6 ideas to decorate a knotty pine room in classic retro style

vintage style barkcloth

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How to decorate a knotty pine den, basement, sunporch or living room? Here are six ideas if you want to play up the classic 1950s outdoorsy kitschy look, using new sources available today as well as some vintage if you are up for the hunt.

barkcloth curtains

more Full Swing

1. Barkcloth curtains: The pattern above is, quite aptly: “Moonlight in the Pines” from Full Swing Textiles. This would be so my favorite pattern to put in a knotty pine den, if I had one. As you can see, the intensity of the colors are perfectly dialed to harmonize with knotty pine walls. I am a big fan of this shade of green for knotty pine rooms. And the stronger pops of rust and black — great. I have several samples of Full Swing Textiles in my archives — this stuff is NICE, the best reproduction barkcloth that I have seen. They have more designs that would be great for knotty pine rooms – so fun to browse.  For other places that sell vintage- and vintage-style barkcloth see my story 7 places to buy barkcloth. Oh, and do I really even need to say it: You will transform this barkcloth into pinch-pleat draperies hung on traverse rods. Paint the traverse rods wrought iron black (assuming you have wrought iron cabinet pulls and the like.)

braided rugs from thorndike mills

2. Braided rugs: Thorndike Mills is a Massachusetts company that has been making braided rugs since 1925. I <3 this company. And, I <3 braided rugs for midcentury modest houses, knotty pine or no knotty pine. Braided rugs like these are a great way to bring your accent colors into your knotty pine room in a subtle, pleasing and functional manner. These rugs can travel room-to-room easily, if you want to change up a look. And, these rugs will last forever — you will be handing them down to your grandkids. Braided rugs go on my timeless list. Note: Thorndike Mills’ website has been improved significantly since I first wrote about the company; so fun to play with their rooms selector — now we just need to get them to add a knotty pine room!

early american decorating3. Early American decor: The vintage fire station sign above came from my mother-in-law, who bought it at a decorating store in Birmingham, Mich., in the late 1950s. It was new — not a real antique… all part of the Early American revival so popular throughout the post WWII period.

vintage horse bucklesThe horse saddle buckles are also vintage-1950s… and once I had three from my mother-in-law, I quickly received two more as gifts. Today, these varieties of Early American wall decora are not uber-popular. Yet, this stuff is also coming out of houses everywhere like crazy — because it was uber popular back in the day.Keep your eyes open, and you can find stuff like this very inexpensively. Once you get your head around Early American, you can see the loveliness — and this stuff is Well Made. In a knotty pine or wood-panelled room (like our cherry paneled basement family room), the strong colors really pop against the wood. Note: I have several decorative items with these same colors all grouped on the fireplace wall; you need things to make vignettes like these with a minimum of three items, at the least.

wagon wheel light4. Wagon wheel lights: Okay, so you don’t have to go all-out for the antlers… but consider a wagon wheel light, or a wagon wheel-esque light… basically, consider Early American.
hobnail glass lightFor example: I found the smallish “ship’s wheel” ceiling fixture above — with original hobnail glass shades — for like $5 at the Re-Store. I had it rewired, and it’s now in my office. I love it. The size of the light and its close-to-the-ceiling profile is just perfect for my small office. And there’s just something about its… retro gravitas. If that make sense.

5. Stiffel table lamps: If the kitsch factor of the wagon and ships wheels are a wee bit too much for you, take a look at vintage Stiffel table lamps from the 1950s and 1960s. They often have Early American styling — but sort of very classic, at the same time. They also travel room-to-room, house-to-house very well; we have two sets from my mother-in-law, these lamps are just lovely. They are abundant on ebay (above; *affiliate link), often at great prices. Get educated on what to watch for, and I bet you can find them at great prices locally, too. These were expensive back in the day — they are great lamps.

black iron cabinet pulls6. Wrought iron cabinet pulls and other accessory hardware: Wrought iron and knotty pine go together like peanut butter and jelly. Acorn Manufacturing is one of the top makers, but you can also find much less expensive knock offs. And remember, you’re gonna spray paint your traverse rod this color, too, before you hang your pinch pleats.

Readers, what other ideas do you have for
decorating a knotty pine room in retro-classic style?

And, have you uploaded your photos to our knotty pine interiors photo gallery?

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    • pam kueber says

      WOAH! Those rooms are STUNNING! Okay if I add these to our KP photo gallery and potentially show on the main page of the blog at some point??? Gorgeous!

      • Laura E. says

        Go ahead, Pam!

        (That’s the main house for the cutesey guest cottage with the Youngstown cabinets.)

        • pam kueber says

          Ohhhhh…. You are THAT Laura! :) I shoulda known, you got the decorating beauteousness goin’ on! P.S. I Waaaaaaant a vintage zebra rug from Parish-Hadley, pretty please with sugar on top!

  1. Miss Wynonna says

    Another lighting option for the Knotty Pine decor, Either genuine, or reproduction Gone with the Wind lamps. As well as the cast iron kerosene kerosene wall lamp brackets used as plant holders.

