Designing Around Knotty Pine Wood Paneling

This is an article I never thought I’d write.  Because I’m a paint-the-paneling-kind-of-girl.  If you read this blog on a regular basis, I’m pretty sure you know exactly how I feel about wood paneling.  To clarify, it’s not that I don’t like it – I just like it painted out.  Real knotty pine wood paneling is fabulous architecture to have.  But again, I prefer it be painted out.  


knotty pine 


Sometimes wood paneling can’t be painted.  Because the man of the house feels unreasonably strongly about preserving the natural wood.  Other times, it is an issue of cost. If you have knotty pine paneling professionally painted, it requires a heck of a lot of prep, priming, and painting to permanently cover those dark knots.

knotty pine paneling

knotty pine before 


There is also a new generation of homebuyers who may have never been exposed to the infamous knotty pine. They didn’t grow up with it, haven’t tired of it moody darkness.  Maybe they are embracing the past, embracing the coziness of knotty pine. This week I staged a home with knotty pine – two big rooms of it.  Painting the rooms was off the table – not an option.  

wood paneling

knotty pine paneling before


A couple of important things to remember when decorating with knotty pine walls – knotty pine is busy.  It’s usually orangey-brown and, duh, full of dark knots. Because of the inherent business of knotty pine, it’s important to keep other things in the space simple and clean. Clutter becomes visual chaos very quickly!

decorating wood paneling

staged knotty pine room after 


I know, that television is HUGE.  Moving that?  Not an option, either.  In knotty pine rooms, keep wall hangings/art simple – and use only a few carefully selected pieces so that they are truly noticed.  And it’s probably best to keep large upholstery in solid colors – not busy patterns.

decorating pine paneling

staging after 


Don’t try to layer the knotty pine with lots of fabrics and patterns, like those found in quilts:




Instead, keep it simple.  Choose one pattern to pop into a throw or blanket to make a bit of impact.


less is more in a room with knotty pine wood paneling 



Knotty pine rooms often require ruthless editing.  Here’s one end of the den before:


knotty pine den before



Simplify, simplify, simplify.  Let the knotty pine sing!

knotty pine bookcase library

knotty pine den after 



knotty pine bookcase

knotty pine bookcase



Here’s a photo of the over-filled knotty pine office before:


knotty pine office before 


A whole lot of editing and decluttering took place in this office.  And this is the final effect:

wood paneling office after

knotty pine office after



And from another angle of the office, this is the before:





Can you believe the difference?  The one thing I miss is the original linoleum sheet flooring – it was really, really awesome.

wood paneling after

wood paneling office after 


I think this knotty pine redesign turned out really well.  What do you think?  Could you live with knotty pine?



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58 thoughts on “Designing Around Knotty Pine Wood Paneling

  1. Cindy Hall says:

    No, I had it once in my kitchen and stairs going to my basement. Painted it myself (hardest project I’ve ever done) and it was gorgeous. Wish I could find the picture.

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      I wish you did, too, Cindy! I painted a dark knotty pine room for a friend years ago. She was 7 months pregnant with her second child, and they needed to convert the den into a nursery. It was a lot of hard work (as you well know!) but it turned out so great.

      • Jeffrey Madden says:

        I have to tell how much i enjoyed your article on your article. it was so funny and so true. I try to use my aol address on a lot of websites and they do not respond to it! I have been with them since the beginning and everyone else says “why” all the time! I guess I am a creature of habit. I really loved seeing your work, it just looked so comfortable and stylish. Being in NC for only 5 years now, you really captured a look that i wish I could. I hope we can touch base on my knotty pine cabin i need assistance on. I know you are the “ONE”, from reading the humor that u seem to live your live by. All of live is a comedy sometimes if we like it or not. Thank you!

  2. Jay says:

    I would loathe this as much as my husband would love it.

