Master Makeover: DIY Plain to Paneled Door

Updates: Watch a time lapse tutorial of the process here and see the full room reveal here!

Checking another project off the to-do list today…

So, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do about our doors.

Here’s an old shot from the hallway:

After I painted the walls an almost white/super light gray shade, it just turned into the hallway of no color. I knew I needed to do something with the cheap hollow core doors but didn’t want to break the bank. In a perfect world, they would all be beautifully constructed and detailed solid wood, but there’s no way I’m spending that much on all of the doors in the house.

Then I gave our foyer closet door a makeover...

And I loved the results. It was simple enough to do to the rest of the doors in the house.

I briefly considered making them all stained wood, but that requires veneer (which is quite costly), so I decided to go with paint instead. I ran through a few gray options but decided they would compete with the gray in the floors, and then I saw this from Dear Lillie and was absolutely sold on black:


There’s just something about black doors that brings character, richness and sophistication to a space. It’s the perfect way to break up all the white and gray in our home. Plus, our kitchen and front doors were already painted black so it was an easy answer for me.

Fortunately, our bedroom door was completely smooth so I didn’t need to apply veneer over it (our foyer door had that faux wood grain texture which I covered with veneer). That meant that all I’d need for this project is a $12 piece of 1/4″ (actual thickness = 0.2″) plywood from Lowe’s. For the foyer I used the $30 cabinet-grade 1/4″ plywood because I wanted to stain it. The $12 plywood is in the molding/paneling section (next to the beadboard) and it is pink toned on one side, which is perfect for painting.

I’ve already covered the basic method for installing the strips which you can read about in my foyer door post.

It’s so easy though… just measure and cut, spacing your horizontal pieces out evenly, and secure with a nail gun.

Flip it over and repeat for the other side. You’ll need an arbor to drill out a hole for the door handle.

Once all my pieces were attached, I sanded down the rough edges with my Mouse.

Then I spackled the nail holes and caulked where the boards met the door for a seamless look.

After drying overnight, I gave everything a nice thorough sanding with finer grit sandpaper (including the actual door panel).

Since I added almost 1/2″ of depth onto the door, I had to remove the door stop casing or else it wouldn’t close properly.

To do that, you must first cut a line with a sharp edge on all sides…

Then pry the pieces off. Luckily these ones came off really easily (you can see the three pieces in the hallway).

Some of the nails will stay in the door casing which you can just hammer back in, and break off the ones stuck in the molding.

Then clear the built up caulk from the door casing and the trim pieces so it’s nice and clean for reinstallation:

I decided to hang the door back up first before painting it because 1) it was 100° in the garage, and 2) I could turn on the TV in our room to make it more enjoyable. It really doesn’t matter either way, you just have to be slightly more careful to not paint the casing.

I used the same black that’s on the kitchen and front doors, except in a satin finish—Valspar’s Dark Kettle Black.

I haven’t tried their new Reserve line yet, but I can’t imagine needing anything better than their Signature. The coverage is amazing… here’s after just one coat:

Of course the plywood took to it better than the painted white door—it almost covered in just one coat!

All it needed was two coats and a few touchups. Easy, fast paint job (excuse the poor lighting).

Black kitty approved.

Once the handle was back on, I shut the door and nailed the casing pieces back in place so the new door would shut properly.

Then I filled the nail holes and caulked it back in. (I still have to sand and touch up paint… that will be done tonight).

Ahhh… so rich.

It’s a little difficult to see the detail through photos (I have to bump up the exposure a bit, hence the grainy-ish pics) but it’s really lovely in person. Black doors are my new most favorite thing ever.

I love the way it ties into the wall paneling.

I’ll be converting all of the doors eventually. This hallway needs some loving, I know. One step at a time.

Alright folks…. 3 more master bedroom posts until the big reveal! I’m trying to decided which task to tackle next. Either way, it’s pretty much smooth sailing from here on out so I can relax for a couple weeks before moving onto the next big project.

Check back in a few days to see what happens!

Want this look? Here’s what I used:

88 thoughts on “Master Makeover: DIY Plain to Paneled Door

  1. I love it! We've been trying to decide the best way to upgrade our boring flat doors and this could be just the ticket. Just so I understand, when you reattach the door casing, are you essentially just moving it the 1/4″ or however far to accommodate the door's new depth?

  2. Yep! It will be closer to 1/8″ since it's just the one side, but all you have to do is place the trim right up to the door when it's closed and secure them so the door can't be pushed back. No measuring involved 🙂

  3. I am loving this tutorial. So glad to know there's hope for our flat doors! I have a question about the edges of the door. Could you see the 2 layers of plywood up against the door? If so, what did you do about that? Obviously the top and bottom won't really get seen, but I was wondering about the long side (on the doorknob end).

  4. Hi Julie! Yes, you can see it. It's really not something you notice though, it blends in just fine especially when painted black. Does not bother me at all 🙂

  5. This is amazing! All of our hollow core doors have horrible cracks and peeling at the bottom. I would love to replace them, but as we have an older home, every SINGLE one of them is a custom size, and that would be crazy expensive. We painted them all white several years ago which helps….but this would be so much better!

  6. Hi, love this as a door tweak for boring hallow core doors. Another question on the door stop casing adjustments….you take off all 3 casing for each doorway and move all 3 to the new depth location, correct?

  7. Correct—all you have to do is latch the door shut and put the trim right up against the door so it can't be pushed backwards, then nail them up. Easy!

  8. Thank you SOOOOOO much for sharing this. I have those same doors, and every other house in my neighborhood has cross and Bible doors, and replacing 12 doors would have made it too expensive to be a priority.

  9. I'm sorry if this is a silly question, but do you have problems reinstalling the doors at all? I'm scared to take mine down in order to do this (which is fabulous) and then not being able to reinstall it. Also, is the doorknob affected in anyway…since the door is thicker? [email protected]

  10. Nope, no problems at all! The fastest way to do it is to remove the pins that hold the two hinges together, that way you don't have to take off all of the hinges. To reinstall, you just line them up and hammer the pins back in. It's really simple, you can't go wrong 🙂 Your door knob mechanism should have some leeway to accommodate different door thicknesses, so it goes back on exactly like it did before, no issues.

  11. Could you possibly caulk the spots where they meet like you did on the interior pieces? Sand it smooth, so the door and the plywood pieces are completely smooth all the way down, then just a tiny smidge of caulk and then smooth with your finger, just to get rid of the “two pieces together” look?

  12. I'm not sure how well that would work. Plywood is rough by nature so you'd have to do a lot of sanding, and caulk works best in gaps at an angle, not where there are two flat pieces side by side. And it also shrinks after it dries so it wouldn't stay smooth if you could even achieve that. It might help but would be difficult to make it look completely seamless, and I think way more trouble than it's worth since to me it's unnoticeable (especially painted black).

    1. If you really care about the seams on the edge of the door you can purchase an edge veneer meant to cover up the edges of a plywood project to make it look more like a real piece of wood. I imagine it would work easily for this use case as well, but as Jenna said, I think you won’t really notice it once everything is said and done. You can find edge veneer at any big box store.

  13. I am having a hard time finding the 1/8 plywood you have mentioned in your post. Is this something Lowes no longer carries? Do you have the product number by chance? If they don't carry this, in you opinion, would a 1/4 in piece work well? Thanks for your help, love the post!

  14. You know what, I think you're right. I just measured and it's actually right in between 1/8″ and 1/4″, it just seemed thinner to me. I can't locate it on their website but I did find the cabinet grade version, which says it's 0.2″ and it's the same thickness:

    I'm going to go ahead and update the post now so others don't get confused. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  15. Not a problem, this is such a great idea, I wanted to make sure I could get the proper materials to do this to our nasty hollow core doors. After doing a little more digging on Lowes website I found the following:

    This seems to be somewhere right between 1/8 and 1/4. Thanks again for the idea (my wife initially came across this post) and I am sure anyone that comes over to see our house and these doors will be impressed!

