For that modern rustic look.

By Megan Cahn
August 28, 2018

You've probably seen shiplap in homes before, but may never have never known its proper, and a little bit funny, name.

Today, shiplap is having a major moment in the design world. A shiplap accent can add rustic flare to any space-in the country or the city. But it's more than farmhouse-chic. Nowadays, we see the material used in modern homes. We tapped a couple experts to show us why we need shiplap in our lives and how to use it.

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Ditte Isager

What is Shiplap

Let's start with the basics: Shiplap is made of wood boards stacked horizontally on top of one another and held together with notches called "rabbets" that bind them and make the surface watertight. Does the name make a little more sense now?

Historically, shiplap has been used on barns and possibly ships to keep out wind and water. When used in the home, it was never meant to be seen. Before sheetrock and drywall, shiplap was a base layer that would be covered with muslin or cheesecloth, then with wallpaper. If you live in a very old home, there might just be a layer of shiplap waiting to be unearthed in your living room.

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It Adds Warmth and Texture

"Wood is one of those things that can instantaneously bring warmth to a room-it's wood after all!" says interior designer Emily Henderson. "It will always remind you of a cozy cabin or a rustic ski cottage and feel inviting, casual and comfortable." Shiplap can also evoke timelessness and add textural interest. "It's an instant way to make a room feel finished-no need to add art when the walls are textured in clean, matching planks," says Decorist Elite Designer Briana Nix.

It Can Be Functional, Too

Using shiplap can also be a smart way to mask a dated surface like popcorn ceiling. "It's a lot less expensive and time-consuming than skim coating," says Nix. "Now, there are even peel and stick shiplap options!" It's also incredibly durable and won't dent and scratch like drywall, so it's a perfect way to protect walls in a playroom, kids' room or hallway.

Keep it Authentic

Shiplap is something that can completely transform a room, so you want to make sure it feels cohesive, not like an afterthought. You may want to put it somewhere you would naturally find it. "My rule of thumb is the interior design of your home should reflect the architecture of your home," says Henderson. "If you live in a modern high-rise, putting centuries old shiplap on your walls may not be the best fit, but if you have a country or farmhouse style home then shiplap could enhance the character." She suggests mixing in some antique and vintage furniture, as well as a lot of textural and nubby linens, to keep things from feeling too heavy.

It Works in Modern Spaces

Nix also believes in staying true to the "bones" of your home, but she thinks shiplap can go beyond the farmhouse, if you pair it with the right furniture. "It's actually an appealing detail in contemporary architecture," she says. "You just need to place organic pieces in the room like a concrete coffee table or a leather side chair to keep it from feeling too rustic."

Experiment with Color

Painting your shiplap is another way to make sure it feels of-the-moment. "Whether in a color, white or grey, the paint will help take out the variances in the wood, which will give it a more streamlined, clean and modern look," says Henderson. Nix suggests going for dark grey or black, or even installing it vertically instead of horizontally for a new and interesting twist on the typical rustic look. "I'm dying to use it on a ceiling and paint it black with crisp white walls and minimal furniture to really bring it to date."

Use it as An Accent

Floor-to-ceiling or wall-to-wall shiplap can be a bit overwhelming. "It can often dominate the room and make it feel heavy rather than warm," says Henderson. "So use it in small doses or in smaller spaces as an accent." Nix suggests using shiplap inside a built-in bookshelf to add visual texture in a family room.

To Faux or Not to Faux

Henderson always tries to use the real version of anything, but she has seen faux shiplap that presents a good case. "Consider using an engineered version if you are in a climate with humidity, but ask your local contractor what will work for you," she says. Nix thinks it's worth it to at least research the real deal first. You might find that the original planks are thicker and dirtier than faux material, but this will give it a more authentic feel. "Although I am a modernist, I love the idea of recycling old materials and making them new again in your home," says Nix. "I have fun finding out the original source. Are the planks from an old barn? From where and what year? It's a fun conversation starter when hosting."

How to Clean Shiplap

When first cleaning sourced shiplap, Nix suggests using a mild soap meant for wooden surfaces to remove the old layers of dirt. If you're painting it, you don't want any loose or stray wood threads-the point is to have a surface with zero imperfections-so you might need to use a hard bristle brush to get the boards smooth. After, you can clean it as you would a traditional painted wall. If you go with a natural wood, Henderson recommends painting or spraying it with a matte finish to help it resist stains or oil from fingers. Then use the mild soap for upkeep.

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