  2. Karen says

    In my mind’s eye, knotty pine panelling requires plaid upholstery. Not the sad, tired hand-me-downs of post-college apartments, but crisp plaids that set the outdoorsy mood. Think Pendleton and Woolrichs of the ’50s.

  3. Stacy says

    I just happen to have found some green barkcloth at an estate sale last week. I haven’t even unfolded it to see how much there is, but I could post it on the forums page if anyone is looking for some. It’s best described as “asparagus” I think. It would probably look great next to knotty pine.

  4. LauraLee says

    We have a knotty pine family room in our 1962 ranch. We took out green shag carpeting when we moved in and found green “rec room” linoleum. Our new carpeting is an off-white shag that is easy clean. Being horse people, we ended up with equestrian decor in the family room … wrought iron accents and horse prints on the wall. Horse knick-knacks from my 60s childhood found a home on the bookshelves. We have an old leather chair and an ottoman with a wrought iron frame that came from my grandparent’s house by the fireplace. At Christmas, our tree is covered with horsey ornaments and the BIG lights!

    • chris says

      The big fat chunky Christmas lights????? I LOVE them! I am so goofy… this is the time of the year when I start wistfully thinking of Christmas. Crazy, I know!

      • Michael says

        You’re not alone, Chris! I am a Christmas spazz and am already planning this year’s decor. Last month I bought a few boxes of vintage Noma “Kristal” lights (large round bulbs with a sugar-coated look) that I can’t wait to use!

  5. Bill says

    I love my kitchen…but I just can’t get past that knotty pine. It’s in perfect shape and I’ve resisted the urge to paint for almost 25 years now. If just looks outdated and dark. The cabinets are also knotty pine with coppery hardware. Built well – no changes since 1941 when it was installed. HELP! I’m losing my patience. I have a 1915 Dutch Colonial…I’ve done the kitschy thing already and need to move past that. IDEAS? SUGGESTIONS? THANKS!

    • Lisa says

      Bill, what do you have for countertops and flooring? You could keep the pine and change those two items out for something lighter. I am with you on the retro — I love retro things but personally would not enjoy living in a time-capsule house (love to see other people’s but don’t want my own). Maybe browse the Ikea website or store and see what they show with their “Fagerland” pine cabinets for ideas. I’d also change out the copper hardware for black or oil rubbed bronze — get something chunky and substantial that will update the look but go with the woodsiness. It’s not so popular with readers on this blog, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that stainless appliances could look really lovely with the pine. Finally, I’d put in textiles/curtains that are very simple in style and either all- or mostly-cream colored. Very light, almost white cream.

      • pam kueber says

        I also was thinking about this question. Maybe something architectural — like making the window or windows into the kitchen much bigger would be a first step toward blasting more light in. Another idea: Take off some wall cabinet doors, paint the inside of the cabinets. Change out the floor to something brighter… I’m trying to think of ideas that don’t require trashing the cabinets.

      • Bill says

        Lisa, Pam and Saundra:

        Thanks so much for the ideas! I already have stainless appliances – which I really like with the pine. Boring, but functional granite counters in beige, black grey tones. Also have a GIANT iron picture window with about 30 panes. I like the idea of toning down the pine with a stain that let’s the grain through….sorry purists!! Some curtains to replace the giant roller shade might help too. I’ll post pics if I can clean the Place up a bit. Bill

        • Bill says

          Oh, and I also took the out of reach top cabinet doors off, painted the inside bright white, put in a short string of rope lights and put cool textured glass in the openings. Make a nice nite lite and breaks up the pine a bit.

    • Saundra A. says

      One of the things that dates most of the knotty pine kitchens I’ve seen is the yellow orange tone of the wood. What about a dark chocolate stain or glaze (something that won’t soak into to knots) to tone down the wood color. With bright cream colored counters, walls and sand colored floor, it would give a more timeless feel.

  6. Eliza says

    I need to see more pictures of that kitchen with the rag rug under the table (and red napkins). Any chance you could get some more angles of that room?

  7. says

    The kitchen of my mom’s 1950s house has a to-die-for knotty pine kitchen. I would KILL for her cabinets. And she’s planning a kitchen re-do, and is going to paint over them. :o( I’ll try to steer her here to see examples of some awesome knotty pine kitchens, but I’m starting to think there’s just no hope.

  8. says

    I loved that Indian blanket look, Ralph Lauren did it in the 80s and so did Bob Timberlake. It is perfect with knotty pine. Or just lay a Pendleton blanket along the back of the sofa.

  9. Jay says

    Howza bout colonial styled maple furniture from the 50s and 60s? Looks good sitting on those braided rugs.
    Also, in my neck of the woods, home to some of the famous horse shows, horsey stuff (old and new) has never gone out of favor and commands high prices in the shops.

