Design Dilemma: How Do I Modernize My Cedar Walls?
8 Ways to Give Wood Walls a More Contemporary Look
Great new question from a Houzz reader on our Questions page: "I have a 20 ft high room with smooth red cedar stained walls. How can I stain or paint the walls to look more contemporary? I was looking for gray tones." — lkm96h. Lucky for reader lkm96h, I'm totally that modern-slash-gray decorator dude. Plus, I'm at the tail end of doing the same exact thing in my own home. I've got some ideas for you. Here's the rundown.
If your home has unsightly plank wood walls, slowly turning you in to Jack Nicholson from The Shining, no need to get out the axe and tear the wall apart. With some patience, they can be refinished without hiring a professional. Use an orbital sander to remove the existing finish, wipe away dust with a damp cloth, then use a stain pad on an extender pole to add the new finish. To go gray, you'll most likely have to have a semi-transparent stain custom mixed; you'll also want to lightly sand between coats to ensure that perfect finish. If you go too light, the gray can come out a little blue or green, depending on your wood tone. Stick with medium gray; many manufacturers label this "slate."
Something else to consider if you're space is just totally overrun by wood plank walls, albeit cedar or oak, is to break up the wood with drywall. You won't necessarily have to tear out any wood to do this. Use furring strips directly on top of the existing wood, screwed into the studs. Attach drywall directly into the studs, seam each sheet, add drywall mud, then sand. What you're left with is a sleek, modernized accent of wood plank. While homeowners with advanced DIY skills can do this, I'd definitely suggest a pro if there are electrical outlets, doors or windows involved.
Lovers of natural finishes may be inclined to simply sand the wood down until it's smooth and unstained. Once smooth, add a coat of shellac or polyurethane to seal it and enhance the grain. To give this a more modern touch, pair the natural wood plank with white or charcoal painted walls.
While gray-toned wood walls are definitely a modern way to go, pairing cedar tone plank walls with gray flooring can work beautifully too. If the cedar is rough and/or rustic, go a bit more sleek on the floor with smooth, satin or matte finish slate or porcelain. The contrast between the wood and floor can be stunning.
If gray is not necessarily your taste, light ash stain is another fantastic modern option. It's on the lighter side and it works nicely mixed with other wood tones.
Here's my suggestion: Paint everything white. Ceiling planks, joists, beams, drywall and wood plank walls. Painting wood white is something designers have done for years to modernize spaces. The light palette captures natural light beautifully and allows color to be played up through smaller accents.
If all-white is too clinical for you, sanding and painting planks off-white or antique white is most likely more feasible. This lightens up the space and modernizes the overall aesthetic, plus it will allow cedar or oak trim to stand out.
Here's a wood modernizing method my Mom did when I was a senior in high school: bleaching. When cedar walls are too dark and heavy, you can simply lighten them by mixing up a wood bleaching solution, then applying it to the wood. You'll need to protect your hands and wear a safety mask and ensure you're working in a well-ventilated area. The lighter tone of the wood can be enhanced with bold paint on the adjoining walls. See the original question here. What do you think?
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