design has had a significant impact on the resurgent wood paneling trend. Scandinavian style embraces simplicity, functionality, and natural elements. This translates to wood paneling with clean lines, light colors, and minimal ornamentation. Modern rustic is in. Fussy Victorian carvings, not so much.

Textural Interest

While smooth uniform planks have their place, textural wood paneling offers irresistible visual appeal. Think outside the box with options like:

  • Interlocking 3D wood tiles
  • Multi-width planks
  • Mixed horizontal and vertical boards
  • Herringbone or chevron patterns
  • Shou Sugi Ban charred wood
  • Wire-brushed finishes

Got Wood? How to Use It Well

Want to try the wood paneling trend at home? You’ve got options for both DIY installations and hiring a pro. Here are key considerations:

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Match the Style of Your Home

Wood can work whether your home is ultra-modern, cottagecore, or traditional. Just tailor the species and style accordingly. White oak plank walls suit farmhouse spaces; bamboo adds serene contrast in a minimalist home; and reclaimed redwood makes a rustic cabin feel extra cozy.

You Dont Have to Be a Lumberjack to Incorporate Wood Paneling Into Your Home Decor

Mind the Variations

The color, grain patterns, and grade of wood all impact the look. Choose panels from the same species and batch for a uniform appearance. Or, intentionally mix wide and narrow planks for a dynamic look. Embrace natural knot holes and imperfections, or select flawless-grade wood.

Prepping Walls

Proper prep prevents significant pitfalls! Remove any wallpaper or debris and repair cracks and holes. Wood walls show every flaw underneath. Ensure the walls are straight and sturdy before installing paneling.

DIY vs. Hiring Out

You’ll need basic carpentry skills, patience, and an eye for detail to install wood panels properly. Novices should hire a professional installer, but if you’re up for the challenge, have a go! Just be ready to devote the time and care this task requires.

Designers Take Wood Paneling to New Heights

Beyond the home, wood paneling is gracing bars, restaurants, stores, and office spaces. Here are some creative ways designers are utilizing it:

Dramatic Statements

Nothing makes a dramatic first impression like a towering wall of wood. Think of a multi-story reclaimed barnwood installation behind a reception desk or an abstract panel quilt in a lobby. These striking features become focal points.

Warm and Inviting Atmospheres

The natural beauty of wood creates an effortlessly inviting vibe. Branded retail spaces use blonde wood walls to feel more Nordic than generic. Cafés install wood paneling and communal tables to feel like cozy cabins. Offices add wood walls for an outdoorsy, relaxed feel.

Eco-Conscious Business Values

Sustainably produced wood paneling loudly and communicates a business’s eco-values. Patrons instantly recognize reclaimed and responsibly harvested wood, which translates to goodwill for brands.

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Blending Old and New

Wood paneling adds back historical character when adapted into new buildings. For example, a modern multi-use space housed in an old factory uses original wood walls as a reminder of the past. Stylish accents and technology keep it feeling fresh.

Wood paneling is back and better than ever

Maintaining Your Wood Walls

Natural wood requires reasonable care and maintenance to retain its beauty over decades. Here are my top tips:

  • Dust regularly using a soft brush or microfiber cloth. Don’t use harsh chemicals or excessive water.
  • For cleaning, wipe down with a mild soap and lukewarm water using a barely damp cloth. Dry immediately.
  • Avoid direct sunlight, which can discolor and dry out wood.
  • Control indoor humidity between 35-55%. Wood expands and contracts with moisture changes.
  • Re-apply protective finishes per the manufacturer’s schedule. This prevents staining and damage.
  • Address scratches, gouges, or moisture damage promptly to prevent further issues.

Your wood walls or ceilings can remain gorgeous for generations with periodic care.

The Future of Wood Paneling

I expect wood paneling to continue gaining ground in residential and commercial spaces. The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.

Technology will allow more intricate 3D patterns and finishes. Expect laser-cut panels, curved walls, perforated wood tiles, and digitally manipulated grain patterns. Sustainable forestry and manufacturing practices will yield even more eco-friendly options. Homes, offices, stores, and restaurants will embrace wood’s warmth and versatility in new ways.

The next time you see wood paneling, don’t dismiss it as outdated or boring. Appreciate good material, artful design, and the natural beauty of wood. This trend is solid as oak, and it’s here to stay. What timeless comebacks are following? My money is on shag rugs and houseplants!