Here’s the Skinny on Whether you Should Shiplap Your House

I read this advice the other day on a blog talking about shiplap. When you read this, tell me if this statement helps you decide if you should install shiplap in your home:

“We love how easily it brings a historic vibe to any space that is refined and thoughtful yet casual.”

Huh?

Are you any further ahead now in making a decision on whether you should install it in your home?

No.

Here’s how you’ll know.

Is your house countrified or modern farmhouse?

Seaside or beachy?

Cottage?

Here's the Skinny on Whether you Should Shiplap Your House | Maria Killam

From Garden and Gun

My caution is, as with any trend, it isn’t appropriate to every house or design situation.

If you have a spacious house with a farmhouse feel, or a beachy cottage where a painted wood panel finish fits and makes sense, by all means, go for it.

But if, like many of us, that is not your situation, and instead you have a regular new build in the suburbs, or a house from the 80’s or 90’s with a two story foyer and great room, shiplap is NOT GOING TO WORK. Instead, it will look contrived, trendy, out of place and, in the end, tacky.

All those modern 70’s homes with tongue and groove cedar ceilings? If you paint out the wood, you will actually end up with a shiplap look which suddenly looks beachy. Not a fit with this architectural style either.

I do think the related trend for reclaimed wood walls  is definitely on the wane.

The rustic wood panelling looks pretty here (below) contrasted with a glam chandelier, but it is the one feature I would easily tire of in this room.

Looks great as long as the decorating in the room coordinates with it. However, a new look would necessitate a new paint job on the ceiling as well.

Here's the Skinny on Whether you Should Shiplap Your House | Maria Killam

 Whitney Donáe via Pinterest
Same for the wood accent wall in this kitchen below. It could look like 70’s panelling pretty quick.
Here's the Skinny on Whether you Should Shiplap Your House | Maria Killam

A good place to indulge in the trend if you don’t have the architecture to support it, could be in a powder room.

Here's the Skinny on Whether you Should Shiplap Your House | Maria Killam

Hi Sugarplum

Here's the Skinny on Whether you Should Shiplap Your House | Maria Killam

via Williams & Spade

Here's the Skinny on Whether you Should Shiplap Your House | Maria Killam

Via pinterest

It works in this bedroom (below) because it’s countrified. And, faux shiplap is probably a good solution to popcorn ceilings in some cases.

Here's the Skinny on Whether you Should Shiplap Your House | Maria Killam

Via Pinterest

If you don’t have the architecture for it, you could use it in isolated rooms in smaller applications if you must (below), but I would not recommend installing it all over your living room walls, or your kitchen backsplash or your fireplace unless the look of the rest of the house absolutely supports it.

Here's the Skinny on Whether you Should Shiplap Your House | Maria Killam

The White Buffalo Styling Co.

In case you’re wondering if I like shiplap? Yes it definitely adds interest, as long as it works with the style of your home.

I recently had a visit with a couple who are huge fans of Fixer Upper. The wife joked that Joanna Gaines was her husbands girlfriend.

They live in a builder home from the 80’s with a small oak kitchen and small great room with the staircase attached on one side.

They showed me a photo of the wrought iron X staircase they were going to install in their house.

Here’s an inspiration photo below:

x-staircase

via fixer upper

I looked at the photo of the about-to-be-installed staircase and looked up at their stairs and I must admit I was speechless.

If I’m in your house and I’m not talking, it’s because I’m calculating how devastating my bad news will be.

Sometimes I start carefully, by asking questions.

How much have you spent on this already, I inquired?

“$600” replied the husband. “And spent two weeks building it in my shop.”

“Okay good”, I said “Because you can’t put that staircase in here. It will become the most important feature of this end of the house, and it doesn’t work at all, with your style of home.”

The wife looked relieved. She said “I didn’t think it was right and it seemed too heavy”. The husband paused for a minute and then said “I’ll turn it into a gate instead”. Next he put his arm around me and started walking me around the house asking other questions.

Whew, crisis averted.

When you’ve seen as many homes as I have in my career, this kind of advice is easy for me. But I would rather you asked me BEFORE you did that much work.

It’s the same with shiplap. Since the Gaines are apparently single-handedly responsible for bringing this trend into existence, I thought it was a good place to tell the staircase story as well.

The lesson of the day? Every trend you love CANNOT go in YOUR house. Loving something should not get confused with “Will it work here?”

The minute you install it, and it becomes obvious that it clashes, you’ll stop loving it.

