Let's Talk Shiplap

Updated: Oct 9

By now you've heard of it; you may even know what is looks like or have it in your home. But really what is shiplap? Believe it or not, shiplap is very old and served a building purpose beyond design.

The origin of shiplap is rooted in the name. Its nautical beginnings go back to the Vikings, the art of laying wood in horizontal sequences was the process for building a ship’s hull. And although other structures such as barns and homes aren’t directly related to ships, the term "shiplap" continued to be used to describe the exterior.

Various examples of shiplap; "lap" refers to each piece slightly overlapping the next even if it isn't obvious.

Traditional shiplap has tongue and groove parts which enable bordering pieces to interlock, creating a tight seal. The material of choice was cedar, known for its natural water resistance—critical for keeping water out and avoiding water damage. This same material was used to build exterior walls for homes and barns. The tight seal from the tongue and groove of the shiplap kept out harsh winds and protected the interior from the elements. From wattle and daub (What is wattle and daub? Read our previous entry titled "What is Lath and Plaster?), lath and plaster, shiplap is another technique that evolved to meet the needs of the time and technologies available. Structures with shiplap walls were sturdier, more reliable and well, more refined. In some instances, wider boards bearing a resemblance to shiplap have been found inside interior walls of homes acting as lath.

A close up of tongue and groove on shiplap.

Today, exterior siding comes in a variety of lap styles: Dutch, board & batten, bevel and clap to name a few; each style adding curb appeal and character to the home. The more common counterpart of exterior shiplap has been in use inside the home. Shiplap has experienced a resurgence as a popular design trend. Whether the entire room, one wall or an accent feature, "[Shiplap] adds a feeling of coziness to a space and provides subtle texture and depth to a room," says Danielle, Fōrt and Hôm's Head Designer and Acquisitions Manager.

An original wall of shiplap was discovered in the O'Rourke Building. Interior shiplap walls like this one served the same purpose as the exterior –– to keep the weather out.

The natural lines of shiplap can elongate a room, create a focal point or complement the design of the entire house. Today, shiplap walls are a simple DIY room transformation project using inexpensive materials: paint it white, stain the wood, or try a stencil. The options for creativity with shiplap are endless. And while this has been hailed a current design trend, Danielle thinks it's here to stay. "From a modest, light and airy farmhouse-style to a bold, elegant and elevated design, I find it to be extremely versatile –– making it timeless, not just a trend."

Danielle used shiplap in this Fôrt and Hōm kitchen to add texture and elevate the overall design aesthetic.


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