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Design Dilemma
Design Dilemma

Cedar plank walls...Help!

aestephensNovember 6, 2012
My husband and I are fixing up his great grandmothers old ranch house. I has a lot of nice character, the original water well is still in the corner of the laundry room. BUT the living room and our bedroom are still the original cedar plank walls. Its the real stuff, not siding. The ceiling is 2'x2' cedar tiles. Its beautiful and very rich, but its so DARK. especially in the winter. What can I do to lighten things up? Im at a loss, several people have told me Im limited in what I can do because since the wood is so old, it wont absorb anything evenly. Any advice will be GREATLY appreciated!


I will try to post some pictures this evening.
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If you're planing to paint the old wood, two coats of a quality primer should take care of uneven absorption.

Can you add a skylight to lighten things up?
1 Like    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 12:19PM
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I would love to do a skylight, but its a two story house. although the second story is just a very large attic. Larger windows aren't really an option either. Is there a way to lighten it or even paint it, and still have the wood grain show? I don't mind the texture of the wood, its just too dark.
    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 12:24PM
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So if I did paint it and cover it all up you don't think it would look bad? The planks themselves are very chunky.
    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 12:25PM
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Can you post a picture of the planks? The house we bought last year had the original 60's paneling and (greatfully) it was painted before we moved in. I'm not a big fan of paneling so I would have done it if someone else hadn't.

If painting it doesn't interest you, you can "wash" it with a white stain, depending on what it is sealed with. If it's just rough, unsealed cedar, no problem. But if it's been waxed or coated with a polyurethane, problem.
    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 1:39PM
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I'll post pictures this evening when I get home. I don't what is on them, it has definitely been coated (varnish??) with something, because the second floor is made the same and part of it was never coated with whatever they used. The uncovered wood is considerably lighter. The texture isn't particularly smooth, but its not rough like raw cedar would be.

The home was built in the late 20's early 30's if that helps?

I really appreciate your input. This project has been very overwhelming.
    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 1:47PM
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I know how you feel. Just moving alone is overwhelming. Last year I told our Realtor I was never moving again, they will have to take me feet first out of this house.

Ok, no problem, post some pics. An easy way to tell if it's been varnished is if it's shiny. If you are not able to stain it, you could try watering down some white paint and "wash" it that way.
    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 1:51PM
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here are a couple of pics, one is from the bedroom, one is from the living room. Its not shiny but I think its definitely been sealed or something. I had considered wiping them down with watered down paint, but wasnt sure it that would work. Thanks again!
    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 7:13PM
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The camera made it look more red orange than it is, but its still pretty dark.
    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 7:15PM
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Lotus Construction Group
It is always hard to paint an old natural surface. One thing that could brighten up the planks but still allow much of the grain to show through would be a pickled finish. this is also sometimes called white washing. You can tint the stains used in this process to add a little color if you desire but the base is usually light. You will have a tough time getting the cedar to lighten up. You could try a small inconspicuous are by stripping the existing finish and treating it with oxalic acid.
    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 7:30PM
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Mint Design
tough to pickle cedar but that would be lovely. in the meantime I suggest you look into tdd (tubular daylight device systems). These will supply natural light which is the best and will really brighten the space. I am attaching some photos which I hope will help. :)
4 Likes    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 7:41PM
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Sanding the cedar would probably expose more of the lighter grain underneath. Both sealant and age will darken wood, so stripping both may leave you with something you like. You can then whitewash the open grain to further lighten things up. I don't envy you the task of sanding those grooves though.
    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 7:50PM
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I would recommend that you take a lot of nice pictures of the rooms and send them in to retrorenovation.com before changing them. It is really rare to have a building with such fantastic siding in original condition! They have a knotty pine corner, which might give you some tips on what to do with it.

As wonderful as it is, i can understand your desire to change it. The patina of old wood is hard to match, but a whole room may be a bit much.

Liming/pickelling can look terrific, but you have to remove most of the existing finish. Bleaching may be an option too, but will be hard to get even. If it is that old, it is probably real varnish, not synthetic and you can look up how to remove that--I think rubbing alcohol will do it, but don't take my word on it. Old dirt will have to scrubbed off too. Sanding the finish off is an awful mess, so dissolving it first might helpp and raise the grain, which is good for this treatment. I wouldn't worry too much about the grooves--you can prime and paint those before snding the rest. .

Perhaps some sort of varigated/striped distressed paint scheme is an option too. Here is some articles to look at various options

http://www.ehow.com/paint-wood-paneling/ (look up pickeling and liming too)

Perhpas you can keep the wonderful ceiling and just paint the walls. I love wood ceilings and yours are so unique.. Or vice-versa, or just keep a wall, or part of a wall.

This page has some great pictures of various variations on the wood paneling theme. http://theletteredcottage.net/working-with-natural-wood-walls-ceilings/
And apparently paneling is coming back...(some great pics) http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/wood-paneling-the-60s-favorite-is-back-167828

Another way to go is to keep it dark and make everything else light. A lot less work and it can look terrific and very cozy, esp. If you have some nice window light. Nice light fixtures and the above mentioned light tube might help too, or painting at least one surface white.. Perhaps the bedroom would look nice with all-white bedding, old fashioned furniture painted white and slightly distressed and some nice old embroidered linens and mirrors framed as art. and some rag rugs. Very lake resort like. You don't spend as much time in it as the living room, and mostly at night, so maybe keeping it dark can be restful.

What are the floors like?
1 Like    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 10:31PM
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Just had a thought, you could drape the walls/ceiling and just let it peep through. Might be pretty cool in a bedroom especially, maybe just from the corners to the center. That would sort of make it look like a rustic/romantic tent or a canopy for the bed. A more tailored version can work in the living room--maybe by tacking up ironed cheap canvas drop clothes? Then you won't have to deal with a lot of laborous wall prep, and try things out first.
1 Like    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 11:19PM
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That is seriously dark, you were right! You've received lots of great advice. Are you leaning in any one direction? Whitewashing? Paint?

If it were mine, as much as I love wood I wouldn't hesitate to paint it especially if it's a small room because the dark color would make the room feel even smaller.
1 Like    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 1:17AM
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Wow thanks guys! I'm new to the website and y'all have been so welcoming and helpful. I'm beginning to lean away from painting, since it will require sanding to actually look good. my husband has severe sinus issues and Im afraid to stir anything up that may aggravate it. I will play with other ways to lighten it. I loved the tube skylight idea, we will talk to our contractor about that. I'm going to try the light/white furniture and even drapery before I resort to painting. Thank you so much to everybody for all the input! If y'all get any more ideas let me know! Ill post pictures when I finally decide on something.
1 Like    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 11:20AM
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To: victorian bungalow ranch

The floors are ugly white carpet. I say ugly because my husbands family leased the house to an older lady that kept plants EVERYWHERE and there are horrid stains on the white carpet. we've had them cleaned and only a few came out. So now our strategically placed furniture is hiding most of the spots. I would like to eventually pull it all up, but have no idea what to replace it with. more wood? I really want to stick with the charm of the house. It has so much potential.

Im going to try large pieces of canvas or even southwest rugs (the house is very 1950's rustic) to hang on the walls to add color and texture. although that may be one of those things that looks better in my head than on the wall. lol

Thanks again! your advice is much appreciated!
    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 11:36AM
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aestephens, it could be worse, the older lady tenant could have kept cats everywhere!
    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 12:42PM
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very true!! ha ha!
1 Like    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 1:38PM
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I don't get the benefits of cedar unless you are putting it in a closet or going way upscale. My feeling is to love where you live so my recommendation is to rip it out gently and put it elsewhere, A garage, an attic space, the closets throughout the home. Or rip and toss. Do what will make you happy in your new space. Winter is long and no use sitting in a dreary space. As for your rug dilemma, toss that too, put in radiant floor heating and throw area rugs where neccessary.

Have fun.
2 Likes    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 2:10PM
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I have to agree with Christine. You must love where you live. Of course there are compromises that have to be made along the way, but your husbands great grandmother rented it out, right? Which probably means she was done with it, right, for one reason or another.