Just this morning, I received a blurry photo from a reader who had stumbled upon my website. She sent me a photo of a kitchen with newly installed granite. It looked like the cabinets were whiter than the creamy/black granite but it was hard to tell from the bad picture.

On top of the photo she had written HE LOVES THIS.

Her email to me was this:

“HELP! I saw your post and I think you are amazing. I’m really struggling choosing a backsplash. I would like your opinion on what kind of backsplash to get that matches my granite. Please reply as soon as you see this email. I need my backsplash by Monday.”

This was my response:

Hopefully the cream in your cabinets matches your granite, and if so you should install CREAM subway tile.

The end.

Anything else will be hideous and SCREAM a designer was NOT THERE.

Hope this helps, Maria

If the cabinets were white and your countertop is taupe and cream, then I would probably choose white to go with the cabinets (and ignore the countertop) because a backsplash is more visual. You could also choose a taupe backsplash but it’s hard to get the undertones right with hard finishes because you don’t have 10 options, you only have 1 or 2 if you’re lucky.

Back to the point of my point. If you feel you have to LOVE every single hard finish that goes into your house, you will most likely end up with a mess.

Then, after the mess has been installed, you’ll call a designer, cross your fingers and hope for magic.

Magic is hard to deliver after you’ve already made all the most important decisions so take my advice and study the style of your house.

Then decide what should stay and what should go.

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  1. EXCELLENT post!!! I have wanted to address this and was not quite sure how to approach it. You did it in a very professional concise way. I see it all the time too, Maria. Homeowners want every new trend they see whether it goes with the over all look and feel of their home or not. I love the look of ship lap in some homes it adds texture and interest, but like you, it is not appropriate everywhere. I saw one homeowner who had a very traditional panel frame wainscoting and put ship lap on top of the upper wall. I gasped when I saw it. Oh my. Trendzilla has entered the building!! Thanks for this post. I have to share!!
    Kathysue

    • Diane Nazarko, AIA

      OH Maria, Thank you for your informative articles. I lost a client and semi friend from book club when she asked for my ” honest” ( but professional, whom people usually pay for other than coffee and lemon cake) opinion. She asked what I thought of her curtains and I said they were OK if you are Lily from the Munsters.
      Really ?? RED sheer curtains. I cannot think of where or how that would ever work.
      regards from the New England shoreline. Where there is such a think of too much interior “beachy” and being sea glassed to death !

  2. Hi Maria,

    My first thought about that X staircase is that it doesn’t meet code. The open area must be severely limited so children’s heads won’t go through and potentially allow them to fall. I don’t have the proper dimensions at hand, but I do know that this design would never be approved.

    I also agree with you design-wise that it would be a bad choice.

    Cynthia

    • As a former architect, I can tell you that Cynthia is correct, the X staircase does not meet any building code (unless there is some plexi-glass behind it that we can’t see on our monitors). The code says that any guard or handrail has to be constructed so that a sphere 4″ in diameter (the size of a babies head, I’ve been told) is not able to pass through it. Often times though, a project will be built with temporary railings to meet code, and then they are taken out and replaced with what the homeowner or designer really wants soon as the building inspector leaves! (We used to do this in California with the required ugly fluorescent light fixtures back in the day before nicer ones or led were available!)

      • I just looked at the photo more carefully–if you look closely, they have what we used to call “airplane wire” strung, probably 4″ o.c., to meet code.

  3. I have had the real deal ship lap in my last two homes including my current one. I would not expose it as I know in ten years I would be wanting to sheet rock over it again when I grew tired of it. It’s a fad. When Joanna Gaines does it for the upteenth time and moves on to the next thing all these people will be ripping that stuff out like crazy. In the meantime I enjoy that I can hang anything on that wood!

  4. This makes it very easy, thanks. I think it is like chalkboard walls and your advice is spot on. It was so nice of you to help the reader with the backsplash, hope she listens!

  5. Great advice. I’ve talked quite a few customers into not tearing out their traditional white wood spindle staircase and replacing it with curlicue wrought iron (the same pattern you’ve seen in a thousand 90s/early 2000s homes). To me, a much cheaper and more timeless refresh is to paint the oaky or bright cherry handrail a black or charcoal. You can see this look recur in houses going all the way back to the 1800s. Like you say Maria, it’s hard to go wrong with black and white, as far as outlasting trends.

  6. Maria, I am so glad that you brought this up. I agree with everything that you said! It is so trendy and certainly not appealing in most homes. I have seen it in bathrooms and after a few years the wood warps from the steam and the paint chips. Also I am not a fan of barn doors. That too is just a trend and I can bet that most people will replace them somewhere down the road. You can do so much with just a traditional look instead of gimmicy. That’s my two cents!

