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Shiplap: What It Is And How To Use It

Molly GraceDecember 06, 2019

Every so often, home designers seize on a somewhat boring, utilitarian building element and ask themselves: Can we make this stylish?

When it comes to shiplap, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Shiplap has risen dramatically in popularity in recent years, mostly thanks to the HGTV “Fixer Upper” stars’ affinity for the material. Shiplap can drastically change the look of a home, and is a great choice for home renovators who are looking to update their space to get that coveted modern farmhouse or rustic chic interior design look.

For those who are new to shiplap and wondering if it could give their home the look they’re going for, let’s go over what, exactly, shiplap is and how you can implement it into your home.

What Is Shiplap?

Shiplap is an interior design element that uses wooden wall siding to create a textured wall effect. Often painted white, long wooden planks are horizontally mounted with a slight gap between them, creating a historic or even ship-inspired look.

After reading that, you might be picturing wood paneling. While they might look similar once installed, the two design elements have a few key differences. For starters, shiplap is typically installed horizontally, while wood paneling is often featured vertically, particularly in older homes.

Shiplap also isn’t only an in-home design choice. Traditionally, it has been used to keep cabins and cottages located in harsh climates weathertight. It’s an extremely practical building element, and can be used on sheds or other outbuildings to keep them safe from the elements.

Real Vs. Faux Shiplap

What makes shiplap unique is its weathertight quality, made possible by the grooves in the wood that allow shiplap pieces to be fitted together in a way that overlaps, securing it from wind and rain. These grooves are called rabbets.

For a true shiplap wall, you’ll specifically need shiplap boards. However, if you’re looking for an easy and inexpensive way to get the same look, you can horizontally mount sheets of plywood cut into planks.

Shiplap Decorating Ideas

Shiplap is fairly versatile as a design element, and can work with a variety of home styles, from traditional to modern. However, it’s most common in farmhouse-style homes.

Shiplap can work in any room of the house where you’re looking to add visual interest. Your living room is an obvious place to start, whether you do a full installation or a single accent wall, but it can also look great in the kitchen, bedroom or even the bathroom.

You can also play around with the look to create different visual illusions. If you want the room to feel taller, mounting the shiplap vertically can help you achieve that.

Wood dining table with four chairs and shiplap accent wall.

Shiplap Accent Wall

Whether you don’t have it in the budget for a full-room redo, are DIYing it and don’t have the time for more than one wall or want to avoid overdoing the look in a larger space, a shiplap accent wall can really make a space pop. Sometimes less is more.

Only doing a smaller accent wall can also be a good choice if you want to try a slightly unusual look, like installing it diagonally or using shiplap painted in a bold color. That way, you can make a statement without overwhelming the room.

Living room with horizontal shiplap accent wall.

Shiplap Ceiling

You can even install shiplap on your ceiling if you so choose. While it might seem like an unconventional choice, a shiplap ceiling might be the way to go if you like the look but are wary of putting it in a spot that immediately draws the eye. After all, shiplap offers texture and interest, it’s also somewhat visually heavy and tends to draw attention to itself compared to drywall.

If that’s what you’re going for, shiplap walls will likely fit your design needs. However, if you want a more subtle look that helps to add dimension to the room, installing shiplap on your ceiling might make more sense. Depending on how it’s finished, it can also help create a rustic or modern flair without being overpowering.

Eat-in kitchen and dining room with shiplap ceiling.

Shiplap Accents

Shiplap doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and if you like the look but only in small doses, there are plenty of ways you can implement it into your home without having to redo a whole room, or even an entire wall.

For example, shiplap could be utilized on or around your staircase by mounting it on the exterior of the staircase beneath the stairs, or on the walls that surround it. Shiplap can also make a great backsplash for a farmhouse-style kitchen – just be sure to finish with a protective coat to avoid water damage. For a cozy and rustic look, install shiplap on the wall surrounding your fireplace.

You could also use shiplap to create interesting decor looks. For example, creating a shiplap headboard for your bedroom.

Staircase with shiplap accent wall.

DIY Shiplap: How To Install Shiplap Yourself

Installing shiplap is fairly straightforward, making it an appropriate project for beginners. It also only requires a few tools, so a DIY installation won’t require you to go out and buy a bunch of stuff to get the job done.

To install a shiplap wall, here are the tools you’ll need:

·      Stud finder

·      Hammer or nail gun and 2-inch nails

·      Level

·      Power saw

If you’re using plywood boards instead of true shiplap, you may want to paint the wall before you begin, so that you have a fresh coat to show through the gaps in the planks. You’ll also need to remove wall trim. If you’re painting your shiplap, you’ll want to do that before installing it on the wall, so you can easily paint the edges.

Man painting wall with roller.

Measure your walls to determine how much shiplap you’ll need. Once you purchase your shiplap, let the boards sit out in your home for at least a couple days to allow the material to adapt to your home’s climate.

Man measuring wall with tape measure.

Once you’re ready to get started, you’ll use the stud finder to locate the studs in your walls. You only want to nail your shiplap into the studs, not the drywall, to ensure you get a sturdy hold. Mark where the studs are so you can find them easily when you’re working.

Man using stud finder.

Then, decide how you want to mount your shiplap. If your planks aren’t long enough for a single one to cover the width of your wall, cut two or more boards so that when they are lined up next to each other, they fill the full width of the wall. You may even want to stagger these cuts so that each row of boards is cut off at different points.

Person sawing wood boards.

It will probably be easiest to install the boards from the bottom up. Be careful to get this just right – if your first board is even slightly crooked, the whole wall will be noticeably slanted. This is where a level will come in handy. Ensure that the board is perfectly level before nailing it in.

Woman using a level to measure on a wall.

If you’re using a board that isn’t true shiplap, you’ll want to use some sort of spacer to get the same look, where the boards have some space in between rows. Many DIYers going the faux shiplap route recommend using coins as spacers (just be sure to use only one type of coin, like nickels). Place the spacer flat on the previously installed plank to create even spacing between that one and the one you’re installing above it.

Shiplap wall.

Work your way up the wall, nailing the boards into the wall at the studs. Use two nails per stud with every board you attach. Once you’ve completed the installation, use spackling compound to fill in nail holes, and smooth it out with sandpaper. Remove the spacers. If you painted the shiplap, you can do one more final coat.

Welcome home pillow on an entryway bench in front of a shiplap wall.

Make It Yours

Shiplap is having a moment right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s cliché to implement it into your home. Shiplap is versatile, so don’t be afraid to use it in a way that complements your style and current decor. Use it as an accent, paint it a bright color or use it to create a fun pattern on your walls. Take the trend and make it your own.

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    Molly Grace

    Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.