Published on February 19, 2020

The stuff that makes you think of your grandmother’s basement and smoky beer halls is no longer a fad better left in the ’70s. Wood paneling is on its way to making a bona fide comeback, all thanks to spaces like the just-opened Palihotel San Francisco.

The property is the latest destination from Palisociety founder Avi Brosh, who swathed the reception area in oak—a nod to the building’s existing turn-of-the-century molding (seen in the second-floor bar-restaurant, Fisher Loft). “The notion of something feeling dated can also create a sense of warmth and familiarity,” says Brosh. Whether you’ve got a retro fixer-upper on your hands or you’re hoping to bring more natural textures into your home, here are three ways to make the material look fresh.

Mix Design Eras

plant on a mirrored pedestalPin It
Photography courtesy of Palihotel San Francisco

In other words: Don’t commit to one aesthetic. Brosh wanted to create a tension between the regality of the original wainscoting and the more contemporary panel system. New-school accents—think: globe sconces and woven armchairs–accomplish this, but so do truly old-school elements like vintage oil paintings. 

Introduce an Unexpected Material

built in ribbed bench nookPin It
Photography courtesy of Palihotel San Francisco

“The best design is when there’s a counterintuitive approach,” says Brosh. Polar-opposite textures like ribbed velvet cushions or earth-toned tiles immediately make woodwork feel modern because they’re so unexpected. 

Embrace Imperfections 

velvet and iron chairs in an old roomPin It
Photography courtesy of Palihotel San Francisco

Wood paneling’s much older sister, carved wainscoting, can appear passé in its own way—read: too stiff and serious—when it’s in pristine condition. While Brosh didn’t touch the distressed detail at the Palihotel (it came that way, perfectly timeworn), you can re-create the look by stripping parts of the molding or splattering sections with paint. The same goes for the new planks—visible knots and whorls in the grain are very much welcome. In this case, a little rough around the edges is a good thing. 

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