Panel Chic

Panel Chic

It was often ridiculed in mom and dad’s basement, but a classic wall treatment is back again, showing off its versatility in homes and looking as fresh as ever. Whether it’s covered with a crisp and creamy paint or a rustic, clear stain, horizontal tongue-and-groove paneling is sure to make any wall pop.

“People get a little bored with painted [walls], and they want something that can warm up a room,” says J.C. Schmeil, an architect and principal at Merzbau Design Collective in Austin, Texas. “You can definitely do that with wood siding.”

Tongue-and-groove siding, in particular, joins two pieces of wood together to create a flat surface, with the tongue of one piece fitting into the groove of another. The result is a tight joint that makes for a clean, striped pattern, perfect for a kitchen or bedroom, on a ceiling or living room wall.

People taking on this project should first decide whether they want to use a clear finish or stain or paint the wood, Schmeil says, because that should influence which kind of wood they use. “Pine is a really easy one to work with,” he adds. “Do a little research and look at the woods you like.”

Since wood tends to darken over time, Peter d’Entremont, an architect and principal at Knight Associates in Blue Hill, Maine, also recommends considering the size of the room and its quality of light. If darkness is a concern, a lighter colored stain or paint will keep things bright.

Wood paneling typically holds up well over time. Wood shrinkage could cause problems for painted wood, d’Entremont says, so make sure it’s “primed and painted before installation, at least one or two coats. Otherwise, when the boards shrink, you’d see bare wood.”

Of course, tongue-and-groove style is only one option for paneling among a whole family of joints. Others include the butt joint, formed by butting the edge of one sheet of wood against another and fastening it into place, and the shiplap joint, made with overlapping edges.


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