Shiplap! These days I hear this term frequently from my clients and nationally known designers like Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper; you know that hot HGTV show from Waco, Texas that’s all the rage for great style, warm personalities (Joanna and Chip seem so nice and happy!) and a cottage but “today” kind of look. Shiplap is a dominant theme in this look, especially great for farmhouse, rustic, urban industrial and coastal settings. So let’s see what shiplap is all about, starting with a favorite look of mine from Joanna’s vast repertoire of shiplap: over a fireplace mantel.
What is shiplap anyway? As you can see in the photo above, the horizontal boards above the mantel are shiplap, painted out in white. In some pre-1950 homes, shiplap boards were used for structural integrity of walls and insulation as a layer underneath plaster or drywall. That’s why in many of the older home renovations, you will hear them say, “we exposed the shiplap underneath and decided to paint it.” Apparently cheesecloth was sometimes applied on top of the shiplap, to smooth things out, so your own “unearthing” process might be several layers deep.
But, what about if you have a newer home, or one with a different construction method, which requires you to apply shiplap on top of your existing walls? Well, your local Home Depot store can come to the rescue. Below you can see, the rough pine shiplap boards that I found at my local Home Depot store in Marlborough, MA in the lumber aisle…yes you can get it yourself easily, and don’t have to pray to “discover it” during your renovation!
As you can see, the shiplap boards are cut with a notch so that they can be overlapped one on top of each other. Sort of like tongue-and-groove, but a little bit different. When the boards are run horizontally for shiplap (a difference from beadboard paneling that is vertical, and lots of tongue and groove panels that are also vertical), one can’t see the wall underneath. So, this shiplap can go over anything…lathe, framing, brick, etc.
Shiplap in New England Interiors
Have I seen shiplap around Boston? Yes, in many coastal homes, and now the look is trending away from the shore in the suburbs. It’s a bit of a casual look, great for a family room, and I prefer it whitewashed (painted white) over stained. I particularly like shiplap over a mantel to really define a focal point, especially if your fireplace wall is long, and needs some architectural interest to break things up a bit. It’s a bonus if your family room already has some white millwork and crown molding to carry on the crisp look and make the shiplap cohesive in color. There are many excellent DIY sites on the internet to show you how to build-out your own shiplap over-mantel area. And, there are loads of inspirational photos out there for this look…Google “shiplap mantel” and you will see some beautiful projects.
Here is the link to Joanna Gaines’ shiplap projects:
And, for more great information, read the funny and interesting blog of carpenter Scott Sidler at
Scott Sidler is a general contractor who specializes in old houses and his site and blog are great…I always learn something. In this post Scott and his readers debate the “is that real shiplap, or fake shiplap, or something else” and it’s a very informative post. Scott blogs every week like me, and posts on Mondays.
Hopefully you enjoyed this short introductory post on shiplap and consider it for your next fireplace or family room renovation. And…yes…if you want to put your flat-screen TV over your fireplace, and you need a place to hide the wires because there’s masonry behind that wall, because, well it’s a fireplace with a chimney, then building out with shiplap can be just the ticket!
Barbara Phillips, interior designer and owner of Center Stage Interior Designs, has delivered impeccable window treatments and design services to both residential and commercial clients in Massachusetts since 2001.