  16. We did something similar to our cabinet doors and we used wood putty which worked well. It took a couple of coats but once the final coat was sanded you couldn't see the seam. They have been up for 1.5 years and no issues.

    1. I am fascinated by this idea…..but from a different perspective..
      I have kitchen cabinet doors with panels with arched tops. In updating my kitchen I would like to make them more modern. I.e. plain and flat. Is there a way I can eliminate the panels? Maybe fill in the recessed part with wood putty and sand to make it flat. Then paint it. Could this work? Or am I just dreaming and hoping not to replace all my cabinet doors?

  17. Looks fantastic. I'm thinking of doing something like this on my mirrored closet doors. I can't afford to replace them and I like how they reflect the light but ti would be great to give them some style.

  18. BRILLIANT! I have so many of these door in our dated home that we bought for space, not fashion! I will be doing this to many of our doors! Thank you and your step by step is fantastic! Thank you!

  19. YES! Thank you so much for this post! I've seen the “reverse paneled” look created with molding, but I wanted something more contemporary looking like this. Couldn't bare to think of the expense in replacing all these hollow doors. Just amazing! You've made my day!

  20. Love your tutorial…the doors look like they belong on a 100 year old house…very cool!
    I noticed that in the picture of the long hallway the doorknobs are gold. Did you paint them as well or just install new ones?

  21. I luv your flooring. What is it and where can I get it. I've been remodeling my condo for a few months. Lot's and lots of decisions to make!

  22. Hi Jenna Sue! Thank you so much for bringing your unique asthetic to us and sharing it so opening! I've been researching how to cut holes in doors to install the knob and have a question. You used an arbor drill bit for the actual knob, but I don't see what you did to cut the hole for the latch mechanism of the door? Can you help? Thank you so much and keep up the beautiful work!…..Kristen

  23. Darn! I was hoping you wouldn't say that:) We bought a brand new door for a project and I'm struggling with that part of it! Thank you so much for the response. You're so generous with your time!!

  24. Did not see this question above did you do all doors in the house black or just front back and master new to this and want to do it right the first time

  25. This is Great! what an awesome idea!!! we just bought an 80's house and first project was going to be replace all those ugly doors…. you just saved me a ton of money!!!

  26. As long as both surfaces are untreated wood, sure! You'll want to clamp everything and/or apply heavy pressure overnight though to make sure there is a solid bond.

  27. I LOVE THIS! I have wanted to replace my doors for so, so, so long but hate the idea of spending $150 on ONE new door…let along the whole house! I have convinced my husband to let me do our bathroom door first as a test run and then go from there. I love the black but because we don't have a very “open floor” feeling in our house, I have decided to paint them white instead of black. Not a stark white though…a good white 🙂 Thank you so so so much for the inspiration!

  28. Could you tell me how wide you cut the strips? I want to do this, because it's an awesome idea! I just don't know if I just go a little bit wider than the area of the doorknob or what? THANKS!

  29. I love the new look of your house and doors are really beautiful. I don't know how much money you had put in all these. But at very reasonable prices I purchased new doors along with installation from Loft Doors, and they are worth the cost.

  30. Thank you so much for this post! This is awesome! I have thought of doing this before, but wasn't sure if the door closure would be affected. Thank you again for answering this question 🙂

  31. I love it. These small changes in a home make it look custom, quality, and well taken care of. This will help when selling your home and looks beautiful while you are living in it!

  32. Since you are not moving the hinging and door latch, won't the other side of the door(non-door stop side) stick out farther than the jamb?

    How does that look?

  33. Hi Greg—it's definitely not something you notice at all! The trim sticks out past the door anyway so I've never even paid attention to it.