    At least some, if not all of it would have to be painted for me to be comfortable.
    I think you did a great job of toning it down.
    My first reaction is to hang really large blank canvases on the walls just to break up all that wood.

  3. LIsa Hassler says:

    Judging by how many cottages have knotty pine in them, I’m pretty sure they must have been giving the stuff away free on Cape Cod in the 1960’s. Your after photos are a vast improvement, but I can’t help picturing how much better it would look painted. I just can’t get past the business of the dark knots allover the place.

  4. eilidh says:

    Hey Kristie! I’ve been following your blog for a while and really enjoying it.

    I must be in the very distinct minority of women who like wood panelling unpainted – but then again I like dark walls, too. They feel cosy!

    But I think you illustrate very clearly what’s wrong with wood panelling aesthetics by making it just right. De-cluttering! It’s a busy look that requires everything else in the room to be kept sparse and simple. Your ‘after’ images look quiet and homey. Love it. 🙂

  5. Kemerie Foss says:

    Hi Kristie! Your knotty pine post is close to my heart! I cannot stand knotty pine! Yet, I live in Minnesota where it is very prevalent! I am an Atlanta girl, so southern style is near and dear to my heart. When my husband and I had the opportunity to live on prestigious Lake Minnetonka, we had to take the good and the bad (knotty pine!) when remodeling our dream lake cottage. I am obsessed with color, so I got started right away at transforming the original ‘cabin’ part of the home which was all vintage circa 1910 knotty pine. I have some great before and after photos if you would like for me to email them. I did the knotty pine in Benjamin Moore “Havana Tan” to mimic the sand of our beach and painted all of the trim in white enamel. What an amazing transformation. The kids bedrooms were all dark knotty pine, so I ‘whitewashed’ them to make them beachy. I would highly recommend whitewashing knotty pine!

  6. Michelle L. says:

    Nope, couldn’t live with it. Painted it out in my last house (kitchen and den) and it changed the look and feel of the entire home. Even the former owners came to see it and cried “happy tears” for how pretty Grandma’s home looked! Of course, you did a great job with this, Kristie. And what happened to the plate collection? Will there by a sale? Cause some of those look kinda cool!

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      They have so much special stuff – the lady of the house has lived there 55 years! Lots of interesting and meaningful collections. They are moving to the northwest and will setting up a new home there. Hopefully, I will be helping them integrate their collections into their new place long-distance!

  7. Jennifer Collins says:

    The worst part of Knotty Pine to me isn’t even the knots, it’s the Orange! Oy! We handle the knotty busi-ness like we handle wallpaper but orange walls hurt my eyes – especially at night with incandescent bulbs. You made orange look as good as it possibly could!

  8. Lisa says:

    We had fake wood paneling with burned in animals in our kitchen when we bought our house. It was truly the most hideous thing I have ever seen. I painted it as soon as I could. It didn’t really help with the overall awfulness of my kitchen, but it was slightly better. Who wants to look at pheasants and elks while eating dinner?

    As for the knotty pine, I can kind of appreciate it’s appeal. I would probably feel guilty painting it but I would do it anyway. It’s too dark. I think if you grew up in the 70’s, there was paneling somewhere in your house and I know I never want to see it again!

  9. Lisa says:

    I have to add, I have a really pretty kitchen now and was not sorry in the least to see any of that awful decor go. It’s all on my blog. Monarch butterfly tile and all.

  10. Nancy Stinson says:

    It would drive me knotty…I mean nutty. 🙂 I would want to paint it every day I lived with it. And my husband would most likely want to leave it natural, but maybe not. He’s getting easier with such things. But if we were to buy a house with knotty pine, I would only do so on the condition we could paint it and I’d want that in writing. That’s how much I dislike wood paneling in its natural state. But I adore it painted. Long ago my husband and I painted a whole house full of paneling for a couple. Even the bathrooms were paneled. We did light gray walls and white trim all in satin. The owners did not see it until after it was complete. It was like a different, much larger, house and was so much brighter. It literally stopped them in their tracks as they came through the door. I will never forget it.

