Is a long, blank wall staring you in the face? One that doesn't seem to lend itself to pictures or shelves?
One design solution is faux panels. These seldom-used, somewhat formal, decorative notes are actually not so complicated that they can't be done by amateurs, with some help from do-it-yourself manuals.
Anyone who can measure and miter-cut wood molding and put up quickie wallpaper or wall fabrics can transform dull-looking stretches of conventional flat paneling, dry wall or plaster. You sacrifice little or no space.
And the technique can become "new wave" or "minimal" for modernist interiors with the use of metal or Art Deco moldings or mirrored paneling.
"They add interest," says Baltimore designer Paulette Pierlot. She recently added moldings around traditional paintings in wall designs for a French restaurant.
In another design, what she calls "an ugly expanse" of wall-to-wall sliding doors and windows 27 feet wide in a condo was attractively tamed and unified by framing the tops and sides in a latticework of conventional wood molding.
Baltimore muralist and designer Thomas Van Damme, who is also known for his elaborate illusionist wall treatments, says this about interior faux panels:
"You can use them to create an illusion that a wall is something else that it isn't. Panels are useful in orchestrating space with elements that really aren't there physically. They are also useful in improving the proportions of a space."
Interest can be created on problem walls by making use of the virtually limitless moldings and custom papers and fabrics available today. Dining rooms, long hallways, libraries, dens and living rooms with high ceilings are some of the areas particularly suitable for faux-paneling techniques.
Van Damme says any decorative wall treatment has to start with the assumption that "no walls or floors are absolutely level or equal in all dimensions . . . even in new housing." You get around the hurdle of the unevenness by careful use of a carpenter's level.
He outlines the following step-by-step procedure:
You have to decide in advance on the number of panels you are going to do and their proportions. Try not to repeat the same size panels monotonously. It's better to vary things. A scheme with "a large panel in the center flanked by two smaller ones will help the total architecture of the room," Van Damme says.
Draw a Level Line
Establish the distance you want your panel from the nearest window, door or corner. Place a pencil-point mark at the middle of the outside edge of the closest piece of molding. Using the level, draw a vertical line through the pencil point as long as the piece of molding. Then measure the bottom, top and other side of the panel, drawing them on the wall in pencil, and checking the bubble to see that each line is level.
The pencil frame gives the outside dimension of the panel.
Continue along the wall, drawing each panel according to your pre-established pattern, measuring not from the floor or ceiling or shoe molding, but from the level rectangle already drawn on the wall.
Once the pattern is in place, prepare the molding. It is helpful to have an experienced handyman or carpenter make sure the corners are mitered exactly. The pieces can be cut without delay from prefinished wooden or plastic moldings, but if you use unpainted wooden moldings, you should finish them before cutting or installation.
The horizontal and vertical panels can now be placed on the wall. Run standard construction adhesive along the back of the moldings with a caulking gun and apply them to the wall. Small nails will hold the strips in place while they harden.
If your panel is to frame wallpaper or fabric, rather than paint, cut the panel inserts a little larger than the measurements of the interior of each panel. Then use a razor blade or a matte knife to trim off the excess. If you are handling a large panel that will take more than one width of wallpaper or fabric, install the central strip first and work outward from there.
Prepare a Plan
"Wallpaper and paint stores usually have brochures to help you out with the fine points of cementing with wall adhesives," Van Damme says.
Here are some additional hints:
It helps to lay out your panel scheme in advance on graph paper, using a scale of 1 inch to 1 foot.
The most pleasing proportions for wall panels are said to be in ratios of 1 to 2 or 3 to 5 along the sides, though rectangular panels in confined spaces, such as over windows or doors in high-ceiling settings, can violate this rule. Oval or half-round shapes, usually small, are also traditional in formal rooms.
A crown molding that runs around the ceiling at the top of the wall is sometimes necessary as a finishing touch to balance a room redone with fabric or paper panels. Usually it is somewhat heavier and wider than the molding of the panel.
Chair Rail Accents Room
A chair rail around a room gives another architectural accent to an interior. If you are installing one with paneling above, keep the rail 29 to 32 inches above the floor for rooms 8 feet to 11 feet high.
If your planned panels have large enough interior spaces, they can be further glamorized by hanging framed pictures, medallions, small clocks and other decorative elements inside the molding.
There is a special technique for tacking up paneling strips without the risk of splitting them. If hardwood is involved, you should drill a hole in the wood before tacking it into the wall. Use a nail with its head snipped off as a drill bit to prepare the hole. For soft woods you need only tap the nail on its point.
There's nothing wrong with picking routine moldings from your favorite home supply store. Chain hardware-lumber outlet stores are good places to look. Molding strips 8 feet long and up to an inch or so in width and are likely to cost from 50 cents to about $2 a foot.