Home & Garden

April 25, 2014

Fake wood paneling: remove or paint over?

Q: Some of the walls in our house are covered in fake wood paneling. Should we replace it?

Q: Some of the walls in our house are covered in fake wood paneling. Should we replace it?

A: In today’s market, fake wood paneling is never a redeeming feature, said Robert M. Nelson, an associate real estate broker at Brown Harris Stevens in Southampton, N.Y. “If it’s those 4-by-8 sheets of hardware-store paneling, definitely remove it,” he said.

To be clear, Nelson said, some older homes have high-quality wood-veneer paneling that isn’t faux, and that’s not what he’s talking about.

“Prior to the ‘60s, there was paneling made with veneer, and that sometimes can be made to look really cool,” he said, recalling that he once sold an Upper East Side townhouse that had veneer paneling in the library and dining room. “We did a pickling effect,” he said, “which made it look beautiful.”

But most faux wood paneling is a cheaper, more recent product that doesn’t have a top layer of natural wood. And tearing that out, repairing the wall and applying a fresh coat of paint will make the room look so much better and bigger, Nelson said. “It will generate a higher sales price.”

Jeff Sherman of Delson or Sherman Architects in Brooklyn agreed that in most cases, fake wood paneling isn’t a good thing. “Ninety percent of the time, I would say rip it out,” he said. “It has a strong connotation of 1970s basement rec rooms. And it’s so familiar that everyone recognizes it as cheap and fake.”

For a quick and inexpensive fix, Sherman recommends covering it with paint. He recently advised some clients to do just that in a house they were renovating in Rockland County, N.Y. “In this case, they liked the texture of it,” he said. “And it would have cost a certain amount of money to recreate the texture in real wood,” which wasn’t in the budget.

If you decide to paint, he advises using a good primer because the paneling often has a plasticky top layer. Primer “totally disguises it,” he said, and you should end up with a look similar to real wood paneling. “Depending on how your fake wood paneling was made, a lot of it has a wood-grain texture that will telegraph through the paint. It winds up looking something like beadboard, and can be very nice.”

Even left unpainted, fake wood paneling can have a campy appeal, Sherman said, recalling the Calvin Klein ads from the 1990s that used it as a backdrop. But buyers who want that look, he added, are probably few and far between. “In many ways,” he said, “it’s similar to how a pink flamingo appeals to some people.”

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