Although dark wood paneling is traditionally associated with the haunts of wealth and power—corporate board rooms, gentlemen’s clubs, grand public chambers—it’s appearing more and more in 21st-century residential settings. And while richly hued hardwood on walls can bring an old-school vibe to a home, used with flair and imagination, it can also look as cool and modern as its light-stained counterparts. Here are three examples of dark wood paneling used just right.
Wood paneling is unusual in a bathroom, let alone swaths of dark-stained walnut that would look right at home in a professorial study. Yet designer Charmean Neithart made it work when she remodeled a house in Los Angeles recently. By keeping the trims and moldings clean and simple, and by offsetting the dark and moody wood with lots of light colors and materials—creamy marble-mosaic floor tiles, a dazzlingly white free-standing tub, gleaming nickel-plated faucets and hardware, and custom pewter silk curtains—Neithart ensures that, while the paneling looks imposing, it does not overwhelm the room.
White oak was used for the floors, cabinetry, and a slat wall in the kitchen of a Brooklyn town house gut-renovated by Rebuild Workshop, a design-build firm that specializes in brownstone makeovers. But while the oak floorboards were given a light finish, the slats and cabinets were stained dark, helping create unified vertical surfaces behind which many accoutrements are hidden. The custom cabinets integrate the range hood and exhaust pipe, as well as providing concealed storage. And the slat wall not only screens a staircase, it also cleverly camouflages the door to a powder room tucked behind it.
Wood paneling is also being painted darker, more characterful colors these days. A case in point is the home office in a new Dallas house built by Veranda Designer Homes. The back wall of the high-ceilinged but relatively small room is completely covered with a grid of poplar panels and a custom built-in bookshelf and storage unit. All the woodwork has been painted gray, as have the other walls and the ceiling, which gives the space a wonderful, cocoon-like unity. Bold repeating patterns also show up in the rug, curtains, and a painting, providing color and energy to the room while maintaining its warm, enveloping feel.