My Knotty Pine Paneled Dining Room

Around my birthday this May, I took a week off work. Since I’m now a world traveler with a side of homeownership thrown in, I shelved my usual habit of jetting off to Europe with every single vacation day I get and decided to use this week away from the full-time grind to work on the house AND travel. The first half of the week I worked on my dining room, then I went to Chicago for a long weekend trip.

We’ll talk Chicago in another post, but for now, I wanted to give you an update on the dining room at the fifties fixer upper.  

Because it may not be completely done at this point, but it has come a long way. 

The Dining Room on Day One 

When I bought my fixer upper in the fall of 2017, the dining room needed some love. Or more accurately, a lot of love.  

The dining room on day one.

The dining room on day one.

The other side of that dining room wall on day one (view from the kitchen).

The other side of that dining room wall on day one (view from the kitchen).

The dining room in my house is directly off the kitchen, but the former owners had closed it in so that it could function as a third bedroom. There were several problems with this setup for me:  

1) The paneling they used to close the room in was not original to the house... and let’s just say that it did not fit my personal style. I hesitate to call it particle board since that may not be strictly accurate, but that is the way it behaved when I pulled it off the walls: it was in large, semi-flexible sheets. The sheets had an almost plastic coating on them (that would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to paint). In a nutshell, it needed to go. 

2) My house has some cool fifties features, but my absolute favorite is a built-in wall of shelving between the kitchen and dining room. In the original layout, this shelving was open and included a doorway you could walk through, which really opens up the space. Working around that shelf in the kitchen poses its own set of challenges for the overall layout, but ultimately, I really wanted the shelf wall restored to its former glory as a central feature that you can view from both rooms.  

3) I need a dining room more than I need a third bedroom at this point in my life. I understand the motivation to close in a dining room if you need an extra bedroom, and I’m very thankful that the former owners only used a sheet of paneling to accomplish this task (instead of doing anything drastic like tearing down my favorite built-in fifties shelf between the rooms, which would have been devastating). Luckily, the original layout of the house makes more sense for me, so that’s the direction I went with it. 

After Removing the First Layer of Paneling 

First layer of paneling, you ask?  

Oh yes.  

Because believe it or not, original 1950s knotty pine panels were hiding under that top layer of 1970s-era panel sheets. There was also some framing that had been added to close the room off from the kitchen and create a closet. As you can probably imagine, the original paneling wasn’t in the best shape after being hidden under a top layer of paneling for who knows how long. It was full of nail holes and knots that had split, but I still might have been able to work with those to retain the natural finish if it weren’t for two problems. 

The shelf wall and the wall heater.  

Like any good fifties house, my house used to have wall heaters, and the dining room was the last room in the house that still had a (non-functional) wall heater in the wall. When that heater was removed, it left a big heater-sized hole in the original paneling. We’ll get back to that hole in a minute. 

The other major problem with the dining room after the top layer of paneling was removed was the shelf wall. While there was a panel beside the shelf (that would indicate there was likely also paneling below the shelf at some point)… there was no longer any paneling below the shelf. This meant that the bottom of the shelf would need to be drywalled, and that panel in the corner would need to be removed so that the whole shelf wall could be uniform.  

I’ve mostly blocked the removal of that corner panel out of my mind, but I do remember the primary lesson it taught me (a lesson I also learned while removing the bathroom floor tile): don’t ever try to remove anything original from a fifties house if you don’t have to. Because short of a natural disaster, both the house itself and all materials inside are built to STAY. The house will fight back, and it may be stronger than you. Meltdowns may ensue. I quickly understood why the former owners didn’t remove all the paneling from the room when they closed it in, and instead just covered it with another layer. They probably tried removing the panels under the shelf and realized that those original pine panels just needed to stay where they were. I don’t blame them. 

The one good thing about (FINALLY) getting the panel out of the corner is that we needed a panel to patch the heater hole. Now, anyone reading this who lives in a nice house with uniform walls is probably thinking, “That’s impossible.” I won’t argue with them. But I knew I wanted to save the three walls of original paneling if I could, so I just thought, “Why not try to build a patch out of this panel and see what it looks like?”  

When we got the patch into the heater hole, I’m not going to tell you that it looked great. But with a coat of paint on... I thought it might just work. 

There was only one way to find out. 

Preparing to Paint the Panels 

After removing all the top layer panels and framing that had been added in the original doorway to the kitchen and the closet nook, I spent some time (read: a lot of time) removing nails from the original pine panels while trying not to damage them further. After this was accomplished and the panels were clean, it was time to start patching holes.  

There were a LOT of nail holes, knots, and of course the wall-heater-panel patch. Yikes. 

The new view from the kitchen.

The new view from the kitchen.

After removing the closet framing and patching holes.

After removing the closet framing and patching holes.

Primer in progress.

Primer in progress.

