How I embraced 1950s wood paneling to make a pretty space
Since my last den post, we've changed a lot in the den. When I sat down to think about what we've specifically done, I started listing off things like: purchased furniture that fit better, got a rug, installed lighting, hung artwork, added house plants. You know, just the basic things you do to decorate a room.
I realize I never enjoyed hanging out in the den as much as other rooms in our home because I never really tried to make it a space I enjoyed. It was always an afterthought because I was focused on nesting in other parts of the house the first couple of years we lived here. Sorry den, you just had to wait your turn.
Besides working on other parts of the house, I think another thing that held me back from focusing on the den was the wood paneling. Anyone else have a 1950s wood paneled room? It's so hard to find inspiration photos of dated wood paneled rooms. Everyone on the internet said to paint it, but I didn't want to because I felt like it could help contribute to a warm, cozy feel. However, I found very few examples of someone leaving original wood paneling and making an attractive space where the paneling worked with instead of against the space.
I hope to keyword the heck out of these photos in hopes that someday somewhere someone with a 1950s wood paneled room will be searching for inspiration and find these photos helpful. I've embraced my wood paneling for its cozy, vintage factor and made it work for us.
Below is a recap of what I've been doing the past nine months to help make the den a space where I want to spend time.
Use furniture that fits the scale and traffic patterns of your room
The biggest change is obviously the furniture. The original sectional was from our old home and it didn't quite fit the den–it was too large and blocked the entrance to the room, making it feel closed off and awkward to enter. We replaced the sectional with a new, much smaller Gus* Parkdale bi-sectional (which we carry in the shop). As a bi-sectional, it can go either way (I feel like I should make a 'that's what she said' joke here). We chose to position the chaise as to not block off the entrance (and the rest of the house) like the old one did.
I was debating adding a chair, but decided it was a must when 1) we had guests over and it wasn't really comfortable to have conversation with four people on the sectional and 2) my mom reupholstered this beautiful 1960s bentwood sculptural Thonet lounge in a dark green that I'm ALL ABOUT as you may know.
Next, we added a smaller coffee table, which fit the sofa and space better (I actually stole this chest from the bedroom, so this isn't the final coffee table) and decided it was time for side tables. I have always loved the vintage wooden seesaw I got from the thrift store two years ago. Not only as a toy for Caroline, but as a piece of furniture for me. I kept wanting to display and use it as more than just a toy and now we can. It's our side table. Sure, we can't use it during the day when Caroline is playing on it, but honestly, I'm not laying on the couch during the day when she's up (not that I don't want to–she won't let me ;)). We also added a small vintage mid-century side table from a set we used in the living room.
Layer rugs on carpet to add color and interest
One day a few months ago, I finally realized I could use rugs even with carpet. Duh. Easy way to bring in color and interest. Why didn't I do this before? I think part of the reason was because the old sectional would have blocked a rug when looking into the den from the living/dining area (where we are a lot of the time). Maybe it's just me, but I want to be able to see my rug often!
Give yourself lighting options–not all or nothing
The lighting in the den was all or nothing. We either had full, bright light from the built-in fluorescents that light up the room almost like a stadium (which is great for some activities), or you had pitch blackness (good for TV watching). No soft reading light, no ambiance lighting. I knew we needed lighting options in the room. All or nothing is not ideal when it comes to lighting.
Adding the woven modern pendants was wonderful for the aesthetics of the space, but even more so for function. We use the pendants all the time now in the evening. The softer light is so much nicer for reading a book or chatting. Also, because the sectional floats in the middle of the room, having pendants eliminates tripping hazard cords. Also, note we didn't have these professionally installed. We bought wire from the hardware store and swagged them across the ceiling ourselves. They plug into the wall right now, but we will probably install cord switches at some point. I selected a copper-colored wire with a translucent covering because I knew it would need to be part of the room's aesthetic. I'm happy with how they turned out!
Add artwork and plants for warmth and personality
I added artwork and plants galore. Some of the artwork we have owned for a while, but just hadn't hung it after we moved. Other artwork I purchased while thrifting or created specifically for the space. For example, I enlarged a photograph of Caroline playing on the back patio and framed it with a simple, wooden frame.
I moved in my decapitated Yucca tree from the living room after learning it might do better with the south facing windows (notice it's sprouting new leaves!), added a hanging plant, a snake plant, and a few others either from around the house or picked up at the local nursery or Retro Den.
Define and embrace multiple spaces in one room
In my last post I said I wanted to hang a chalk board and make this nook more of a play area for Caroline, so that's what we've been working on! I used a vintage quilt I already owned and loved on the floor to define the play area. It was cheaper than a rug, and I figured I could easily switch it for other blankets or quilts if I got bored. Also, we moved her small table and chairs down from the dining room because she tended to use them more for playing rather than eating.
I added a couple nails to the paneling so Caroline could hang up some of her artwork. I used wooden hangers so we can trade the art out easily and often. Caroline can do this (almost) by herself! We also displayed one of her paintings on the shelf. Surprise, it's pink. Also note, since the last post, Patrick has added some fun things to his office shelves that Caroline enjoys too because let's face it, 33 year old men and 2 year old girls have a lot more in common than you'd think.
As with any room in my home, the den is a work in progress; however, I'm so happy we worked with the wood paneling to create a cozy and collected space that we all can enjoy now. It's next to impossible to undo painting wood paneling, and wood work whether furniture or wall treatments from this era were made of wood meant to be celebrated. It was really hard to get moving in this room mostly because there wasn't a lot of visual inspiration out there for 1950s wood paneled rooms. Daly says I struck the perfect balance of preservation and bravery in home decor. And I am happy to believe that about myself. ;)
"After 13 years of living in this house, it is finally functional and lovely for me and my family, because of the happy, easy, light, playful, keenly intelligent way the women of the Retro Den showed up."
- Alicia Chesser, Retro Den Home Styling Client