Even before Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV “Fixer Upper” fame popularized shiplap, reclaimed wood was inviting itself into homes of every style. The warmth, rusticity and sense of history of reclaimed boards adds character not just to the interiors of cottages and bungalows, but modern, minimalist dwellings, transitional structures and more.
With an industrial modern “farmhouse” aesthetic all the rage — even just a hint in that direction — reclaimed wood has never felt more at home.
It works especially well to set off areas of a home, signaling comfort and ease. Popular applications include front entry walls and accent walls behind dining tables, staircases, beds and free-standing tubs, as well as the bases of kitchen islands and even doors and fireplace walls, as long as safety is taken into consideration. In moderation, it works well on a vaulted ceiling to make the space seem less cavernous. But if that seems too dark or heavy, beams may provide just the right note of casual charm. To best showcase the wood, keep all of the nearby colors and patterns simple and subdued.
While it is hard to beat the real thing for authenticity with all of its peeling paint and age marks, there are drawbacks, namely heath concerns like lead in the paint, mold, mildew, volatile organic compounds, insects or insecticide residue, adhesives and other toxic chemicals. To reduce warping and end any insect infestations, lumber that has been guaranteed kiln-dried is highly recommended. If you have located lumber that you want to have kiln-dried, keep in mind that this can be a time-consuming process, taking up to a year for big, thick beams.
To avoid these issues, you might consider the many commercial planks made to look aged and “reclaimed.” Yes, that defeats the purpose of recycling wood from a shipping pallet, barn, boat, shed, mill or commercial structure. However, it may be worth it to get the look and feel without the downside of health risks, in addition to nails, splinters and warping, which creates additional installation headaches.
Many a DIYer has taken on the reclaimed wood accent wall and have both the horror stories and successes to prove it. While a fairly skilled and tenacious weekend warrior can make it happen, if you can afford it, I advise, at the very least, the services of a professional trim carpenter. For starters, all baseboards and door frames will need to be removed and reinstalled, as the wood will add considerable depth to the wall. This means that electrical boxes and the like also need to be moved forward to be flush with the new wall surface.
It is recommended that any finishing work be done to the planks or boards prior to installation. Then, the boards themselves need to be nailed — or, preferably, attached with trim screws — to studs, which should be marked before beginning. If the first board isn’t on level, the whole wall will appear to slant. If the boards are to run vertically, you will need to first attach furring strips to the wall. Regardless, the planks should be cut to various lengths and installed so that they don’t all end at the same place from row to row creating an unnatural uniformity.
The horizontal lengths of the boards should be spaced about the depth of a coin; many people use pennies as spacers. But it is the regretful DIYer who neglects to space boards end to end. Unless you provide room for the boards to expand as the humidity in the room fluctuates, you run the risk of creating a warping issue, which will likely pop boards off the wall. Bringing the boards indoors and letting them acclimate for some 48 hours can help reduce the risk of maddening warping. Then, there is the finishing work of concealing nail holes, caulking at the top and bottom.
While the results are dramatic, as you can see, the process can be time-consuming and frustrating. If I can help you with your reclaimed wood wall — or any other building or remodeling needs — please email me at Chris@vbhomesliving.com.
Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, served as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member.