After they dried, the patches needed to be sanded. If you are taking on a task like this at home, remember to research any wood putty you choose to use and read the instructions thoroughly so that you can purchase whatever protective gear you need (likely a mask and gloves, to be worn both while applying and sanding). Finally, after cleaning up all the sanding dust... it was time to prime the walls. 

I did some research on primers that would cover finished wood with conservatively 100 wood-putty patches and decided to go with an oil-based primer. Overall, the primer did what it was supposed to do. I was worried about the texture of the finished product when it dried (the nap texture from the paint roller and brush strokes were really showing). However, it dries in a very matte finish that is perfect for paint. After two coats of Sherwin Williams paint on top of the primer, any texture left in the original primer was covered. While I’m happy with the results, I also want to mention that fumes from oil-based primer are generally a lot stronger than water-based paint. If you are in a scenario with panels that need to be primed, remember to research any product you are using and read the instructions thoroughly so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not the product is something you want to use and so that you can get the right protective gear. Generally, you will want to wear your mask, open the windows (don’t do this in December like I was doing if you can help it), and also make alternative sleeping arrangements for a few days after priming if possible.  

Painting the Knotty Pine Panels 

We’re now caught up to the point in this story that I was walking into during my staycation this May 2019. The panels were patched and primed. Step one: more patches.  

Seriously? Yes. 

Let me be honest, friends. If you are in a scenario where you need to patch as many holes as I did, you are going to miss some. You are also going to sand some down too aggressively and notice after the fact that they are now too low and aren’t level with the wall. That’s ok. In the grand scheme of problems with a fixer upper, this is an easy fix. Just get your wood putty, protective gear, and sandpaper back out and fix your mistakes.  

Then, it’s time to paint. 

Since this post is getting a bit long, I’m planning to write a separate post about how I painted the wood panels. (Paint roller? Brush? Both, actually.) I’m also planning to talk about my furniture, rug, and fixture choices in the dining room in a separate post. (No you are not crazy: that is a larger globe fixture than the original). For now, let's talk paint. 

When I first purchased the fifties fixer upper, I tested three Sherwin Williams whites on the walls in most of the rooms, but not the dining room (since it was still paneled at that point). My favorite overall was Sherwin Williams Alabaster, so that’s the color I used on the dining room panels. I wasn’t immediately sure if it was the right choice in the room... but it is growing on me. I also used this Alabaster white in my bedroom, where it comes across as more of a true white while still having a subtle warm undertone that works really well with the wood trim and hardwood floors in that room. In the dining room on the wood panels, it comes across a bit more yellow than it does in the bedroom. However, the warmth sets it apart from the white I have in the kitchen currently (which is a starker white that I haven’t repainted yet) and I do like that differentiation.  

Dining Room May 2019.JPG
Dining Room from Kitchen.JPG

This May, we did two coats of Sherwin Williams Alabaster Satin Super Paint on the panels and two coats of Sherwin Williams Flat Super Paint (I used plain, non-tinted Extra White base) on the ceiling. Overall, the dining room is looking MUCH better than it has since I bought the house in the fall of 2017... 

But we aren’t there yet. 

Up Next 

The next big adventure in the dining room will be crown molding. From my online research, it doesn’t seem like fifties homes had a lot of crown molding (none of my other rooms do) which is making it difficult to decide on an era-appropriate molding for this paneled room. I know that there was originally crown mold in this room, because I can see where it stopped on the ceiling (and the panels don’t go all the way up to the ceiling, which would imply that the gap was originally covered by something). Overall, the trim in this house is very simple, so I’m looking for something to match that aesthetic while still being large enough to cover the gap. If you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments.  

Aside from crown mold, this room also needs trim around the window, door trim on the door to the hallway and the closet nook, trim around the drywall on the shelf wall, and baseboard. Luckily, I’ve already sourced these items, so now I just have to find some time between work, travel, and all the other house projects to actually get them into this room. 

Easier said than done, always.  

Last but not least, I’ve picked out the most perfect wallpaper for the closet nook (which I guess I should now call the desk nook). At this point I’ve done some serious drywall patching where the shelves that held the closet hangers used to be, but that patch job still needs to be sanded and the walls likely need to be primed for wallpaper. I’ll keep you updated on my first-ever attempt to put up wallpaper (and please send any tips you may have my way... I’m sure I will need them!) 

But wait! What about that patch where the wall heater used to be?

I’m not going to argue that it’s perfect, but this DIY panel-patch job allowed me to keep the panels in this room (without it, we’d either have a hole or a square of drywall in the middle of this panel wall). The heater was in a portion of two pine panels, right over a seam… and getting the patch seam to line up perfectly was almost impossible. If you know where to look, you can still see the seam. But it’s less noticeable than a square of drywall, so I think it works!

The heater on day one (before it was removed.)

The heater on day one (before it was removed.)

The panel patch after primer (see the square outline under the light switch?)

The panel patch after primer (see the square outline under the light switch?)

The panel patch after paint!

The panel patch after paint!