What is Shiplap? An Ultimate Guide: Benefits, Drawbacks, Uses, Alternatives

What is Shiplap? An Ultimate Guide: Benefits, Drawbacks, Uses, Alternatives

Shiplap has become a popular choice for adding character and charm to interior spaces. Let's dive into what shiplap is, its history, advantages and disadvantages, how it can be used in various home design projects, and tips for choosing the right type of shiplap for your home.

What Is Shiplap?

Ever heard of shiplap? It's not just a fancy term from home makeover shows. Shiplap refers to wooden boards with grooves cut into their edges, allowing them to fit snugly together. This design, originally used in barns and sheds, has now found its way into modern homes due to its rustic charm and versatility.

History of Shiplap

Shiplap has its roots in the maritime world. The overlapping joints were originally used in shipbuilding to create watertight seams. This technique was later adapted for building barns, sheds, and homes, where the tight-fitting boards provided excellent weather resistance. Over time, shiplap became a popular interior design element, celebrated for its rustic look and practical benefits.

Pros of Shiplap

1. Aesthetic Appeal

Shiplap offers a clean, classic look that can make any space feel cozy and inviting. Its horizontal lines create a sense of continuity and can even make rooms look larger. Plus, the natural wood grain adds warmth and texture. Whether you're going for a farmhouse vibe or a more modern aesthetic, shiplap fits right in.

2. Versatility

Shiplap is a chameleon. You can paint it, stain it, or leave it as is. This flexibility allows you to customize your space to match your style, whether it's farmhouse chic, coastal cool, or modern minimalist. Want to create a bright, airy feel? Go for white shiplap. Prefer a rustic look? A dark stain will do the trick.

3. Easy Installation

Installing shiplap is a weekend warrior's dream. The interlocking boards make it a straightforward and quick project. With basic tools and a bit of patience, you can transform a room in no time. Plus, because the boards fit together so well, there's little room for error.

4. Durability

Shiplap is tough. Originally used for exterior applications, it can withstand a lot of wear and tear. Indoors, it becomes a sturdy, long-lasting wall covering that can handle whatever life throws at it. It's perfect for high-traffic areas like hallways and family rooms.

Cons of Shiplap

1. Cost

High-quality shiplap can be pricey, especially if you're covering a large area. But there are budget-friendly options like MDF or plywood that can give you the same look without breaking the bank. Natural wood shiplap can range from $5 to $12 per square foot, while MDF might only set you back $1 to $3 per square foot.

2. Maintenance

Shiplap looks great, but it does require some upkeep. Regular dusting and the occasional repaint or restain will keep it looking its best. And those grooves can collect dust, so a little extra cleaning might be needed. Think of it as giving your walls a bit of TLC to keep them looking their best.

3. Installation Challenges

While installation is generally easy, getting those boards perfectly aligned can be tricky. A level and precise measurements are your best friends here. Misaligned boards can be noticeable and might need adjustments. But don’t worry – a little patience goes a long way.

Popular Applications of Shiplap

Shiplap isn’t just for farmhouse-style homes. Here are some popular ways to use shiplap to enhance your space:

1. Accent Walls

Shiplap is perfect for creating stunning accent walls in living rooms, bedrooms, and entryways. Its unique look adds texture and interest, making it a focal point in any room. Imagine a cozy living room with a shiplap wall behind the sofa – it instantly draws the eye.

2. Kitchens

Shiplap can add a rustic yet sophisticated touch to kitchens. Use it as a backsplash or cover a kitchen island to make the heart of your home even cozier. It’s easy to clean and adds a unique charm that’s hard to beat.

3. Bathrooms

Moisture-resistant and charming, shiplap is a great choice for bathrooms. Use it on walls or as wainscoting to create a spa-like, coastal-inspired retreat. Just make sure the wood is properly sealed to prevent water damage.

4. Ceilings

Want to draw the eye upward and add character to a room? Shiplap on the ceiling can do just that, making a space feel more open and unique. It’s an unexpected touch that adds a lot of charm.

5. Hallways

Shiplap can transform narrow hallways into visually interesting spaces, adding depth and character. It breaks up the monotony and makes even the smallest spaces feel special.

6. Fireplace Surrounds

Create a cozy focal point by adding shiplap around a fireplace. The texture and warmth of the wood make the fireplace area more inviting. Pair it with a rustic mantel for a complete look.

Less Ideal Applications of Shiplap

While shiplap is versatile, there are a few places where it might not be the best choice:

1. High-Humidity Areas

While shiplap can be used in bathrooms, it's not ideal for areas with constant high humidity like indoor pools or unventilated basements. The wood can absorb moisture and warp over time.

2. Exterior Applications (Without Proper Treatment)

Shiplap was originally used outside, but if you're thinking of using it for modern exteriors, ensure it's properly treated to withstand the elements. Untreated shiplap can deteriorate quickly when exposed to weather.

3. Floors

Shiplap is not designed for flooring. It lacks the durability and wear resistance required for high-traffic areas like floors. For flooring, you’re better off choosing materials specifically designed to handle foot traffic.

Tongue and Groove: A Stronger Alternative

If you're looking for something even more durable than shiplap, consider tongue and groove. This method involves boards that interlock along their edges with a tongue on one side and a groove on the other. Here’s why it might be a better option for your home:

Enhanced Stability

Tongue and groove boards fit together tightly, creating a more secure and stable wall covering. This interlocking system prevents gaps and ensures a smooth, continuous surface. It’s like fitting puzzle pieces together – once they’re in place, they’re not going anywhere.

Superior Strength

The design of tongue and groove makes it stronger and more durable than traditional shiplap. It's less likely to warp or shift over time, making it ideal for high-traffic areas or places with fluctuating humidity levels. If you have kids or pets, this added durability is a big plus.

Seamless Finish

The tight fit of tongue and groove boards results in a cleaner, more polished look. It can give your walls a sleek, professional finish that’s hard to achieve with other materials. It’s perfect for those who love a refined, elegant aesthetic.

Versatile Application

Just like shiplap, tongue and groove can be used in various settings, from accent walls to ceilings. Its robust nature makes it a great choice for both rustic and modern designs. Whether you’re updating a cottage or a contemporary home, it fits right in.

Square Edge: A Simpler Option

For those who prefer a more straightforward installation process, square edge boards might be the perfect fit. Here’s what makes square edge shiplap an attractive option:

Easy Installation

Square edge boards have straight edges without grooves or tongues. This simplicity makes them easier and faster to install, even for DIY beginners. If you’re new to home improvement projects, square edge boards are a great place to start.

Clean, Modern Look

Square edge shiplap provides a sleek, minimalist aesthetic. The uniform edges create clean lines, making it a great choice for contemporary designs. It’s all about that simple, understated elegance.


Because square edge boards are simpler to manufacture, they are often more affordable than tongue and groove or traditional shiplap. This makes them a budget-friendly option for large projects. You can achieve a high-end look without a high-end price tag.

Flexibility in Design

Square edge boards can be installed horizontally, vertically, or even in a herringbone pattern. This flexibility allows you to get creative with your design choices. Mix things up and add a personal touch to your space.


Shiplap is a versatile and stylish option for interior design. Its aesthetic appeal and durability often outweigh the cost and maintenance. Whether used for accent walls, kitchens, bathrooms, or ceilings, shiplap can transform any space into a warm, inviting, and stylish environment. If you're looking for a stronger alternative, consider tongue and groove for its enhanced stability and seamless finish. For a simpler and more budget-friendly option, square edge boards offer a clean, modern look that's easy to install. With the right material and finish, shiplap can be a beautiful addition to your home.