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10 Things Nobody Tells You About Shiplap

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10 Things Nobody Tells You About Shiplap

August 15, 2019

Here at Remodelista we’ve been nursing a healthy obsession with shiplap for the last few years. But there are a surprising amount of misconceptions about shiplap: as one craftsman pointed out, the kind of cladding that’s been popularized over the last few years by shows like Fixer Upper isn’t, in fact, true shiplap. (Or, as he put it: “No, Joanna; that’s not shiplap.”) Here’s what you need to know to separate shiplap fact from fiction:

1. How to tell if it’s shiplap? Mind the gap.

True shiplap: note the “rabbet” joint, with a 90-degree notch between the boards. Diagram from Remodeling 101: The Ultimate Wood Paneling Guide with Jersey Ice Cream Co.
Above: True shiplap: note the “rabbet” joint, with a 90-degree notch between the boards. Diagram from Remodeling 101: The Ultimate Wood Paneling Guide with Jersey Ice Cream Co.

How to tell the difference between shiplap, beadboard, and V-groove cladding? “Unlike bead board and V-groove, which are connected via tongue and groove, shiplap boards are joined with an overlapping ‘rabbet’ joint, which usually creates a 90 degree-angled gap in between the boards,” writes Justine. “I say, ‘usually,’ because just to confuse things, there is V-groove shiplap with a beveled edge,” she adds. Read more in Remodeling 101: The Ultimate Wood Paneling Guide with Jersey Ice Cream Co.

2. It’s sea-worthy (or used to be).

Shiplap behind the bed in Salt House Inn in Provincetown.
Above: Shiplap behind the bed in Salt House Inn in Provincetown.

Shiplap likely gets its name from a style of shiplap that was once used to make ships. The same overlapping joint that makes true shiplap tight and weatherproof in a house made for a water-tight ship, too.

4. It originated in harsh climates.

Shiplap cladding looks charming in A British Standard Kitchen in a Shepherd’s Hut, and has the added benefit of keeping the little kitchen snug against the wind.
Above: Shiplap cladding looks charming in A British Standard Kitchen in a Shepherd’s Hut, and has the added benefit of keeping the little kitchen snug against the wind.

Shiplap is associated with seaside cottages and cabins for a reason: historically, it was used in punishing climates as a way of keeping wind and water out of houses, thanks to the overlapping joint between the boards. It was also often installed on the exteriors of buildings. (More on the history of shiplap in Expert Advice: The Enduring Appeal of Shiplap.)

5. And, it used to be covered over.

During the renovations at Josephine in Austin, Texas, the construction crew discovered shiplap hidden beneath the drywall. Read more in Restaurant Visit: Josephine House, in Austin.
Above: During the renovations at Josephine in Austin, Texas, the construction crew discovered shiplap hidden beneath the drywall. Read more in Restaurant Visit: Josephine House, in Austin.

Shiplap was meant to be felt and not seen, so to speak. Before plywood and drywall, builders would line rooms in shiplap to keep them warm and dry, then cover it with a layer of muslin or cheesecloth and wallpaper to hide the shiplap’s seams. (That means that, if you’re lucky, you might uncover some original, tried-and-true shiplap beneath the layers during a renovation.) Now, the Joanna Gaines of the the world have popularized shiplap for its looks, not just its practicality.

6. Installed vertically, it can make a small room feel bigger.

A shiplap lookalike emphasizes the height of a lofty bedroom in A Simple Bespoke Cabin in North Yorkshire, Father/Son Edition.
Above: A shiplap lookalike emphasizes the height of a lofty bedroom in A Simple Bespoke Cabin in North Yorkshire, Father/Son Edition.

Most people think of shiplap installed horizontally in a room (which itself can help carry the eye around the space, making it feel larger). But installing the shiplap vertically helps emphasize the height of the room, making it feel larger; or, to really turn shiplap on its head, try installing it on the ceiling to draw the eye upwards. See more trompe l’oeil tricks with shiplap in Expert Advice: How to Use Wood Paneling to Add Loftiness to a Room.

7. With its strong lines and handcrafted feel, it works almost anywhere.

Not just for cozy charm: shiplap in a clean-lined, sparse bath in Nordic Beauty: A Brooklyn Townhouse Reinvented with Style—and Restraint.
Above: Not just for cozy charm: shiplap in a clean-lined, sparse bath in Nordic Beauty: A Brooklyn Townhouse Reinvented with Style—and Restraint.

Advises architect (and shiplap enthusiast) Sheila Bonnell: “Because it creates texture in such a clean, unfussy way, it can work just as well in a contemporary setting. In fact, one of the things I love about shiplap is that it works both ways. Because it is handcrafted, it can add warmth to what might be a more austere modern setting. Or, conversely, because it has a very clean line, particularly when painted, it can be used to make a historical setting feel more contemporary.” Read more about the many ways to use shiplap in Expert Advice: The Enduring Appeal of Shiplap.

8. Top down or bottom up?

Painted shiplap in Provincetown Eclectic: A Design Duo Channels P-town’s Storied Past to Create an Utterly Original Seaside Home. (Note the baseboard moulding at the bottom, which helps account for any unevenness.) Photograph by Justine Hand for Remodelista.
Above: Painted shiplap in Provincetown Eclectic: A Design Duo Channels P-town’s Storied Past to Create an Utterly Original Seaside Home. (Note the baseboard moulding at the bottom, which helps account for any unevenness.) Photograph by Justine Hand for Remodelista.

Experts say you can’t go too wrong with installing shiplap: so long as everything is measured with care, it’s fairly forgiving. Whether you start with the top board and work your way down, or start with the bottom and work your way up, just be sure the first board is level, since the rest will follow suit. (Keep in mind that your boards may not fit evenly top to bottom, depending on the width of the boards versus the height of your wall; if you’d rather have a full board at the top, start there.)

8. Paint with care.

Shiplap adds warmth to a bath in A Cottage Reborn in Coastal Maine. Photograph by Justine Hand.
Above: Shiplap adds warmth to a bath in A Cottage Reborn in Coastal Maine. Photograph by Justine Hand.

The charm of shiplap comes from the visible gap between the boards. If you choose to paint yours, paint with care to be sure the paint doesn’t fill in the gaps.

9. Obsessed with shiplap? There’s a tee shirt for that.

As a testament to just how popular shiplap has become, Magnolia Home (by Chip and Joanna Gaines or Fixer Upper fame) now sells a #shiplap tee shirt for $26.

10. The downside: dust.

A detail of shiplap in Sheila Bonnell‘s guest room; photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista, as seen in Remodeling 101: The Ultimate Wood Paneling Guide with Jersey Ice Cream Co.
Above: A detail of shiplap in Sheila Bonnell‘s guest room; photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista, as seen in Remodeling 101: The Ultimate Wood Paneling Guide with Jersey Ice Cream Co.

If you install shiplap horizontally, be aware that the small gaps that give shiplap its charm are also perfect little spaces for dust to collect. Give your walls a once-over with a duster or cloth every once in a while to be sure they stay dust-free.

For much more on shiplap, see:

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