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Shiplap walls add texture and interest to your home

This American design trend is making its way North. Our experts share how to use shiplap in your home

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When Mélanie Paulin and her husband lived in Copenhagen, they loved the Danish trend of all-white summer homes featuring crisp, white-planked walls.

When they moved to Canada and began renovating an old house, they installed wooden planks in their downstairs bathroom and painted them white. It wasn’t until years later that Paulin realized she was an early adopter of shiplap, a growing design trend.

“People used to look at the bathroom and say ‘Oh, OK. That’s … interesting.’ The only people who really knew about it were really into decorating blogs,” says Paulin. “Now because of Fixer Upper, shiplap is a bit more mainstream.”

Fixer Upper is the Texas-based remodeling reality show starring Chip and Joanna Gaines that’s seen as the originator of the shiplap phenomenon. The whitewashed, planked walls remind some people of shabby-chic farmhouse style while others think of it as a beachy, Cape Cod look.

“I think it really creates a cozy, inviting feeling,” says Paulin, who owns Carte Blanche Upcycled Furniture & Accessories in Moncton, N.B.

Ready-made shiplap boards cost about $10 each, but there are cheaper alternatives. Some homeowners cut MDF or plywood into long strips and use pennies as spacers between the boards.

Paulin and her husband used tongue-and-groove pine boards flipped around so the bevelled edge was against the wall, and secured them with a brad-nailer. This made spacing the boards evenly simple, and created a flat surface.

Because shiplap gives a wall texture and interest, it doesn’t require much styling. “Our shiplap is painted all white and we have a rustic framed wooden mirror on the wall—just the one detail,” says Paulin. “I know someone who styles her shiplap wall differently each season. Sometimes she just hangs old plaster frames without anything in them.”

Paulin says the shiplap trend is just starting in Atlantic Canada. “It feels like everybody’s going to be jumping on board and it could really help,” says Paulin. “I installed a barn door on a sliding track in my home a few years ago and everyone said ‘This is ridiculous,’ but now everybody’s jumping on that trend, too.”

“Everything that’s trending now is ‘rustic meets modern,’ so shiplap is a way of bringing that rustic element into a design,” says Stephanie Thompson, interior decorator and owner of Mariposa Interiors in Wolfville, N.S. “I definitely think the Maritimes is an area that shiplap could really thrive because shiplap is suited to particular styles, like cottages, farmhouses, and coastal homes.”

If you install shiplap correctly in the right space, it adds an interesting element to a space, say Thompson. “Everyone paints their house white or beige.”

But it’s not going to work in every room.

“Shiplap is awesome in bathrooms or as a feature wall in a bedroom, and I do love it in kitchens, but I’d keep it to older farmhouses or cottages,” says Thompson. “If it was a more traditional home, I’d guide them towards natural stained planks or maybe wainscoting, bringing in the rustic feel in a more modern way.”

Saint John, N.B.-based Tuck Studio founder Judith Mackin says she only heard about shiplap recently and can’t imagine white-painted wood being better than natural wood.

“If you’re going to bring any sort of wood element into a room, it’s usually because you want to add warmth,” says Mackin. “My feeling is always to go for the real thing.”

The entire middle section of her home features recycled snow fence from Wyoming. Mackin says it “will never go out of style because it’s authentic.”

If you want to bring shiplap into your home, Mackin suggests opening up the gaps between the boards to showcase a beautiful paint colour or interesting wallpaper behind them for a surprising layer of colour or pattern.

“You could even go a step further and do bigger spacing as you go down the wall or across the wall in a vertical line,” says Mackin. “It would be nice with the slats opening up larger maybe behind where your sofa sits.”

Mackin says creating a wooden wall can actually be far cheaper than wallpapering, plus more versatile for decorating.

“Unless your wallpaper has a very subtle pattern, you can’t hang art on it or it defeats the purpose,” says Mackin. “Wood acts as a nice background for art or shelving.”

Of course, she says there are times when authentic materials can lead to issues with bugs and mildew. An alternative is using natural-looking manufactured boards like the ones from AS-IS Brand, which are available across Atlantic Canada.

They’re made for quick installation and indoor use, says Mackin. “It’s not exactly shiplap, but it’s also not necessarily doing what’s on trend,” she says.

“I’m always interested in thinking ‘OK, now how can you turn that on its head?’” says Mackin. “‘How can you do something different so it’s not a repetition of what you’re seeing everywhere else?’”