If your husband is the stumbling block, let him know you think his great grandmother would be so proud that you both had enough interest in her house to make it a home again. If necessary, set aside one area, or one china cabinet in her memory. And move on. With a smile, of course!
    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 2:32PM
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I don't know, with the sinus issues, but carpet probably not your best option. Maybe a laminant plank floor or linoleum in a light mottled finish would be neutral, not dust holding, and will help reflect light and lighten up the place a bit, plus look kind of retro. White floors are pretty but show dirt so something a little less stark would work better. My stepmother had white tile floors and they were a total nightmare to keep halfway presentable. Slippery too.

The canvas probably could be tacked on with upholstery decorative tacks pretty easily and lined up to "panel" the whole wall. They could even be painted (primer, paint, stencil and coat with water-based poly, and you have a floor canvas, which can be used instead of rugs.). I would measure the ceiling height and try to get something really close to that to minimize cutting. Might be worth a try on a wall opposite the windows to bounce some light into the space.

Yes, ripping it off is another option. There might not be any drywall or plaster underneath. If you do the exterior walls, you could beef up the insulation too. Staying overnight with friends or relatives during any demo might be a good idea for your sanity and for your husband's sinuses.
    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 3:18PM
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aestephens, do you know what year the house was built? If you tear down the cedar planks you may have lath and plaster walls which may not survive the tear down, depending on how the cedar planks were attached to begin with.
    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 3:23PM
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The house was built in the 30's. Depending what relative you talk to. Some say, 1890's, some 20's and others say 40's. My father-in-law who grew up in the house says 30's, although the old smoke house and shower house do date back to the 1800's. the house was rebuilt. The smoke house has been converted into my art studio. The shower house (which was actually used for bathing, It collected rain at the top and you pulled a chain to let it out, its really neat!) its storage for now, until I find a more creative use for it.

I actually never got the opportunity to meet my husbands grandmother or great grandmother. They both passed while he was young. My Father in law still has a lot of sentimental attachment to it, but graciously insists that we make it our own.

the story is, his great grand mother was living with her parents in another town. Her husband was working the ranch here. She wouldn't come live with him until he built her a house. So one day he got tired of her gripping, went to town. Got four guys, and they each started at four corners and started building walls. No plans or anything. None of our windows are the same size! Theres only a few inches difference but its there.

Because of the way it was built the house doesn't really flow. But we are working on that. We aren't sure which walls are load bearing walls and which aren't. So we are working slowly. Ill continue to post pictures as we make improvements. It really is a neat house. or has the potential to be. But right now some parts are just flat ugly! lol

From the little remodeling we have done, we have found out that behind the cedar walls is a thin layer of insulation. So taking it out is not really an option unless we choose to gut it and start over.

We plan to add on an L shaped porch, a patio, redo the kitchen and add central air and heat. we are functioning on window units and propane. At some point we would like to rent it out to whom ever will be helping on the ranch later on. My husband raises, all natural black angus beef and register show cattle. We are newlyweds and its great for just the two of us, but eventually we would like to rent it out.

Sorry for the long response but thats the background one the house (what I know of it) and our plans for it.
    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 6:57PM
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Oh! by the way, does anybody know anything about registering your house as a historical land mark? I heard that its supposed to be at least 80 yrs old, and if you remodel it you have to keep it with in the era it was built. But what are the perks??
    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 6:59PM
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Wow! That was such an interesting story I was sorry to see it end! Thanks for sharing with us.
1 Like    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 1:17AM
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Hi there. Sinus issues are serious. Any home built before 1978 could also have its share of asbestos products in there. Sanding is not an option if you live there right now and don;t have a place to live while you renovate. Carpet, however, if it's been there over a year and you weren't living there should be removed asap, one room at a time using plastic to keep the dust down. If the flooring is not natural wood but tile, see if you can have another floor put over it instead of ripping the subfloor. If hub is working the remodel -- he might consider a respirator mask. Super helpful, just buy the right kind with right filter. About $50.00 Since it will be a rental, put in industrial strength carpet.

Unfortunately, an older house comes with issues. The more you disturb the bones, the more money you'll spend. Fabric on walls is a viable option only if you can wash them monthly. With sinus issues, less is more. You probably already know that.

Tube lights are incredible helpers, honestly. And if you have extra money frame your artwork with large off-white or light matting. Reflective surface will help you accept the darkness much better.

Lighten your window coverings or buy some static cling designs for more light coming in, but privacy from outside. Experiment. Cling-ons are put on with water, easy removable. Home Depot has them in the window/door area. About $25.00 per roll.
1 Like    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 1:44AM
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Well you could use grommets and hooks to hang the canvas so you can wash it. If you prime, paint and varnish it like a floorcloth, you could mop it or wipe with a sponge or rag. As an artist, you probably can create something pretty cool, and it won't damage the original. It could be super unique and fun.

What a fascinating history. I bet you can track down when they were married and figure out the approx dates from there. The local historical society might have something too.

The rules for designation is that it should be of architectural or local historical importance, and should be largely intact., and for a farm/ranch, that includes the outbuildings. Vinyl siding and replacement windows can be an automatic disqualification. Generally a building should be over 50 years old, but if it is outstanding, it can be younger. Tax credits can go up to 25% of qualified expenses, mostly structural and mechanical, not cosmetic like paint and flooring. Generally work should be approved ahead of time, or you risk disqualifying yourself, and must be maintained for at least 5 years, or the tax credit can be recaptured (taken back(.

The rules get pretty complicated, but basically you need to document the history and why it is significant, take lots of pictures and draw a site map, and try to keep as much of the original or to a period (yes changes in the 40s are considered historic) that demonstrate the history of the house and integral to the character of the house.

Unless there are local restrictions, which is rare in a rural area, designation does not prohibit building changes or even demolition, but you do so at the risk of losing designation,and recapture of tax benefits.

You can get preliminary approval through your State Historic Preservation Office, which is fairly quick, but the final can take awhile. Personally, I think they set the bar too high, but it can be worth it if you have a place that needs a lot of structural repairs. If you are thinking of doing it, I would recommend floating floors so that they don't damage the original floors. Who knows, might be some decent old wood down there, and a painted floor finish is an option.. One thing about old houses, they are generally made with old-growth timber which is of much better quality than almost anything you get these days.

So if you rent out the ranch, where are you going to live?
1 Like    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 3:25AM
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The historic thing sounds like to much red tape. I think I will look into the wall canvas. Is that a type of wall paper? Or actual canvas used for paintings?

In the mean time I am definitely going to look into the tube lighting, and lighten the furniture and stuff. Thanks for all the great ideas! I'll post pics as we go along.
    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 6:45PM
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Victorian bungalow ranch,

We plan to be in the ranch house for another 2-5 years. Then look for a house in town. There's an older home that's been vacant for a while that we've got our eye on, but the family hasn't done anything with it yet.

We hope to rent it out to someone who can manage things at the ranch since my husbands sinuses are getting less tolerant to that atmosphere.
    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 6:53PM
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Victorian bungalow ranch,

We plan to be in the ranch house for another 2-5 years. Then look for a house in town. There's an older home that's been vacant for a while that we've got our eye on, but the family hasn't done anything with it yet.

We hope to rent it out to someone who can manage things at the ranch since my husbands sinuses are getting less tolerant to that atmosphere.
    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 6:55PM
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Unfortunately it can be a lot of red tape, but if you need to do a lot of work, it can mean up to a 25% tax credit on the structural and mechanical.

Is this a working ranch? If so, you can get a 10% rehabilition tax cut for barns and outbuildings, but not the house, directly from the IRS without too much red tape, but the work you do has to be more than 50% the basis in the property, which is the value minus the value of the land minus the amount you have paid on it minus the value of the house. Not sure how that works if you inherit property.

I was talking about canvas dropcloths, which regularly go on sale at Home Depot for around $10 for a 9' x 12'

Saw this picture and made me think of your house. Love to see what you do with it. If you plan on fixing up a house in town, I would try to do most of the work inside, except painting and trim perhaps, before you move in, esp. with your husband's allergies.
1 Like    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 4:55AM
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Yes we would definitely plan ahead on the decor with the next house!

So how would you do the canvas drop cloths? That could be really interesting. Would you use a staple gun and hang it like wall paper?
    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 3:30PM
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Just out of curiosity, could I wipe down the walls with watery paint with out sanding it? Or woul the paint not soak in?
    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 4:03PM
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I think upholstery tacks could look nice. It is possible to hang fabric on walls with fabric softener (roll it on the wall and stick and let dry) but the fabric is probably too heavy and the walls too slick for that.

Thought about hooks and grommets that you pound into the fabric with a hammer (bigger ones from a fabric store) or maybe sew buttonholes in it and and use screws anchored in the wall with ornamental caps to hang, or a cable line from IKEA and fabric clips. Or maybe staple to, or make a pocket for a 1x4 and then mount and add weights or anothr pocket so it hangs right.. As an artist, you could paint or stencil the panels for an interesting effect, or use a picture rail and hang pictures the old fashioned way on top.

For the bedroom, you can use muslin or netting (super cheap) and drape like they do for fancy weddings. I always thought it would be neat to do something like this from a central chandelier to the four corners only in a dining room or bedroom, but never had the right space for it. Sew on a ringm secure a larger ring or drapery holder in the corner and drape--no finishing required and can be washed. Netting can't be washed, but it can be dipped in warm water and hung to dry.

So, with a bit of imagination, it could be charming.
1 Like    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 4:12PM
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Oh please please please don't paint the wood! I usually love painted wood paneling (in an creamy white color) but after reading the history of the home you wrote, I would say keep it like it is. The walls have so much character and history and that's what makes your home special.

Since you said this isn't your "forever home," I would recommend trying out some solutions that don't involve changing the walls or ceilings for now. I would tend to keep all decor modern-ish, staying away from anything that looks dated or too traditional. Clean lines, light colors, but comfy. I guess that would be "transitional" style.

Invest in lots of good lamps (table and floor), maybe install some wall sconces, to lighten up the place since you mentioned lack of natural light. Strategically placed mirrors will help bounce window light around the room. I agree with the canvas draperies. There is curtain hardware that can be mounted all around the room too so that you can extend the draperies further than just around the windows.

You mentioned hanging art on the walls...I would go for a gallery of large white/off-white frames with very large white/off-white mats and simple artwork or black-n-white photographs.

Buy only white/off-white furniture if you get new pieces, or get slipcovers for your existing seating (which might be beneficial anyway for your husband's allergies).

As for flooring, I've always been a fan of mixing wood paneled walls with stone flooring. Gray slate (or a light gray ceramic tile for a more inexpensive option) would look amazing against the warm walls. The picture attached shows how well those materials work together. (The actual style is too modern for my taste, but you get the idea...you can achieve the same color combo with a more traditional style too.)

This picture shows how furniture can really help bring wood paneling up to date: http://www.coastalliving.com/homes/decorating/living-room-00400000051289/page10.html

Modern Entry design by San Francisco Architect Quezada Architecture
1 Like    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 9:50PM
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The slate floor picture didn't take for some reason...here's a link instead:
Ideabook: Design Dilemma: How Do I Modernize My Cedar Walls? · See Ideabook
    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 9:51PM
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hi Alana, when the floors are pulled, make sure you can have your furniture removed to another room, or out of doors. the plants that leaked (from previos resident) probably created a mildew/mold haven. biology is a wonderful thing but the chemistry which often follows can be hazardous. ":=) glad you find the people here of help.n it's virtually free until you start rippin and stickin. when you purchase new products -- look for green, less chemicals. vent the home really well during project, and afterwards for next 2 yrs. houses should breathe well at that age..
1 Like    Bookmark   November 11, 2012 at 11:01PM
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I have the same complex about the wood. It's beautiful and rich, and I love the history. My husbands family has amazing stories about his great great grandfather driving the herds to fort worth ( about a 2 1/2 hour drive in the car) to get on the train to Kansas. The Comanches coming through to trade. One of his sons once took the herd to fort worth and instead of bringing the cash for the herd home, he rented the top floor of a hotel and entertained his friends with whiskey and "sporting women". After almost a month his dad rode down and dragged him out and brought him home.

Hearing about all this has always fascinated me, so of course I always feel sort of guilty when I think about changing the wood ( even though the house we are in now isnt the original homestead)
But then there are days when I walk in and all I can think is IT'S TOO DARK!

