By now, most of you have heard of shiplap and you may even ascribe Joanna Gaines from HGTV's Fixer Upper as its discoverer, however the concept of shiplap goes back way farther than the modern-day farmhouse aficionado. Like, at least 1,700 years – around the time of the Vikings!
SHIPlap derived its name from… well – ships. An ancient boat unearthed in northern Europe more than a century ago is the earliest example of clinker construction that used overlapping wood planks called lapstrakes – shiplap's precursor – to create a watertight seal. The boat was the Nydam ship from Denmark, a 24-meter-long rowboat with 15 sets of oars that was built c. 350-400 CE, around the time that Constantine was Roman emperor.
In the centuries that followed, the practice of overlapping wood planks to eliminate moisture evolved and shiplap was born, eventually making its way from boats to exterior siding for barns and sheds and subsequently found its way indoors. A non-decorative element as it was never intended to be exposed, it was placed over a home's framing to create a smooth backing for wallpaper and other wall coverings. The rough-sawn boards were first covered with cheesecloth or muslin to hide the seams and give the wallpaper grip on which to adhere.
Fast-forward to the year 2013 when Gaines exposed shiplap during Fixer Upper's inaugural season where she told her clients that she could limit renovation costs by painting the shiplap instead of covering it with drywall. With that, a modern-day farmhouse aesthetic was launched, and she became known as the "Queen of Shiplap" as she used it in subsequent episodes. People who owned houses without it raced to their nearest home improvement stores to buy it in bulk and created accent walls, headboards, fireplace surrounds – people even installed it on their ceilings!
In interior design, shiplap – also known as nickel board – is customarily painted white and mounted horizontally, but it can be painted any color and mounted vertically, as well. When placed horizontally, shiplap makes a room feel larger and when it's installed vertically, the space grows taller. These visual tricks are one of the reasons why designers and homeowners love it, but its true defining characteristic are its rabbets: step-shaped recess cuts in the edge of the board that, when met with the next board, create a "shadow-effect," providing a stunning touch.
But to many, shiplap evokes a coastal vibe which will remain timeless for those of us who live near the beach and there's a reason for that: historically, it was used in seaside cottages to keep wind and water out of the house. Oh, and yes – it was used on boats!
So, enough of the history lesson, read on for tips and ideas on how to install your very own shiplap feature wall!
First: Pick Your Feature Wall
The wall you choose to highlight should ideally be the space to which your eye is first drawn when you enter a room. Walls with fireplaces or existing design features like mantelpieces also work well. In the living room you might choose to highlight the wall behind the sofa; in the bedroom, the wall behind the bed. But once the shiplap is installed, avoid obscuring the wall with too much furniture as the aim of a feature wall is to guide the eye towards a room's best assets and design features without overwhelming or cluttering.
Next: Measure Your Space
You've no doubt heard the old adage: "Measure twice, cut once" and that applies here! Carefully measure your wall's height and width in order to figure out how much shiplap you need. There are shiplap coverage calculators online which will make this step a no-brainer and a good rule of thumb is to allow for human error by ordering an additional 10% more than you need.
Note: You can purchase MDF shiplap that has an almost "perfect look" – straight lines, very smooth surface with no knots or wood grain, but for a more authentic feel, purchase reclaimed or new wood shiplap. There are even articles online that show folks using strips of plywood or standard pine boards in order to cut costs, placing a nickel in between to create slats, but for purposes of this article, we'll talk about wooden shiplap boards with pre-cut rabbets.
Prepare the Space
Once you have your shiplap, it's important to let it sit for 48 hours in the space where it'll be installed to allow the wood to acclimate to humidity and moisture. During this time, clean up and empty the area to give yourself ample working room, wipe down your walls and baseboards, and remove wall plates and outlet covers. Set up your "workstation" with saws, tools, etc. in a garage, side patio, or adjacent room where you're not afraid to make a mess. Lastly, and this is a personal preference, I recommend removing the baseboard as opposed to installing the shiplap above it. Remove it carefully so you may reinstall it once the shiplap is hung.
Next, you'll want to make sure you have the proper tools and materials to install the shiplap.
Tools and Materials:
Mark the Studs
Find the studs using a stud-finder and mark them on the wall with a pencil. Most studs are placed 16" to 24" apart. After you identify the studs, use your beam level with pencil or a chalk line to mark the studs vertically along the wall. This will be your guide to know where to nail the shiplap.
Cut and Hang the Panels
Measure each board and cut with a chop-saw or circular saw. Start at the bottom of the wall and work your way up as this will make it easier to ensure straight lines. Cut around electrical outlets and vents using a jigsaw. Run a bead of adhesive glue along the back of each board before you nail it in. Important: Nail at a slight angle into the rabbet (at the joint) and not directly into the face of the board and make sure your air-compressor is set at a level that you countersink your nails just under the surface of the rabbet.
Each shiplap panel should securely fit into the last panel, making this easy to install. Continue to use your beam level to ensure you're keeping the boards level and even throughout the installation.
When you get to the final board at the top, you'll more than likely need to run it through a table saw to rip the board to the width you need. If you don't own a table saw, use a circular saw or a jigsaw, very carefully. If the cut isn't perfectly even, that's okay as a nice bead of caulk will smooth out any imperfections and once you paint, you'll never notice.
Finally, reinstall your baseboard trim (if you removed it), fill any nail-holes with wood putty, and caulk all seams.
Prime and Paint
If you bought pre-primed boards, go right ahead and paint, but if your boards are raw wood, you'll need to prime them first (unless you plan to keep the wood raw or stained). As noted above, shiplap is often painted white for a farmhouse aesthetic, but there are no rules. Be brave with your paint colors. If your room is already a neutral color, choose a strong contrasting shade to give the space instant drama and depth. A rich black shiplap wall in a room with lots of natural light and clean, airy colors would be a knockout… just sayin'. If your walls are already painted a bright hue, try a complementary color a few shades darker or lighter or simply leave the boards unpainted, stain or clear-coat them for rustic warmth or pair with metal to create an industrial vibe. Going coastal? Paint them a rich, navy blue!
The best thing about this project is that the sky is the limit! Decorating is no longer about following rules. Be creative with your paint colors and remember to HAVE FUN!