    You did a great job of working ‘with’ the paneling. I love the simple throw over the sofa, the pared down bookcases and the less-is-more of the walls. I can’ t help but want to paint that desk though!

    I wonder how many people want to keep their homes after you stage them?

  11. Apple Hill Cottage says:

    I could stand one room — the office that you de-cluttered is now gorgeous! What a difference! But I don’t think I’d like it in a living room or kitchen. Office or den, maybe. Would you come and de-clutter my husband’s office? 🙂
    That brings me to another question — when is it okay to cover a piece of furniture with a throw? In terms of staging, of course. We are hoping to put our house on the market in June/July. Will your book be out by then????

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      My book better be out by then! haha – It’s totally ok to cover a piece of furniture with a throw. I was recently at a party where there were two old (and probably soiled) loveseats in a living room and they were covered in large faux fur blankets – they looked fabulous and elegant! In this house, we actually put a throw on the “coffee table” because it wasn’t really working for me. If it looks better in photos, I say go for it.

  12. Mary says:

    I’ve painted out regular old 70’s paneling in my lake cabin, but that knotty pine has to be the worst to cover! My husband would probably love it and I would hate it! Great post, Kristie, because like your clients, not everybody can or wants to pain their knotty pine.

  13. Jennifer says:

    Ah, yes. We had a house full of it. Under the chair rail in living room, both built ins up to the ceiling flanking the fireplace, EVERY cabinet/vanity in each of three bathrooms, the “beams” in the living room and the ENTIRE kitchen. It is crazy expensive to have it pro painted. We got three estimates on painting until our neighbor finally told us that it would be much less expensive to rip it out and put up new trim and drywall. He was correct and it has been the single most rewarding project we’ve done so far. Next up, kitchen=sledgehammer. The previous owners of our home painted over it in one bathroom (to put house on market) and less than a year after we moved in, the knots were showing through. If you are thinking you can skip the toxic primer that covering the knots requires, you can’t. Just Rip. It. Out. It really doesn’t make that big a mess. It’s not about the wood, it’s about the nasty “orange” patina it takes on.

  14. Jane Cederholm says:

    Being in my 60’s now…I remember when this was just the coolest thing. Really it was. So I can imagine living with knotty pine in the right house and the right room. Having said that, no I could not take it in every room. And to be truthful I now live in a home with too much pine paneling-I am painting it out…room by room. Just takes a little time at my age but it is worth all the painful shoulder, knees and back-not to mention the hands!

  15. Paula Van Hoogen says:

    Great job, Kristie!
    Just curious—-did YOU have to pack up ALL that stuff with the homeowner?
    Or, did you direct her to pack it & then you returned another day?
    Yikes–the hours & hours it must have taken….& did she like the results?

    It IS amazing that people don’t “SEE” the orange color with brown dots.
    Would they wear a shirt those colors? (or a dress?)
    I actually stopped going to a hairdresser who has a wood walled cabin for a salon.
    Just couldn’t stand it any longer! Makes my skin feel funny!

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      Yes, Paula – I did a staging consultation a while back for this couple. They did a lot of work going through their things and packing them away. They have lived here a very long time – the woman has lived here since she was a child! When they were “ready,” I came back and spent a few hours staging it so it would be ready to get on the market.

  16. MaryCC says:

    You have quite a legion of followers who have their own take on knotty pine paneling ! I agree with you Kristie, it is true if you grew up and were exposed to those styles, your take on it is much different than the younger millenials or Gen-X’ers. You did a great job on this project with what you had ! The 1911 beachhouse we are remodeling in Newport was entirely built on the inside with knotty pine and paneling but it was more of a beadboard style. My husbands parents owned the home and were 2nd generation in the lumber industry. So you can guess how much they loved that wood. Don’t get me wrong we love wood too, but not that much of it in one little house ! So when it was passed down to my husband we tried painting it to no avail. We had no choice but to remove it so we could renovate and update the insulation ,wiring and plumbing correctly. Everything is now drywalled with mouldings and it hasn’t lost any of its beachy charm. We did save some nice pieces and I am trying to think of a way to incorporate them into the house.