I'm going to exhaust all other options before I change the walls, the main thing that has kept me from changing it on the days I really hate it is all the sanding involved

If I end up doing anything to the walls it will be a white/cream stain where the grain still shows through. But again, i dread the sanding and would have to kick my husband out of the house.

My issue with the floors,
Tile s out, it's just wood planks underneath and I was told tile wouldn't work on that kind of surface. I asked about just polishing the wood planks underneath, but was told that that was the only thing separating us from the dirt (and probably snakes) underneath. So, given I feel that snakes are the opitamy of evil, I'm not excited about that idea.

We are newlyweds, so money is tight. We were saving for some sort of linoleum, but ive also been looking at DIY ideas on pinterest. I saw an idea where they got thin strips of lumber, nailed it down in a diagnal pattern, whitewashed it, the coated it in resin to seal it. Would this work?

Forgive me if I sound ignorant, I'm a first time renovator! I'll pretty much be doing this on my own too, if it docent have hair and four legs my husband is fairly useless. I'm the one that changes a flat and fixes things around the house. I grew up at an airport, my dad restores WW2 airplanes for a living. You can learn a lot when you spend lots of boring summers in a hanger!

Thanks again guys for all of you input!
    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 7:53AM
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I don't think trying to white wash it would work with the heavy varnish finish--could be a real mess and look cloudy rather than pickled. And it will probably crack or peel with time. . Bleaching, painting, refinishing all requires a raw wood surface-- removing the old finish and sanding. Painting doesn't require total stripping, but it does require a clean surface with some tooth so the paint will stick, or you will have a huge mess.

Just about anything you do will require A LOT of work. That is one reason I suggested just covering it up temporarily, and save the mess for after you move out.

How about a good scub? Can try to see if that alone will help--test in a small area and use the gentle methods described in links below. If not, try something harsher and be prepared to paint. Your walls and ceilings are so beutiful as is, I would try to keep an accent wall or the ceiling if I did paint, just to keep some of the old character in.

This is a toughie and you might want to post in a specialty forum for advice, such as: http://woodworking.com/forum/showthread.php?2708-How-to-refinish-solid-pine-paneling/page2


Cleaning is required even if you are going to paint--the leading cause of paint tailure is not cleaning and preparing the surface first. Should lighten it up quite a lot just doing this alone. If you are going to paint, you can use stronger products, like Spic and Span or TSP, but you might end up with a gummy surface--test in an inconspicuous spot first, like in the closet or someplace, and lightly sand. Have used Krud Kutter on the really nasty stuff, but it stinks and is very caustic--not good for general cleaning, and will damage any finish. Saw a few suggestions to clean twice, or use a gel varnish remover, and then use shellac or shellac based primers to seal the wood, especialy if the surface is gummy even after cleaning. Shellac will also prevent the knots and whatnot from bleeding through the paint.

If the surface was sealed with linseed oil or something similar, then you have a real problem on your hands. Then it is inside the wood, not just on top.

Another option is using a gel stripper--then you can pickle or lighten it. If painting, you might be able to use a deglosser product rather than doing a lot of sanding, but this stuff is expensive and tricky to use--you have to paint within a narrow window of time after using it. Read about it and chickened out of trying it -- read mixed reviews of its effectiveness. Might be good for the grooves though.

Covering it Up: As a last resort, covering up with drywall or is a possibility, but that creates a huge amount of dust to finish it and requires removing and redoing casing and so forth. Cheapo paneling or wallboard painted white is another possibility for a short-term solution, but seems hardly worth the bother. Maybe for the long wall in the living room just to get rid of the wood in one place--where a lot of fitting isn't required..


I did clean with a TSP substitute to some old wainscotting I was going to paint in my rental, and it looked so much better I left it alone. It is a messy--two person job with lots of old towels and rags, a soft natural bristle scrub brush and cleaning solution--may need to experiment in a hidden corner. I used a TSP substitute and wiped it off immediately. Work from the bottom to top. Done it on ceilings too, which is a real mess--one square at a time. Have to do it a couple times a year in my tiny old kitchen. But this is probably too harsh for wood. I have used a specialty wood cleaner for tough spots, and orange cleaner, and a credit card scraper for gummy stuff, but you have to be careful. Put the cleaner on the rag, not the surface. A small brush with a long handle, like the kind you wash dishes with, works well. I have used a Liberman (green and white, in hardware stores) for most things and detail cleaning, and a large natural scrub brush for large surfaces.