      • They have been around for a while but I think the same thing applies, they just don’t go in every style of house! Thanks for your comment! x Maria

  7. My husband & I need to do some work on our laundry room. He asked me if I wanted to install shiplap. I told him “No”. A couple of years ago (Before the Gaines) we had never heard of shiplap. That was my first clue that it was a trend.
    Besides…I have beadboard in a nearby bathroom. If I install anything, I would chose beadboard so I have flow between rooms.
    A long time ago I read one of your posts about how the style of your house dictates how you should decorate it. And that’s always stayed with me. So no shiplap in my house.
    But I do love seeing it in the proper style house.

  8. So funny you posted this today. I just read this on a blog from stylist Sibella Court earlier and was tossing it around in my brain when I saw your email: She was giving advice about renovating and said, “Let the space direct you, not the other way around. Often you will create something you never would have thought of. Understand what you’re working with before stomping through in your steel-capped boots.” So true in both posts! I think it’s good to have a personal style, but it has to be flexible to work with the style of the house. Even Emily Henderson, known for her midcentury style, is modifying it a bit to fit her new home, which has a more traditional vibe. I am definitely getting the hint…you cannot just copy the latest headlines on Pinterest!

  9. Spot on as always. Recently, despite my protests, my husband had a wide plank bead board installed in our very formal powder room, with it’s black and white marble basket weave mosaic floor and pedestal sink. When I saw it, I freaked out. It just looked wrong with the bathroom and the architecture of our house. It was much too casual. Now I have to work on fixing his mistake.

    Sadly, he still thinks it’s fabulous. One of my favorite signs ever was a notice outside of a tile store that read, “All husbands must have a note from their wife when buying tile.”

    • Lol! My husband has learned his lesson … all final decisions go through me. Exception – he has an office and can do whatever he wants there. So the huge black ikea bookcase with attached desk swallows the room. The chair is modern too in green and the walls are a royal blue. The floors are original orange-y pine. The inspiration was his favorite baseball team so there are signed photos etc. Overall nice themed room just needed the desk to be smaller!

  10. Hello Maria!
    So happy to read your Blog today! Back in the 1990’s, I had some dark paneling painted to brighten a ” cave “. looking Family Room. It did help, along with adding 3 more windows. However, when I see Shiplap in any room , but a cottage, or anything near the ocean, it just reminds me of painted paneling!
    By the way, my 1 year old home is looking classic with White Fantasy granite, white subway tiles, and white cabinets with side panels and molding!! Never tire of that look!!!

  11. Is shiplap a possible substitute for wainscoting? If so, is it easier to install? I’ve been wanting to do wainscoting in my foyer and powder room and do have a beachy feel to my home.

  12. Aside from the aesthetic: it looks like the shiplap is often installed with a little gap between boards. From past experience with paneling, I have just one word — spiders! They would crawl right in there and make themselves at home. (lovely post though — thanks)

  13. Love your response to these two inquiries/[pleas for help… I am in the process of building a modern farmhouse and still feel I too, would grow tired of the look. in a large space. Also, I believe the wood on the kitchen wall and the wooden floor in the photo from Shabby Chic. clash in a very visible way as the floor looks like veneered/engineered wood and the wall is clearly lumber. they appear from the photo to be similar in undertone but the composition doesn’t work. just MPO. thanks as always for wonderful insight!!!! I’m still bathing in the fun and education in your 3 day workshop in November!!

  14. Excellent lesson Maria as I feel the style/design of the house itself should dictate upgrades of any kind which IMHO should also include outside elements as well which is a whole different subject .. ºÛº. -Brenda-

  15. I’m going to be driving through Waco later this week, so I plan to stop and see Magnolia. I doubt I’ll buy a thing – but I’ll have fun looking!

  16. Gee, I should be commenting on the actual post, but I was stopped in my tracks by the counter top in the 8th photo. I had to look it up to see what it was.

    It’s called River White Granite. I don’t usually love granite, but that is stunning! The owner said it was the closest to a marble look you can get with granite.

  17. Another great article, Maria. Thank you for being such an eloquent advocate for common sense and reason, practicality AND good taste! And though it might not be “politically correct, design-wise, I am so glad to hear someone actually tell it like it is and use the word “tacky”!

    I do love the show Fixer-Upper, but I definitely think that a lot of their style is very region specific (to Texas and like areas) in its style appropriateness. While I can appreciate it, I do realize that it would not look quite the same, or even have the same effect, in my 1980’s Neo-Colonial on the east coast–even though I live in the country!

