Most of us have looked over the pine plywood paneling left over from the 1950's at some point and wondered how to make the most of them.

In the '50s, some people felt it was desirable to copy the 18th century to their 20th-century home. No matter that the early American settlers used the pine boards as walls or that the wealthier settlers used them to cover the imperfect walls and crude finish.

Two hundred years later, Americans were applying boards fabricated from 4-by-8 sheets of plywood, with photo-finish wood grain and routed vertical grooves designed to look like the pine boards of an earlier time. They applied these sheets to walls perfectly covered with a finish coat of gypsum board, unknown to those early Americans.

In today's home, it seems a shame to toss this plywood, especially since it provides extra insulation, and thus is more energy efficient than a single wall covering. But the visual image doesn't quite fit the concept of interior chic in the '80s. Fortunately, wall paneling is easy to paint, and that's what most people do who choose to keep it.

Painted paneling has its own charm. The look of freshly whitened wall paneling is reminiscent of seafront cottages, porches and crisp New England towns, a look that is definitely "in."

This look is infinitely more at home with contemporary furnishings than the wood finish of the original paneling. Painting the wood white or a light color lightens a room visually and brightens the entire scene.

In a living room in a small home that was built in the late '50s, I used a white paint in an eggshell enamel, a semi-gloss finish, to cover the color, as well as the man-made knotholes.

The refinished paneling made an attractive background for their collection of furnishings. The windows came first -- with a contemporary look. I finished the edge of the paneling with a new square wood frame from ceiling to floor, deep enough to accommodate white roll-up matchstick shades.

Dark cocoa-colored sisal carpets the floor wall to wall, a texture that works easily with the freshly painted woodwork. White cotton canvas covers the simple, upholstered modular seating. A shiny porcelain lamp in a pale rosy shade of terra cotta is repeated in the bowl on the table and in occasional pillows. A good-sized contemporary coffee table adds a touch of real wood to the room, and a wicker end table adds more texture.