This is a good guide for cleaning walls and woodwork: It and a couple of other places I looked at recommend Ivory liquid or tung or mineral oil or furniture polish to clean varnished wood surfaces and elbow grease. Varnish and shellac are natural products used in most homes before poly came along. A lot of work..

Homemade polish:

Homemade Wood Cleaner:

You can make a good substitute for commercial wood cleaning products by combining;
•1 cup water
•1/4 cup vinegar
•1/2 cup of mineral oil
•20 drops of lemon oil

Take care not to use olive oil, vegetable oil or any other nut type oil. Food based oils oxidize and go rancid over time and you'll have an odor problem that will be difficult to remove. The addition of a little lemon oil adds a nice fresh scent. Shake it up well before using. Dip a clean cloth into the solution and lightly polish; then, use a dry soft cloth and buff to polish up a nice warm shine.

More Tips:



Ideabook: Design Dilemma: How Do I Modernize My Cedar Walls? · See Ideabook

Light Tubes cost about $250 or so plus labor) but don't give that much light really but are easy to install and retrofit. I've been told by contractors that you don't get nearly as much light as the promotional pictures indicate, and of course snow can cover them up a good part of the year, depending on where you live. It is expensive and yes, dust creating, but building a dormer and/or creating a skylight/light well that is framed through the attic could be a solution to get more light into the interior. Probably more than you want to do for a rental though. Can look great in a wood interior--see first three photos.

Ideabook: 3 Wondrously Wood-Loving Modern Structures · See Ideabook
    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 7:56AM
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Ahh! The thought of pulling up a floor plank to find snakes is disturbing!!

I'm in the same boat as you as far as experience goes. Not sure what can work on top of hardwood flooring. Maybe you'll have to create a new subfloor on top of it and then you can re-lay something else, like you mentioned. It sounds sacrilegious to lay a new floor on top of original hardwood, but it sounds like the original wood isn't worth saving anyway.
1 Like    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 11:55AM
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Sounds like your wood floors are uneven and anything you put down there is going to have some issues. I would go with an inexpensive laminate floor if you don't mind using a compound saw with diamond tipped blade or two (the boards tear the saws up) or vinyl.

Laminate floors are cheaper (depending on what you pick) but harder to install, but last a long time as long as you allow an expansion joint and don't allow the water to sit on them. Do use the foam underlayment to even out bumps and such and pull any loose nails first. Vinyl is somewhat easier and faster to install, especially with a friend, if you don't have to seam. Get the heavy elf-install stuff or you will have to put down 1/4 plywood and glue it.

It too can expand and contract quite a lot in the heat, so it is best to glue or tape down in high traffic areas and leave an expansion joint under the shoe molding. Taking the baseboards off too is even better.

Both come in light colors, and laminate has stone-like subtle patterns if you look. I would recommend a pretty neutral light mottled pattern and use rugs or floorcloths on top. Save your money for fancy floors for your dream house.I have laminate in my rental property and it holds up to renter abuse quite well--the wood and carpet did not, and I need to reglue the vinyl.

Other types of flooring besides carpet, wood or vinyl tile, might be too heavy for the old timbers, which might be undersized anyway, given the way it was built. This isn't a fancy house, and I would keep some of that rough and tumble and not too fancy aspect intact.
1 Like    Bookmark   November 12, 2012 at 7:42PM
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I just purchased an all cedar home built in 1977. The only non cedar are the ceilings in two bedrooms that have the old popcorn texture which I do not like. I have taken planks to the paint store to see what could be done to the cedar but nothing looked appealing. The cedar has had nothing done to it since it was installed. To remove the cedar would be difficult without damaging the planks. I'm thinking of drywalling over the cedar. Reasons being less of a mess, less labor intensive, plus keeps the option of cedar for the next owners. Please advise.
    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 4:36AM
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