  18. Thank you for putting this out there. Constantly coming across people who ask only after the bad hard finishes have gone in and the budget is blown. Keep getting the word out there so we can save one homeowner at a time. 😉

  19. Thank you for reminding me that I don’t have to love every surface. After my kitchen project is installed (end of February, fingers crossed) I will be able to share with the world how much money you saved me with your design package:)

    I have never seen a TV home renovation series that does not do trendy. It’s tough not to be influenced, so thanks also for that reminder.

  20. I looked at the blog you referenced from 6-14-12 …..happiness is a little magic and had a big
    smile from the little example you drew on the black chalkboard with the 2 circles, one labled…
    your comfort zone….and the other bigger circle labled…..where the magic happens…..so TRUE!!!! I think that is a great visual you could use more often.
    By the way I really like the “related posts” area of your new website!!! Its great for looking up
    more info on the subject your interested in!!

    • You do like it? I was just thinking of pulling it because it seems like it keeps pulling the same related posts over and over again on other posts. Thanks for your comment! Maria

  21. Great post. The style of the home should rule. I’ve learned myself when I tried to turn my cape cod into a MCM 15 years ago. Crazy.

    It does crack me up when I see spec homes where the builder has put all the trends into a single home: herringbone faux wood tile (in gray) throughout. Gray walls. Gray cabinets. Barn doors and ship lap everywhere. Wrought iron staircase. Sometimes they’re still using the glass mosaic backsplash! It’s painful to look at.

    Thanks again for trying to mak the world more beautiful.
    Susie

  22. Hello Maria,
    I have really enjoyed your blog and have learned a lot. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I read the post your assistant wrote on “your house is the boss of your style.” What an excellent article. It got me thinking. What style is my home? I asked my husband what he thought and he didn’t know either. So…would you consider doing a post on how to figure out the style of your house? (BTW, it’s not modern, country, mid-century.) I would love to diagnosis this 1965 home & be true to it’s style.
    Thanks 🙂

    • Hi Shara, I’ll have to think about how that kind of a post could be written! Good suggestion, thanks! Maria

      • Count me in too on a post to decide what style your house is and maybe a few ideas on what
        goes with each style….like say for cupboards or staircases or bookshelves etc…..that would be
        way cool!!!!

  23. One can always haul a once trendy occasional chair (like in sage) or dinette (the 4 seat bar height set in espresso) out of the house! If someone would not want the expense of changing hard finishes maybe they would be satisfied with switching furniture (in the lower price point?). I see many pics of these great interiors in Europe. They keep the architecture of the room intact (even some of those great floors) but change everything else to suit their style. Curtains, wall color, rug, furniture. .. and I think it does work.

  24. Maria, this post is why I have been reading your blog for the past few years. You are the voice of reason in a world of “trend chatter.” Your advice has assured me to be patient and get to know my house before just slapping some paint on the wall or making a more costly decision. Thank you, thank you for sharing your insight! 🙂

  25. I love this article! Funny thing is I recently installed a rustic wood wall! I knew when I put it in it was trendy. My husband and I are very handy. My comment to him as we were installing it was this is trendy, and we will be ripping it out in the future! I have an architectural issue with the house and I needed a cheap way to advert attention. I can’t tell you how many compliments I get from my wall. Pretty much every visitor loves it. Ya it’s trendy, I knew it when it was installed, and I’m embracing this trend. ? I keep the rest of my home as timeless as I can.

  26. So agree with you that it does not work in every home but would also add that even if it does not work with your home’s architecture, if you love the look go ahead and use it as an accent wall in a bedroom or a child’s room. But I must disagree that the trend is waning…wood accents will always be popular, and I would caution against making a definitive statement like that as a designer.

    • Saying “the popularity of shiplap is waning” is entirely different from saying “people don’t like wood anymore.” Shiplap is a very specific type of wood accent that has very particular (faux-farmhouse) associations.

  27. Whether interior design or fashion one can easily ruin ‘the look’ with too many trends going on at once. Solid advice as always! Beautiful new website!

  28. As for shiplap .. my grandparents had it in their place in three rooms. They had 130 year old barn that was converted to a house like in the 1920s. The home looked like a common wood sided pre 1900 home. They had plaster too. I never thought it was out of place there. Seen plenty of what I call “working man” (pre 1940s) homes that have some shiplap here in IL. Once this trend goes then what – fabric covered walls?

