Knotty pine's orange-brown coloring and spattering of dark brown or black knots -- some as big as dessert plates -- are hard to ignore, but when the wood engulfs the space from floor to ceiling in the form of paneling or cabinetry, it can be a design throwback, seemingly sending your living room decades into the past. Use furniture, window treatments, color and accessories to bring the woodsy space back to the future.
An all-white space can be too hospital-like even for a modern home, but in a living room with knotty pine walls, white -- along with a little black -- provides balance. Paint trim, doors and the ceiling white, and any dated wood furniture black. A wood-on-white effect brightens the room and black elements offer high-contrast, which are keys to modern design.
For more light reflection, give pine walls a couple of coats of high-gloss varnish or white paint; or, deemphasize knots with dark gray, blue or green stain.
Again, a bright living room appears more modern than a dark one, so choose the window treatments wisely. Sheer-white horizontal cellular or pleat-style shades are more than contemporary; they flow seamlessly alongside horizontal wall planks. Visual flow helps to downplay the wood's rustic tone, making it blend in rather than appear framed or on display, as it would if it were flanked with floor-to-ceiling curtains or vertical blinds.
Forward to Furniture
It's practically impossible to ignore the polka-dot effect of knotty pine, so, if you don't plan to paint it, work the spotty pattern into the design. You don't have to go overboard -- unless you're going for eyebrow-raising drama; a slender statement chair with a brightly dotted print and couch with polka-dotted cushions may be all you need. Control clutter, adapt a minimalist design, and opt for slim, svelte molded pieces rather than clunky furniture for a contemporary vibe -- a mishmash of overstuffed furniture, collectibles and dust collectors ages a wood-wrapped space.
Tip: Use a patterned chair's color to set the tone for the whole room. Don't be shy: The brighter the accent color, the more modern the effect.
Bright Accessory Ideas
Use an existing upholstery color to help you choose contrasting accessories. For example, if your gray, black or white sofa is dotted with aqua "bubbles" or swirls, opt for complementary orange-red accents for visual impact; hits of orange tie vaguely into the walls, helping them blend in or make sense. Punchy color opposites grab attention, in this case, returning the focus from surrounding wood walls to the room's bright blue decor.
Opt for large mirrors for light reflection and brightly colored artwork in wide white frames to cover as much wall surface as possible. Abstract art has more modern appeal than figurative content, depending on the subject matter.
Incorporate a few effects, such as brightly colored oil lanterns, to keep the look contemporary but with a throwback twist. It doesn't matter whether you're updating a living room, kitchen, bedroom or an entire home, the updating process goes smoothly when you accept the wood and find ways to work it smartly into the design rather than fight its presence.