  34. I noticed the 1 inch gap at the bottom of the door, like the house was carpeted at once. You could have added wood down there to reduce this gap.

  35. I am fascinated by this idea…..but from a different perspective..
    I have kitchen cabinet doors with panels with arched tops. In updating my kitchen I would like to make them more modern. I.e. plain and flat. Is there a way I can eliminate the panels? Maybe fill in the recessed part with wood putty and sand to make it flat. Then paint it. Could this work? Or am I just dreaming and hoping not to replace all my cabinet doors?

  36. Loved this idea. Started it. Got the door ready to paint. Started removing the door casing and am so discouraged. Our house was built in 1971. I scored the casing but it still ripped the frame and once the casing was removed, there is an open ridge under it! UGH!!! So want this to work. I don’t want to buy new doors right now.

  37. Couldn’t you have just moved the door hinges back 1/4″ instead of taking out door jambs and such? Also, what nail gun did you use? Lastly, could you use wood putty to fill seam on side of door? Thanks. Such great idea!

    1. I’m not sure about that… you’d have to make new holes and I don’t know if the door would close properly. Removing the door jamb seems like the easiest solution. I used pneumatic brad nailer, not sure of the brand. Caulk is better than wood putty for seams—putty would be difficult to apply and crack and not be smooth like caulk.

  38. Really nicely done! Just wondering how easy it is to take off the door stops and reattaching those. Also, attaching the door itself doesn’t seem to easy (for a casual DIYer like myself). Do you mind explaining both these step by step? Thank you so much!!!!

  39. Looks great! Did you have any problems with the doorknob not fitting due to the increased thickness of the door? I am thinking about doing the same thing, but am concerned that it might not fit back on the same way.

  40. You did such a great job! I plan to follow suit and do to some doors in my house. One question: how did you know how far to space the strips of wood on the door itself?
    Thank you!

    1. I wondered this same thing! I am going to do this after Christmas, and I thought that I could measure from the top of the door down to the bottom and then divide by 6 because of the five panels?? Otherwise you could do it just by looking and seeing if each panel is evenly spaced? Thanks

      1. Yeah, you can subtract the width of your strips and divide it by the number of panels you’d like. I also laid everything out and double checked the spacing of each before securing them. You won’t notice if it’s not perfect either. Good luck!

  41. Love this. Am hoping to do on some doors in my entryway. Should I use an 18gauge brad nailer or 16gauge finishing nailer for the door stop?
    Thank you for sharing and such a job well done!

  42. Just finishing this update to all 12 doors in my house!! Chose a 3-panel design instead of the 5, but it’s awesome. Many thanks for this blog and your amazing work!

  43. I see you removed the casing on the inside of the door way to accommodate for the additional width from adding the plywood. What about the outside? Once the door shuts does it stick out on the opposite side past the casing? Or does it sit flush like it did previously?

  44. I was wondering on the door knob assembly since the door is thinker can you still use the same parts. Seems the inside bar that extents to each knob would be to short.

  45. Love this, thanks for sharing! We’re going to start on our plain ol’ hollow core doors this weekend. Curious if you recall approx. how wide you cut each strip of plywood? Thanks again for the great post!

  46. I love this project. I’m fixing to start on my doors and black has always been the color I was going to use because I love the richness of it. I recently redone the walls surrounding the door in question with old fashioned barn tin on the bottom and rustic pallet boards on top with stained 1×4’s as the trim and chair rail. The stain is English chestnut which is on the dark side. The floors are a laminate wood grain plank that is medium in color. What do you think about black for the doors?? Too dark???? Or not???? What about the casing? Should I paint it black as well???

  47. This blog was a god send for me. I tried to click on the link for the explanation and it kept giving me an error page. Will you please tell me how wide you cut your pieces? Are they about 3″ . I know I will have to adapt to my door size of course but it would be helpful. Thank you 🙂

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