Mahogany Wall Paneling
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We dialed up the midcentury modern factor up to 11 in our living room with wood paneling.
I loooooove wood paneling. I especially love Eichler mahogany panels, but I even sort of love weird 1970s plastic wood paneling. Our house has a dividing wall that does not go all the way up to the vaulted ceiling, but stops at 8 feet.
Our house had tongue and groove pine paneling that had been painted. I planned to wait awhile to re-panel it, but a free weekend came up and we decided to tackle it since we thought it would be a quick project (it wasn’t).
Before and after:
We still need to add the trim back around the edges of the wall and the shelving. Speaking of the shelving, we decided to cover the bottom shelf. We don’t need all four, and the bottom shelf was in the way while sitting on the couch. I painted the shelves a warm taupe gray (that I cannot remember the name of) to make them blend in. I may repaint one day if I can decide on a color.
A lot of midcentury homes have a shorter wall separating spaces without going to the ceiling, and often it is wood.
Inspired by all the Eichler mahogany walls, I researched the type of wood used and found out it is usually not mahogany, but luan (also spelled as lauan, and known as Philippine mahogany or Luan Mahogany). It is common at big box hardware stores, but has a wide range of possible quality.
I used luan plywood for my office paneling (I seriously would panel my entire house if I could). It turned out pretty well, but there is a bit of unevenness in the panels that wasn’t noticeable until I stained it. Because this wall is one of the most visible in the house, I wanted something a little more consistent than the panels in my office.
Suburban*Pop has a post about DIY luan wood walls for a living room wall and it looks excellent, so if you’re into paneling and want a beautiful/inexpensive option, don’t discount luan!
We opted to do 4-foot by 8-foot sheets of mahogany veneer over 1/4-inch plywood panels and love how it turned out, even if I did almost cry a few times installing it. If I was doing this again I would use mahogany veneer plywood, and I highly recommend doing that instead. I can’t remember why I thought doing the veneer ourselves would be easier or more cost effective, but I was wrong on both counts. The color is definitely more consistent than the paneling in my office, but the left panel is a little darker than the other three.
Hanging Panels and Applying the Veneer (the hard way)
Again, I recommend not doing it this way, but if you prefer the hard way, this is how we did it. We did this project before I decided to start this site, so unfortunately I don’t have photos or specific steps. I do have the general how to, and more importantly what NOT to do if you attach the veneer yourself.
- Measure wall and figure out how many pieces of plywood and veneer you’ll need. In our case, both the plywood and veneer were 4 feet wide, so it was about 3.4 panels (rounded up to 4) of each needed.
- Cut plywood as needed, and attach to walls. We used a brad nailer for this. Make sure the panels are all flush to each other and none are sticking up on the edges. Since we veneered over them, we didn’t worry about where the seams were. If you use pre-veneered panels, make sure to consider where you want your seams.
- Decide how you want your veneer on the wall, and carefully cut if needed with an exact-o knife or rotary cutter. As long as your plywood pieces flush to each other and the edges are not sticking up, the veneer pieces do not need to match up with the plywood pieces.
- For example, we wanted the middle seam to be perfectly centered on the wall, so we started with full uncut 48 inch pieces meeting in the middle, then only cut the edge pieces to be less wide to match the edge of the wall. We waited to cut out the shelf openings until after the veneer was up.
- In a well ventilated area, apply contact cement with a foam roller to the back of the panel, and to the wall. It can get messy, so put down plastic or drop clothes. Follow the instructions exactly! It worked best for us to apply a coat, wait for it to soak in to the backing, then apply more, THREE times. For our second panel I decided to cut corners and only do two coats, and we got so many bubbles where the paneling separated from the plywood. It really needs to soak in properly.
- This was the worst. We ended up needing 3 gallons of contact cement, and was time consuming to apply properly. When we followed the instructions carefully it worked very well, but it was lot of effort for such a big area.
- Once the contact cement is ready (according to the instructions, when they are tacky to the touch), carefully press the veneer to the wall starting in a top corner and working your way down the edge making sure it is perfectly aligned to whatever guide/panel/edge you’re matching it to, then over to the other side moving in small sections.
- Once the sticky veneer even lightly touches the wall it is STUCK. Make sure to keep it away from the wall until you’re ready to press down that section.
Materials & Tools
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Veneer: 4×8-foot sheets of Sauers mahogany veneer* (we purchased at our local Woodcraft)
Shellac: Zinsser Clear Shellac*
Contact Cement: Weldwood Original Contact Cement*
Plywood: ¼ inch 4×8 plywood panels
Roller: Small foam roller
Drop cloth: Canvas drop cloth
Finish nailer and nails: Dewalt Finish Nailer*
Utility Knife: Utility Knife