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20 Gorgeous Ways to Make Wood Paneling Feel Modern (Yes, It's Possible)

wood paneling office

Photo: Reena Sotropa

We don't have to tell you trends come and go, then come back again. After all, macramé wall hangings, wicker furniture, and velvet haven't looked so good since the '70s. But others, like wood paneling, are a bit more difficult to navigate. Believe us, there's a fine line separating your beautiful living room from the dingy den and shabby basement installations from the past. 

Don't fret. These days wood paneling can be reinvented into something modern and not the least bit dowdy. Since the days of shag carpet and avocado appliances, the home décor staple has a whole new look. What used to look tacky and stagnant, now adds character to any space, from rustic to contemporary. Scroll through for the inspiration and tips you need to execute wood paneling the right way.

01 of 20

Use It To Create Division

Wavy wood paneling

Panel Store

Why settle for a room divider when you can actually divide a room? This built-in creates division, but the wood paneling works as an accent wall.

02 of 20

Update The Retro Look

wood paneled wall with brown couch

Oak & Melanin

We're big fans of the retro look, but this usually entails vintage-inspired elements, rather than actual wall coverings from 30 years ago. This room works because it incorporates an updated version of wood paneling (thin slats in a light shade), paired with 70's inspired décor.

03 of 20

Mix Wood Profiles

Wood Panel Window

Design: Figr Architecture; Photo: Derek Swalwell; Styling: Simone Haag; Furniture: Barnaby Lane

You probably already know how trendy mixed metals are, but as it turns out, you can do the same with wood. This space does an impeccable job at mixing the profiles of different lumbers. The lower half of this dining room boasts blonde tones of birch plywood, while the top half highlights warm tones in the wood slats. The two come together to make this space unique and beautiful.

04 of 20

Install It Like Wainscotting

Wainscot wall in bedroom

Design: Barnaby Lane; Photo: Dylan James Photo; Styling: Justine Murphy

Wood paneling doesn't need to extend up to your ceiling to make a statement. Wainscotting—a type of panel molding that covers the bottom half of a wall—is the most classic of wood accent walls. Dressing it up with a lip that doubles as a shelf isn't a bad idea either.

05 of 20

Stain It Black

Wood panelling stained black

Barnaby Lane

We've never seen wood paneling look so modern as it does here. Staining it in a deep shade of onyx instantly ups its cool factor. Just remember this technique can only be applied to real wood.

06 of 20

Try a Modern Approach

wood tile bathroom


The walls in this bathroom are dressed in faux-wood tiles that create a stunning optical illusion. The same could be done with real pieces of wood, but this approach is much cheaper, easier to install, and so much quicker. It's important to always consider alternatives when sourcing materials for your wood-paneled wall.

07 of 20

Go for Dimension

Wood Paneled Walls

Design: Timothy Godbold; Photo: Alec Hemer

Wood slats are no one-trick pony. Turn them on their sides, place them with some separating in between each piece, and you've got yourself an expensive-looking design element that transforms the look of any room.

08 of 20

Experiment With Shiplap

shiplap walll

Bicker Design

Think of shiplap as the modern-day wood paneling. One day, our kids will talk about shiplap the way we talk about our grandma's basement. But we're not just tooting our own horn when we say shiplap is a much cooler, not so in-your-face version of '70s paneling.

09 of 20

Embrace The Look

Plywood Walls

Amandine & Jules

Wood paneling isn't just for walls. Embrace the look and run with it. A light-wash plywood on the walls, ceiling, and dining-room bench looks modern, clean, and minimal, somehow without looking totally overdone.

10 of 20

Try Horizontal Shiplap

horizontal shiplap

Trinette Reed

Shiplap is usually installed vertically, giving you clean lines that run up and down a wall. However, designing a space with horizontally installed shiplap visually stretches the room from left to right giving the illusion that it's longer. It's a simple swap but it makes a major difference.

11 of 20

Create a Screen

Wood Paneled Wall

Arianna Danielson

If there's one thing we want you to learn with wood paneling it's that you can get creative with it. This wood-paneled wall is designed to work as a screen. It creates a division in the space but doesn't completely act as a wall. Separation between the wood panels creates a beautiful illusion that allows light and energy to flow through freely.

12 of 20

Paint It

blue painted wood panel

Design: Blue Copper Design; Photo: Life Created

Just like any other wall in your space, wood paneling can be painted. This bedroom wall perfectly executes a geometric composition, and the wooden slats just add even more dimension.

13 of 20

Try Wallpaper As An Alternative

Woodgrain wallpaper

Design, Photo: Anne Sage


If you long for a wood-paneled wall but currently reside in a rental, flex your interior design skills with a woodgrain wallpaper. The result is just as beautiful, but it's easily removed, much more affordable, easier to install, and gives you the illusion of textured walls. It's a win-win.

14 of 20

Install Your Shiplap Diagonally

Wood Paneled Ceiling

Black Bear Ridge

You've seen vertical and horizontal installations before but you'll want to keep this new diagonal take on hand for renovation inspiration. Paired with horizontal-running wood on the ceiling and perpendicular beams painted black, this living-room-dining-room hybrid is a formula for design success.

15 of 20

Match It To Your Floors

office wood paneling

Photo: Reena Sotropa

Get a high-impact look when you dress your room in floor-to-ceiling wood. This office impeccably matches the wood panels on the wall to the hardwood floor, and the result is gorgeous.

16 of 20

Try A Rustic Finish

rustic wood panel

Trinette Reed

Most wood paneling is clean and flawless. However, sourcing distressed wood for an accent wall will make all the difference in your final design. Aged wood brings so much character and charm to a modern space, you'll be transported to another place and timezone every time you get home.

17 of 20

Take It To New Heights

white wood paneled ceiling

Trinette Reed

We love the wood paneling on the walls in this space, but the wood paneling on the ceiling takes the cool factor of this living room up a notch.

18 of 20

Add Beams

living room ideas


The wood-paneled ceiling on its own might feel slightly dated, but the addition of beams helps make it feel more modern. Painting them black adds a sleek factor to the space, and creates some welcome contrast.

19 of 20

Embrace Modern Farmhouse

best living room ideas - built in storage shelfs well-curated

Karen Emile/Milk & Honey Life

White wood-paneled walls are synonymous with a farmhouse aesthetic, but to keep it feeling more modern and less country, combine with light wood floors. Keep décor minimalistic and purposeful, like in the room pictured.

20 of 20

Panel Built-Ins

best living room ideas - light and bright living room with earthy texture

Light & Dwell

Who says you have to wood panel your entire room? These built-ins feature wood paneling, which makes them pop. Since everything in the living room is neutral, the paneling also elevates the space and gives the eye a focal point.

Shop The Trend

Lowe's Beaded White Hardboard Wainscot Wall Panel $12.00
Lowes Design Innovations Sun Bleached Wood Shiplap Wall Plank Kit $27.00