The Knotty Pine Paneling Problem: 3 Alternatives to Painting It All

Home Style Compatibility Quiz


Knotty pine wood paneling has long been a staple of summer cottage/cabin construction and, the 1950s-1970s, was completely ubiquitous in even primary residences. Look around the web, and you’ll find tons of blog posts about why and how to paint over pine, but today we’ll go through when it’s appropriate to keep it and 3 ways to make the most of it. Stick around to the end to see how Home Glow Design would style this staple wall covering to make it fresh while keeping its classic look!


The Problem of Knotty Pine Paneling


I adore the New Hampshire lakes, and I adore the classic cottages and cabins that surround them. Especially on Squam Lake. One of the reasons I love it so much is that the shoreline is so wooded and the cottages are all set back in the trees and usually brown or untreated cedar in color, unobtrusive to the surrounding beauty.

Cottage at Rockywold Deephaven Camps
Cottage at Rockywold Deephaven Camps

The older cottages come with one thing, however, that many people may see as a design problem — knotty pine paneling.

Knotty Pine

Everyone wants to paint it. Everyone female, that is. Men seem to have a thing for it. Color expert Kristie Barnett, the “Decorologist,” has even written a  post about why men fear painting wood and why you should just go for it anyway. And in most instances, I agree completely. If you have this:

Bad Paneling


Or pull it down altogether. That 1970s faux s…tuff has no value whatsoever, aesthetically or historically. Begone! If you have this:

Via Home Tone
Via Home Tone

Methinks you’ll want to consider other options. Or, me-hopes so, anyway ….

However, many summer cottages and cabins (as well as many homes from the 1950s onward — see Pam Kruber’s search for why the material was so prevalent here) are covered in pine that, while perhaps far less venerable than the above, still holds some emotional and traditional value.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 3.50.53 PM

Floor to rafter, literally. I can totally understand if you want to brighten and freshen it up, perhaps add a little comfort, but I’m sure there are few who would want to completely erase the character of the above by painting the whole thing white. What to do, then?


Alternative #1: Add White/Light Furnishings to Knotty Pine Rooms


For the summer cottage, be it on a lake or ocean or in the mountains, this is an easy way stay true to the “camp” aspect while breaking up that expanse of yellow/brown.

(Side note: I could not trace all the designers/photographers on these images, though I tried really hard. If you know the source, please let me know and I will attribute the image fully.)

Cashiers 1



Cashiers 2
Above 2 Images from the 2009 Cashiers Designer Showhouse via Atlanta Homes Magazine
Matthew Bees via Southern Living


Doing better, right? Character — check. Freshened up — check.


(P.S. I had some additional images of how light furnishings work in paneled interiors, but they were all by a particular photographer who refused to grant permission to use them without a hefty fee. Guess he/she doesn’t like free publicity. If you like this stuff, I recommend going to this month’s This Old House Magazine to see a beautiful project with this look.)


Interior Design Floor Plan Tips Tricks Measurements


Alternative #2: Paint SOME of Your Knotty Pine White

(Window and Door Casings, Trim, Ceilings)


You can choose how much to do. Just the casings, add the mantle, base/crown moldings, paint the ceiling or the floor. Take it step by step and decide when you’ve done enough to cheer it up!!


Sonya Kincade
Judy Cook Interiors
Steven Gambrell via House Beautiful, Issue Uknown
via Better Homes & Gardens
Werner Straub in Traidtional Home
Todd Richesin via Traditional Home, photography by Werner Straube

Layla Palmer at The Lettered Cottage has also looked at this dilemma here, but the coolest thing she does is to take a knotty pine paneled room submitted by a reader and photoshop adding white step by step. Check it out!


Alternative #3: Use GREEN Paint to Give Knotty Pine Depth



Be conscious of your interior environment. Green is such a beautiful complement to knotty pine. Oh wait, those are the colors of a pine tree — green and brown! But it only works when the undertones are right. Choose a green with an undertone like your paneling (usually warm — yellow), and you can ramp up all that outdoor freshness.


Bunny Williams in Southern Living, Photo by Laurey W. Glenn
Sara Bengur
Melanie Davis Designs, Photography by Emily Jenkins Followill
Jayne Design Studio


It looks like Thomas Jayne actually mixes his undertones here — a warm yellow on casings, desk, and mirror, and a cool blue on the floor. But hey, rules are meant to be broken, and he has multi-millionaire clients to prove it.


John Oetgen via Atlanta Homes Magazine, Photography by Mali Azima


I like it best when casings are green combined with white ceilings or more light furnishings. Let’s go back to Squam.


Home Glow Style Squam Cottage — Keep It Classic, Make It Fresh

Squam Lake via Loon.org
Squam Lake via The Loon Preservation Committee

Remember this room? My heart aches with desire.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 3.50.53 PM

But, if it were mine (Dream on, Amy.), I think I’d like to do something like this.



I’d love to treat that daybed alcove like a window, with linen drapes on either side of the alcove and the green matchstick shades over each individual window. Close the drapes for an airy sleeping room! Anyway, I’m sure there are those who are crying, “Anethema! You can’t change our classic cottage!” But I think this stays true to the style of the cottage while providing more comfort and happiness — performance fabric sofa, classic Lloyd Flanders rocker, bobbin chair, ferns, plaids, rattan, and a little ethnic flair in the accent fabrics to add a subtle funky factor.


A pin to remember me by!


Blue & Green Lake House Living Room Mood Board -- Perfect for Knotty Pine Paneling!


Any thoughts? I’d love to hear from you — even if you hate it! I’m all for honesty!



Insider's Guide to Space Planning

7 thoughts on “The Knotty Pine Paneling Problem: 3 Alternatives to Painting It All”

  1. This is my favorite yet…daydreaming about having a house up north closer to y’all one day!!! Or maybe I will just wait for you to buy one on Squam and we will come visit a lot. Love the designs that are whites and blues incorporated into the old cabins. Crazy what a difference it makes while keeping the original wood. I can dream also. Maybe one day.

  2. I am seeing more and more wood paneling (some stained, some painted, and everything in-between) gracing the pages of shelter magazines. I’m happy to see that there is a renewed interest in the ‘au natural’ treatment, and I loved this post.

  3. One problem with the real paneling: spiders get in and hide behind it. (I had an invasion in my last house) That’s a problem too with any paneling — can’t see the spiders if it’s not painted a pale color. I was a long-time hold out for keeping the integrity of the wood finish, but now I’m thinking “paint it all”, or maybe just move.

  4. So enjoy your Saturday posts!
    My sister was just bemoaning to me about her knotting pine paneling. It’s in a 1950’s build and is truly the real thing. It has the pretty grooves between each board. It has darkened with age. Wonder if it could just be sanded and sealed?
    Will share your post with her. Thanks!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top

Home Style Compatibility QUIZ!

Have you tried decorating your home with that all elusive “mix”…

yet nothing seems to work?