A.Tish Iorio, a member of
the National Guild of Professional Paperhangers and
the owner of Creative Endeavors in Annapolis, Md.,
responds: As you learned, the fastest and most
economical approach to dealing with old paneling is
simply to paint it.
When clients just want to lighten up a paneled
room, I suggest cleaning the walls well and
painting the sections between the grooves two or
more very subtle colors that are only two or three
Another technique is to paint everything one
color and then use a clear polyurethane over every
other section, which provides a little variation
and — thanks to the reflection the poly
provides — better light in the room.
Yet another approach that will give you the look
of new drywall — while sparing you the job
of redoing the trim — is to use a bridging
liner. These products are made of thick, usually
nonwoven materials, so they can span minor
imperfections; they can be used over paneling and
other textured surfaces, including brick and block.
Although several different companies make them, I
have had good luck with material from Cavalier Wall
As with any wallcovering, proper prep work is
First, you have to be completely sure that there
is no Murphy's oil soap, wax, nicotine, or other
contaminants on the paneling, because nothing will
stick permanently if there is. Washing with TSP
(trisodium phosphate) is the best start; I like to
use Dirtex (Savogran, 800/225-9872,
www.savogran.com) because it
leaves a little tooth.
Next, prime with a wallcovering primer and hang
the bridging liner horizontally so that the seams
don't fall on the paneling seams. When the walls
are dry (typically after 24 hours), check for any
voids or dips in the liner and fill them with joint
compound where necessary. After a light sanding,
you'll be ready to prime and top-coat.