  29. Yes, thank you! I walk into homes in my suburb and these houses look absurd. They were all built in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. It is one thing to expose existing shiplap (not my thing but at least it’s authentic) but to install shiplap? Be realistic as to what you can do to your house that is appropriate for the reality of it.

  30. What a timely and well-written post! Several comments mention barn doors as being in the same “trendy” category. Are there times when a barn door is appropriate if there is no room for a typical door – say to avoid electrical in the wall or expensive construction? I would love to know your thoughts, Maria.

    • Yes absolutely there is a time and place for a barn door or a slider like that. . . it should just suit the style of the house. Maria

  31. My child has a standing appointment every week in an office with a TV, and every week I see Fixer Upper, whether I want to or not, and I am not an HGTV viewer. After about six months of halfway watching this show I thought, “I am going to count how many times they say the word ‘shiplap’ in one episode”. It was absurd.
    And, oddly, I have a 1911 farmhouse. There are some spots, (shoddy “renovation” from previous flippers) where shiplap actually might be a good solution to some problem areas. (Hello, angled ceilings in a carved out room that was originally attic and are now popcorn, killmenow, but I just cannot even do it).

    Thanks for the great advice, I’m taking one or two areas at a time and trying to make them work both color-wise, and also maintaining the integrity of the home. It’s not always easy to eschew the trends, I have had large rooms painted dark colors (no grey), there are some wooden elements that I refuse to paint, we aren’t knocking out walls for open floor plans. I question those decisions at times, but this home was owned by one family (and a “flipper”, bless their hearts) before we bought it, and I maintain that it should be “liveable”, but a 1911 home with 12 foot ceilings and actual rooms can’t bow to mid century modern or grey everywhere with puffy furniture and still maintain its integrity. I may not always make the correct choices, but no one is going t be ripping out boards in ten years when they are the harvest gold and avocado of the 2010s.

  32. Personally, I feel like today’s shiplap will be tomorrow’s Brady-bunch-wood-paneling. Therefore it scares me enough to NEVER consider using it. That said, you are ‘spot on’ that it definitely works in a farmhouse or beach theme and doesn’t belong in a modern home.

  33. I disagree. I live in the South don’t see Shiplap going out of style nor Barn doors. It’s 2018 and now and my barn door lady business is still booming. I personally like shiplap mixed with modern industrial type frame and decor. I think shiplap becomes overdone when your base is traditional and you created nothing to contrast. It becomes some theme almost like a holiday.

  34. I love your strong opinions about shiplap. I’m currently renovating our newly-purchased 1980s home and looking for inspiration for the wall behind the fireplace (the fireplace is between the LR and foyer, and has a wall that faces the front door). I was considering shiplap, but am now reconsidering. My backsplash in the kitchen is quite modern, but it isn’t installed yet. Thanks for making me look at more ideas!

  35. I think subway tile is a fad. But any fad if you wait long enough tends to come back in some form. The small tiles in old bathrooms is cool again! The granite colors that were in in the 90’s certainly aren’t now. But I would not have enjoyed white granite when the fashion was different. Same with my mom’s harvest gold and avocado green look from the 70’s as well as shag carpeting . In fact wall to wall carpeting was quite the thing then. It might not be in now but we sure loved it then and the paneled den! And we had no problem selling my parent’s house because it had great bones and the things they had done were done well. It did not have a white kitchen or open concept but it had very interesting architectural details that made it special. The built in desk with bookcases in the den was timeless and the stained glass in the corner of her den in the brick wall while greens gold, and white was unque and made it a bit different for a suburban home built in 1963. it was handmade and she had saved up and drawn pictures of what she wanted. I think painted shiplapis an architectural detail that can be around for a while. I still like bead board and it reminds me of that. Even beams in the ceiling come and go. In the 90’s they weren’t as popular probably becasue we had used them in the 80’s! But who doesn’t appreciate a beamed ceiling now.

  36. I stumbled across your post while looking for blogs relating if shiplap make a room look smaller and while I did not find an answer, I did find your post helpful. I have decided to put shiplap on the small wall in my living room and guest bathroom of my cottage on the water (living room has vaulted ceilings but the shiplap is not vaulted). The cottage is small (appx 900 sq. ft) and will have a farmhouse style. I love the look but decieded to go with small areas in case I decide I want a change or I just don’t like it afterall. Your thoughts on if it makes a room look smaller would be greatly appreciated as well. Thanks

  37. It is January of 2019, two years later and Shiplap is still trendy. But hey, you’re the expert… *insert eyeroll*