  17. Joey says:

    I once had a knotty pine kitchen with knotty pine cabinets, and I loved it! It was a galley kitchen, and all of the appliances were white, as well as the floor, fixtures, and countertops. That kitchen was a cinch to keep clean, and always looked cheerful and quaint.
    I recently visited a home where the powder room had knotty pine walls & ceiling with skylight, while the floors were a dark gray slate. It had a good vibe, that powder room, but it’s obvious no women live there.
    I don’t think I could stand rooms and rooms of it, but a space here or there, I don’t mind.

  18. Melissa Anderson says:

    Knotty pine isn’t for me, but I could see someone who loves mid century modern decor rocking it with some furniture from West Elm, etc.

    Kristie, do you have any clients who have added a gel stain or tint to the finish to deorange it?

    • Kristie Barnett says:

      No Melissa, I haven’t heard of that. There is typically a heavy varnish over the good knotty pine paneling, so I don’t think a stain or finish would adhere to it without stripping that varnish off first. And yes, some West Elm might look pretty awesome in a knotty pine den!

  19. Wendy says:

    You did an excellent job under the circumstances. I would have loved to see the rooms if you were allowed to paint the walls for inspiration.

    I stained the knotty pine paneling in the first floor powder room with a white stain 7 years ago. You can barely tell it was stained. Hated it then and still hate it now. Going to paint it after we finish remodeling our living room.

    Maybe the new owners will have you consult with them on a new paint color! 🙂

  20. Melissa Allen says:


    This home received a FULL price offer, FIRST day on market!!!! Wood paneling and all…


  21. Lindsay says:

    We move into a colonial style split level from the 50s 3 years ago. The small office, lower level family room, and powder room are knotty pine, and I had thought that I would for sure paint it, but the more time that passed, the more I have made my peace. Granted, only three walls of the family room is paneled with the third a wall of windows, and this keeps the space from feeling so dark. But honestly, as a mother of 5 boys, it is so much lower maintenance than paint! I started a Pinterst board collecting pretty knotty pine images, and it has really helped me make the space livable for us. It can be done well. But there are not a lot of inspiration pictures out there to go on. We still toy with the idea of painting, but so many other projects take precidence, it will be many years befor that would happen. Thank you for gritting your teeth and showing it at its best!

  22. Beverly Carlson says:

    The first house I ever owned had knotty pine. The first house I staged as a real estate broker had knotty pine. Each time I worked with it. At least knotty pine is real wood!

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  24. MarySue says:

    It always amazes me what a little paint and staging can do, Kristie! This home looks fabulous! You have got some mad skilz!

  25. Emily S. says:

    We bought a house with a basement full of knotty pine paneling. Not only did we have the knotty pine, we had red plaid carpet! We called it our lumberjack basement. It was kind of fun in a quirky way – but just soooo not us. The previous homeowner was a big hunter, so he had it all man-caved out with deer heads everywhere. I was at a complete loss to even begin to try decorating the space. How can you compete with red plaid carpet? We did trials of painting the pine, but ultimately decided to rip it out and re-drywall everything. We plan on being in the house forever, so the extra time and effort was worth it to make it ours.

  26. Angie says:

    Our dining room has almost exactly that type of paneling. We have gone back and forth on whether to paint or not. Still not sure, but these are some excellent design ideas for working with it. Paneling can sometimes feel old fashioned in a non-chic sort of way, but these ideas make it far more appealing. Decisions, decisions!

  27. Cassie says:

    I have a knotty pine room that needs to become a nursery. The furniture is dark walnut and I’m not sure how to go about decorating this room to make it look decent without painting?

  28. Diane says:

    If you think knotty pine is bad….try yellow orange logs, cabinets doors and stairs in a home. We just bought our home. My husband is one of those…that is solid wood…you can’t paint that! Well, I am in the process of painting the walls that are drywall (thank goodness the logs are only on the outers walls of our ranch house)!

    To make matters worse the floor tiles are beige/tan with some blue and brown. I either have to match the logs or the tiles. I tried to find colors to blend them both the tiles and the logs but it is impossible. So I decided to treat the tiles as a neutral (and cover with stylish rugs later). So far I decided to go with three colors of green with grey/blue undertones to tone down the log color and cabinets. I picked a color for the great room (it has 16 foot peaked ceilings) using the wrap around that you recommended (the ceiling will be a lighter green). I am hoping this works.

    I have had so many people in this area who have log homes asking me how in the world do you decorate a log home so that it doesn’t look so “loggish” haha if that is even a word. I can’t wait to see if you ever had to stage or decorate a log home what you would come up with. Any ideas?

  29. Marena says:

    I own a 1950’s split-ranch home in the mountains, sitting in the middle of a Ponderosa Pine forest and it is full of original pine paneling. I did grow up surrounded by paneling, nasty 70’s style in the house I grew up in and pine paneling in my grandparents house. I would never paint over this beautiful wood and am thankful no one before me had. Unfortunately they did remove the original pine cabinets in the kitchen there is only one left upstairs and a few downstairs in the house. Coastal decor…in a home actually on the coast (like where I grew up in Maine or Cape Cod)…is the only excuse for painting out or white washing pine paneling. I am just disgusted when any original charm of any style home is covered up, just because its not a trendy style anymore.

  30. Danielle says:

    My husband and I just moved into a house with knotty pine wood walls in the entire home except for the kitchen. I’m still trying to figure out what colors and textures would be best in each room. I came across the article at the best time. You did an amazing job with this home. Great ideas! Thank you!

  31. matt says:

    Interesting article, thanks. We are planning on re-doing our cabin & we have 70’s painted paneling on the walls now, anticipating replacing with knotty pine. Didnt realize that knotty pine is unliked! It’s a one room cabin, with a tiny kitchen which is also on the list – curious what color you would go with for cabinets. We love the look of barn wood, maybe that would be too busy?

  32. Dianne Brown says:

    I love your ideas for simplicity and de- cluttering. Remodeling my 50-year old home place and just love the knotty pine–orange look and all the brown knots. Mother did a great job decorating with the ‘orange’ when we moved in using brown, rust, gold. But I am ready for something else. The trim has been painted in a tan and I
    was puzzled about what color to paint over it. My husband said ‘white’, but I did not want that much of a contrast. I saw some of the rooms you had and they did have white trim. I believe an ‘off-white’ would work
    and I am now very encouraged about that. Thank you!! Great blog.

  33. Ed Self says:

    Good article. I have knotty pine paneling in my den. I need to replace an old linoleum floor covering. I want something light, but what else do I need to be concerned about?

  34. BJ Doerr says:

    Have to weigh in here in total disagreement. When I moved from Florida to a log cabin in NC I was horrified by the vintage knotty pine in the living and dining rooms and the dark feel of the interior. The office has what I learned to be rare wormy chestnut paneling that’s even darker. But after many moves in my life, I knew to live in the space before I made radical changes. After a year, the cabin felt just right with its original ambiance. It would have been a crime to paint that chestnut paneling. We have a huge authentic stone fireplace and hardwood floors. It was built as a hunting lodge and feels just right here in the woods of NC. The walls are filled with original art and built-ins are chock full of handmade pottery and my collection of artifacts from nature and travels. It’s cozy and welcoming. However, the kitchen is has painted walls and cabinets and the upstairs has drywall. To each his own, right? I think I would have felt differently, though, if this had been a newer home and not a log cabin.

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