  10. daniel bryant says

    hey pam, i know this is not really related, but you should do an article on a piece of mid-century technology that is outside nearly all of our houses today, the silverliner streetlight (aka the cobrahead). they’re found nearly everywhere and are still used to light up streets, with the design changing very little over the years.

    the most major change is that almost all of them have been adapted to have sodium-vapor bulbs that shine an orange light— the originals, which are around here and there, shone a green light due to the mercury vapor bulbs. almost all the streetlights in the country now shine a yellowish orange glow but back in the day all the streetlights had that weird green glow from the mercury vapor

  11. says

    I am LOVING these posts, because our new house has a guest room/office with all knotty pine walls… but the knotty pine has been varnished very, very dark brown. We’re getting some walls guys in to remove the leathery wallpaper from my daughter’s room, and I might have them check out the knotty pine level, as well, to see if it’s a natural color. If not, maybe we can brighten it up a bit!

    Definitely checking out Full Swing Textiles! I am LOVING their Paris stripe!

  12. Judy H. says

    Thanks for the info on cleaning the already finished knotty pine. I was thinking I needed a special cleaner for that. If I decide to keep the knotty pine, the only item I have that you mentioned are the lamps! (my hubs hates the lamps, but I’ve always loved them) So, I guess I’ve got some deco. changing to do….

  13. rebecca wright says

    I am trying to turn my living room/ kitchen into a 1950’s fishing cabin. I could sure use some tips and Idea’s. I would love to hear what other idea’s might be out there.

  14. says

    I am in love with Betty Draper’s knotty pine kitchen on Mad Men. We have painted oak cabinets in our 1966 house, but definitely debating some plaid wallpaper on the soffit above our cabinets.

  15. Alice says

    I’m about to buy a house with knotty pine cabinets. The floors throughout are just as old, awful vinyl tiles, and will put in new floors. Would bamboo be too fussy or too fancy? I was going to do tile that looks like wood, found that a dark or light tile did not go well, but a regular medium brown was good. Any suggestions? Small kitchen, has white appliances, a pinkish formica counter which I’ll replace with granite or maybe Carrera marble, which I’ve read here is quite nice. Any ideas?

    • pam kueber says

      I have not heard good things about the either the short- or long-term durability of bamboo. Bamboo flooring has no provenance that I know of in mid century houses; it is not appropriate for a restoration. For a kitchen like the one you are describing, I would tend to recommend linoleum or vinyl sheet or squares. See our Kitchens/Flooring category for all our research on possible solutions.

      Granite or Carrera marble on countertops, similarly, has no provenance within mid century kitchens — this material is not appropriate for a restoration. In addition, knotty pine is a humble material. A humble material like Formica or another laminate is perfect. If your pinkish Formica is in good shape and looks good with the knotty pine, regular readers here would tend to do a happy-dance and baby it for decades to come. We are “Love the House You’re In” kinda people here.

      Finally… Please know that old floor tiles and their underlayment components can contain vintage nastiness such as asbestos — find a properly licensed professional and consult with them on what’s in your materials to know what you are working with and to make informed decisions how to handle. Good luck.

    • Terri says

      Please consider what Pam says. I personally hate granite countertops like fire. They are hard and cold and fragile. They look heavy and pretentious. A nice Formica is what you want.

      My soon-to-be-mine knotty pine kitchen has humble low-keyed butcherblock patterned Formica with a nice backsplash. It will do just fine until I can replace it with either turquoise boomerang or bittersweet. I also plan on tearing up the hideous new vinyl installed by the sellers to “brighten up the place.” and am going with old school linoleum tiles, probably in off-white/brown/turquoise (or orange, depending on where I go with the counters).

      In my last house, which was a 60s garage-to-cottage conversion, the countertops were a lovely cream/aqua boomerang. We found some gorgeous vinyl that mimicked hardwoods (even had a woodgrain texture) and it is gorgeous and wore like iron, even when we were paper-training puppies.

      Best of luck, I hope it turns out. But, I really hope you pass on the granite.

      • Alice says

        Thank you all for your kind suggestions. I’m going to pass on the house. An $88K house, appraised at $65K, then needing $10K before moving in, not a good idea. The sellers think their rental property is palatial. I’m really going to miss the knotty pine cabs. Bamboo would have been out because it just, IMO, did not look good. I was looking at a plain light maple laminate. Sigh. Alas. Thank you for your very good comments. Loved them all.

  16. Jayne says

    I am living in a one room school house. We are adding a screen/ three season room. I want the knotty pine feel. THe school house was built in 1849 I love it but need that PLACE to hide when we have the extra company visiting!

  17. Leslie says

    My husband and I are moving into our new home in a week and are over-the-moon excited about the knotty pine walls and cabinets in the kitchen and matching walls in the den, set just off the kitchen. House is 1959 and has an all-around rustic feel to it. The fir-down above the kitchen cabinets is covered with a wallpaper that has discolored and is peeling off. I will be removing the wallpaper altogether and then adding texture and paint to that small area. The formal living and dining is just off the other end of the kitchen and needs re-painting as well. I would love to coordinate the fir-down area above the cabinets with the paint color of the other room but am at a loss. I am reading a lot about natural green tones…olive green, asparagus, fern etc… does anyone have any ideas or experience with painting accent walls/areas in a predominantly knotty pine area? Thanks!

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