We tried a DIY shiplap wall in the 2020 Real Simple Home.
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2020 Real Simple Home Tour: Stairs with shiplap
Credit: Christopher Testani

Rewatch almost any episode of Chip and Joanna Gaines' popular HGTV show Fixer Upper, and behind the farmhouse sinks, wall art quotations, and slipcovered couches, you'll notice one thing: shiplap. Since Fixer Upper, it seems like everyone wants to cover their walls with white-painted wood paneling. Yes, wood paneling is officially trendy again (and Google search would have to agree). But shiplap has a history dating back long before the house-flipping duo made it a Pinterest board must-have. Here's what you should know about shiplap, from how it began to modern "hacks"—including how we faked the look in the 2020 Real Simple Home, pictured above.

shiplap wooden boards
Credit: Home Depot

Shiplap used to be waterproof

$6 per board, homedepot.com

Why is it called shiplap? Originally used to waterproof ships, shiplap is a type of wood paneling with a rabbet (groove) cut at the top and bottom of each board so that they overlap to form a tight seal. Proven effective against water and wind, eventually shiplap began to be used as siding on homes. Shiplap served a practical rather than an aesthetic one—in fact, interior shiplap walls used to be covered with muslin and cheesecloth to hide the gaps before being wallpapered. 

Shiplap can be identified by the 90-degree angle of the joint connecting the boards. However, several other types of wood paneling do look similar and can be used to create a similar aesthetic, namely V-groove and beadboard.

removable shiplap wallpaper in office
Credit: Target

You can get the look for less

Nowadays, the shiplap trend is more about form than function. It infuses a home with nautical or rustic style and can make a space feel cozy. Many versions of modern shiplap seen on TV (yes, including Fixer Upper) and design blogs are not authentic shiplap, rather they're wooden panels intended to imitate the look. Here are some ways to achieve a similar style. 

Plywood: Instead of expensive shiplap boards with rabbets, some designers and bloggers  install inexpensive wooden panels (even sheets of cheap plywood cut into 5 7/8-inch-wide strips) that are then nailed to the wall, leaving a small gap between boards to resemble real shiplap. 

Shiplap Wallpaper: Attention, renters who love the look of shiplap but also want to get their security deposits back: Shiplap-style removable wallpaper is a thing (pictured). 

Accent wall: Rather than add wood paneling to the entire Real Simple Home entryway, we installed a small shiplap accent wall underneath the stairs to lend the reading nook a cozy vibe. To save money, apply shiplap to a strategic spot: an accent wall, a kitchen backsplash, or on the back of an open cabinet, for instance. 

It gets dusty

That gap between boards may be one of the signature characteristics of shiplap, but it's also a dust collector. Once you have wall paneling, you'll have to be more strategic about how you dust. A microfiber cloth can help. 

You'll need to paint differently

To prevent paint from filling the gaps between boards (and turning your accent shiplap wall into a regular wall), you'll need to be careful when painting. Don't apply too much paint to the roller and opt for several thinner coats of paint. 

It can be installed horizontally or vertically

Historically, shiplap refers to the horizontal boards that were used to waterproof ships, but if you're not planning to take your shiplap out on the open seas, you can install it any way you like! When debating between orientations, consider the dimensions of the space and the height of the ceilings. Horizontal boards can make a room feel larger, while vertical boards draw the eye up, making the ceiling look taller. 

You can use it to hide things

If you have an eyesore in your home, like a popcorn ceiling or an uneven wall, you can install shiplap to conceal it. Just make sure the problem you're covering up is purely aesthetic. 

You don't have to paint it white

We often see shiplap painted white, but there's no rule that it has to be! Feel free to paint it any color you want. Follow the tips above to avoid accidentally filling in the gaps between boards with paint. 

More decor ideas from the RS Home: