How to Whitewash a Plank Wall and Ceiling

I love spaces that have character (like so many of these rooms that I am still drooling over!) and one of my favorite DIY ways to add character to a room is by adding some texture — something like board and batten or a plank wall. Our guest today had an unfinished attic space just waiting to be made into something beautiful, so, taking a cue from a partial planked ceiling section, she planked and whitewashed the entire ceiling and the walls — and the result is gorgeous!

Attic with Whitewashed Plank Walls and Ceiling | Tutorial by Maison de Pax on Remodelaholic.com

 

Keep reading for the tutorial on how Rachel whitewashed her attic room, and start thinking of where you want to put YOUR whitewashed plank wall! You could try it in a small space like a bathroom:

pallet wood accent wall on Remodelaholic.com
Mandy Jean Chic on Remodelaholic

or on that “5th wall” — the ceiling!

pallet wood ceiling on Remodelaholic
Maple Leaves and Sycamore Trees on Remodelaholic

or put it on just part of the wall as a wainscoting treatment, like this:

whitewashed pallet wood wainscoting on Remodelaholic
Owen’s Olivia on Remodelaholic

Now that you’re imagining where to put your beautiful whitewashed plank wall, here’s Rachel with all the details to help you make it happen:

Attic with Whitewashed Plank Walls and Ceiling

by Rachel of Maison de Pax

Hi Remodelaholic readers! I’m Rachel Paxton from Maison de Pax, and I am so thrilled to be here. Two years ago, we moved back to Texas from a stent in France, purchased our 1940 colonial (aka Maison de Pax), and got right to work loving this old home back to life. Last year, I began documenting our work, like our exterior transformation, my Restoration Hardware-inspired DIY decor, and my whole slew of furniture makeovers.

Our most recent project (other than welcoming our third child into our lives this May!) was to finish out our attic as a guest room so that the new baby could have her own room. And what a project it has been! Today I’m going to share a tutorial with you that I believe has been the most pivotal part of giving this attic the character we wanted: the whitewashed plank wall and ceiling.

How to whitewash wood for a plank wall | Maison de Pax on Remodelaholic.com

One of the reasons we bought this home was the potential that the attic possessed. It already had a full staircase leading up to it, and it was big. Beyond that, a LOT of vision was needed. Here is how it started.

attic before whitewashed plank walls, Maison de Pax on Remodelaholic

You can see the little bit of planking on the ceiling. We let that inspire us, but we knew we needed a brighter space. Adding a skylight helped, but it would never feel light enough with the natural wood. Plus, there was not nearly enough of the original planking to close in the entire space, so we had to somehow match new, fresh cedar planks to the old ones. It was a trial-and-error process (and pretty hilariously awkward, given that I was 7 months pregnant while we did this!), but I’m so very happy with the result.

Attic with Whitewashed Plank Walls and Ceiling | Tutorial by Maison de Pax on Remodelaholic.com

The match between the old and new is not perfect, but I think it adds to the depth and texture of the whitewashing. The key to merging the old and new planks involved staining the new ones to match the old before whitewashing them all. Actually, even if you are considering whitewashing all newer planking, I would recommend staining it a bit darker first. This brings out the knots and textures in the wood grain more clearly. Then, when you whitewash, you can see more of that peeking through.

whitewashed plank wall | Maison de Pax on Remodelaholic.com

Here’s the basic process:

  1. Stain your wood a medium brown (we used Wheat by Rustoleum with just a touch of Kona to make it a bit darker).
  2. Mix up 1 part water to 2 parts flat white latex paint (we used budget ceiling paint from our local hardware store).
  3. Brush (don’t roll) the paint on in the direction of the wood grain.
  4. Wipe off with a paper towel or rag in the direction of the wood grain.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 if desired.

Now that doesn’t sound too hard, does it?

whitewashed plank ceiling, Maison de Pax on Remodelaholic

And it wasn’t… but it wasn’t really easy either. Like a lot of painting projects, it’s more an art form than a science. You have to keep going until you love it…

whitewashed plank walls and ceiling tutorial, Maison de Pax on Remodelaholic

To help you reach the “love it” stage, here are some tips I found that helped. Each plank has its own identity, and each plank will take a certain finesse, but the overall result is wonderful… isn’t it?

Tip 1: The brush strokes in the direction of the wood grain are important, especially if you’re working with faux aged (i.e. stained new wood) rather than authentically aged planks. Some of your texture comes from those brush strokes, and you want them to work with your grain, rather than against it.

Tip 2: Have a spray bottle with water in it on hand. If you ever feel your paint is getting too thick, just squirt a little extra water in. The 1:2 water to paint ratio is a guideline.

Tip 3: Be careful at the ends of boards. The paint tends to glob up there a bit and show the wiping marks if you don’t rub it in well.

Tip 4: Don’t wipe too vigorously or you’ll have to put on a million coats.

Tip 5: Even though you’re working with watered down paint, sometimes a “dry brush” technique is the best approach. In other words, squeeze your brush out on a paper towel, get just a little watered down paint, and then brush it onto the surface of the board. “Dry brushing” watered-down paint seems counter-intuitive, but trust me; sometimes it’s the easiest way to create the desired texture.

Tip 6: If you ever do end up with ugly brush strokes or too much paint, use a wet rag and rub vigorously… As long as the paint hasn’t fully dried, you can wipe most of it off.

Tip 7: If you are layering any pieces a different direction (like our faux beams below which were used to cover up the seams between the planks), try to whitewash them before you install them so you don’t mess up your brush strokes.

How to match old whitewashed wood planks to new planks, Maison de Pax on Remodelaholic.com

I could spend all day every day in this room.

how to install a whitewashed plank wall, Maison de Pax on Remodelaholic

We loved the whitewashed look so much that we even whitewashed the closet door. You can find the tutorial for that project here.

Whitewashed Attic | Maison de Pax on Remodelaholic.com

We also finished off the stairwell with a little DIY project. Rather than closing the narrow space in with sheetrock, we built a bookcase using more cedar scraps found in the attic. I love the reclaimed look and the way it opens the stairwell visually while still keeping little ones from falling off the edge!

Whitewashed attic ceiling with built-in shelving along stairs - Maison de Pax on Remodelaholic.com

Since then, we’ve begun filling up the space and adding the decorative touches, like this bedside table I refinished using Country Chic Paint in Simplicity.

whitewashed plank bedroom wall - Maison de Pax on Remodelaholic.com

I feel I should warn you, though: whitewashing can be addictive. Seriously. I want to plank and whitewash everything in my house now! It makes the perfect romantic space.

whitewashed attic | Maison de Pax on Remodelaholic.com

Really, it was such a fun project, and I hope you find the tutorial helpful. And thank you so much to Remodelaholic for letting me share it with you!

——————————–

Gorgeous work, Rachel! Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful attic with us!

Remodelaholics, go pay Rachel a visit at Maison de Pax — congratulate her on her beautiful new baby girl, and then check out the equally beautiful new nursery!

Added June 2015: our reader John send us these pictures of his ceiling that he used this treatment on — it looks great!

From John: “Doing my ceiling I used all new cedar. I first stained the wood grey before painting on the watered down white paint.

I did some test pieces first and the grey stain had the look I was wanting. I then painted on a couple coats of watered down white and wiped off the excess white fairly quick after applying.

All the boards were finished before installing on the ceiling.

Thanks for the help in making my project work out.”

whitewashed wood over gray stained ceiling whitewashed wood ceiling over gray stain ceiling: whitewashed wood over gray stain

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Lorene has been behind the scenes here at Remodelaholic for more than a decade! She believes that planning projects and actually completing them are two different hobbies, but that doesn't stop her from planning at least a dozen projects at any given time. She spends her free time creating memories with her husband and 5 kids, traveling as far as she can afford, and partaking of books in any form available.

We love hearing from fellow Remodelaholics, so let us know what you like about this and leave any questions below in the comments. If you've followed a tutorial or been inspired by something you've seen here, we'd love to see pictures! Submit pictures here or by messaging us over on Facebook.

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66 Comments

      1. Hi Bren,
        Great question! We did wait at least a day between the stain and the paint – mostly because it took us that long to finish staining the whole room and then start over with the paint. I do think it’s a good idea to wait at least the required dry time on your choice of stain so that it doesn’t mix with your wash. Hope this helps!
        Rachel

    1. I really wish I had found this before I whitewashed my wainscoting in December of last year. I had no idea how to go about it, but wanted a similar look. I ended up using a white pickling stain instead of watered down paint, and I think it probably was at least twice as expensive, and required several coats to get the right color. I love it though. It was for my bathroom, so I put three coats of poly on afterwards to protect the finish, since it was behind the sink. Sounds like your way is better, faster, and cheaper! Figures….

    2. LOVE THIS LOOK! Can’t wait to start my dining room half wall with this! A beautiful coastal look. Thank you for the great tutorial!

  1. I LOVE THIS! I want to do our kitchen ceiling, which is very similar – one question and forgive me if I just didn’t catch it in the post, did you paint the planks before putting them up? If you whitewashed while they were up there, how hard was it? I want to whitewash our kitchen ceiling but since it’s already up there, it means I’ll be upside down for a while & worried about the thin whitewash going all over…

    Thanks for the inspiration, pinning this!

  2. I LOVE the white wash, omg it looks amazing. I think I would have painted the floor white…and maybe a little diamond or checker board pattern??? but it does look really nice! Great job . That is a lot of work, done with love and care.

  3. Did you strip and sand the wood before you applied the whitewash? I’m going to redo my headboard. They’re two doors with a reddish stain, bleh. Did you seal it too? And what did you use? This has been the best tutorial I’ve found. The entire room is perfection. Thanks for sharing. xx.

    1. Hi Jade! I’m so glad you like the attic – thank you!! I did not strip or sand the wood as it was unstained, raw wood. The difference in color that we were working with was due merely to age: some were old planks (unstained but colored with age), and some were brand new. If you don’t like the reddish stain already on your headboard, you could certainly strip it and start from scratch, but you might try whitewashing over it first, just to see. The whitewash might cover up enough of the red that you don’t mind it – it would definitely be less work! I also did not seal it as I don’t think a ceiling will get enough wear to make it worth the effort. However, a headboard definitely would, so I would probably seal it with a wax or poly if I were you. I hope it turns out lovely!!

  4. I lofted into my attic in a small row house. I don’t like the plain ceiling. Your solution is exactly what I have been planning to do, as soon as I find thin wood to use as veneer over the drywall. I haven’t decided if I run it horizontally 15′ or vertically. The lofted area – where I have my office – is short to the ceiling. Yours looks beautiful and gives me hope for mine. Congratulations.

    Anyway,I am wondering about how you handled the area around the skylight. I have a number of skylights — do I leave the drywall in the well and just run the wood to the edge of the cutout? Do I try to put the wood in the well? How did you finish the edges? Could you please post some photos if how you handled the skylight areas?

    Thanks

  5. Hello,
    Thanks so much for the fantastic tutorial. I am looking to create a weathered look on an old credenza I found. It currently is dark wood. Would this technique still work? If so, should I stain the dresser or leave it the color it is, sand and apply the whitewash? Any help is much appreciated. Thanks!
    Marianne

    1. Hi Marianne,
      I’m so glad you like it! Unfortunately, without seeing the piece myself, I’m not sure I can give you solid advice. If it is a previously finished piece, it probably has a varnish or polyurethane on it, which would keep the white paint from absorbing into the wood and might even keep it from sticking. You could certainly try an inconspicuous place and see… But you’d probably be safer to do some sanding to start. If you can get it down to the wood (even if the wood is still stained dark), then the paint should be fine. You could also try a chalk paint instead, which should adhere better but will require a top coat. Honestly, to protect a piece of furniture (which certainly gets more use than a ceiling!), you’ll probably want some sort of protective coat when you’re finished even if you use latex. Sorry I don’t have a more direct answer; I hope this helps in some way! Good luck!! πŸ™‚

  6. We are doing a new cedar ceiling in our lanai and we love the look. I have done some tests on a piece piece of cedar.

    This is a pretty large space and I think I have the finish we like but was wondering about a sealer. Do you think we would need one on it because of humidity in Florida.

    I really like the look we came up with and I’m afraid of the sealer really changing the look to much.

    I plan on trying a small piece with some poly but if you have seen a job of this nature with the sealer, what did you think of that look?

    Your room looks great!

    Thanks
    John

    1. Hi John,
      Thanks so much! I’m so glad you like it. Unfortunately, I haven’t ever seen any room other than my own, and I didn’t need to seal it as it’s indoors and fairly low use. But I completely understand your concern about a Florida porch (I live in Houston, and the humidity would definitely concern me!). I think your best bet is to test, as you mentioned. Also, I would recommend waiting as long as possible (i.e. at least a few days) before you put the poly on. That will give time for the whitewash to fully dry and cure a bit… hopefully this would minimize the affect of the poly.

      I hope this helps. Good luck!
      Rachel

      1. I finished my ceiling and as I thought, I love it. So far everyone that seen it feels the same. I will try to post a picture.

        Sorry, but after looking I was not able to see how to post a photo.

        Thanks for all the information,

        John

  7. I love your blog and it has given me a lot of inspiration as I’m building my house in Japan. I love the whitewash wall and ceiling but I love the white lamp even more… I’m wondering where you got it.

  8. Hi, I am planning on whitewashing our 1800’s cottage ceilings, which are rough pine (I believe), and quite dark because of the age. I was concerned about ugly yellow and brownish “bleed through” from the knots and general stains if I didn’t use a BIN type stain killer as the watered down paint for the whitewash, but I hate the odor. Did you have any of that bleed through happen on your old boards?
    Thanks in advance,
    Eva

    1. Hi Eva,
      An 1800’s cottage – sounds amazing! I understand your concern, though. We did have a little bleed through, but it was mostly red/brown because we were using cedar planks. It wasn’t much, though, and to me, it was part of allowing the grain to show through. You might try KILZ 2 (their latex version) – I don’t think it’s quite as stinky as some. Try a little section that’s not as obvious and leave it for a while. Bleed through doesn’t always happen overnight. Hopefully you can find something that works without too much odor. Good luck!

  9. It looks like the attic was unfinished when you started… So heres my “dumb” question. Did you put the plank boards over something? Did you plank over drywall or hard board? Did you insulate first and then put the plank boards over the framing? Just curious because my attic looks like your unfinished pic. And I’d like to do the same thing.
    Thanks,

    1. It’s not a dumb question at all! We did hire a crew to insulate between the beams and then we just used the tongue and groove cedar boards directly onto the beams (no sheetrock needed). I hope this helps!

      1. What did you do to reinforce where the supports were removed. There were many supports going from the floor to the rafters (?) that are not there any more. Doesn’t seem like you could just remove those without concern of the roof falling in.

  10. Love your site!
    Amazing!
    My question is, will white washing the door require a darker paint or stain on the surface before applying the white wash.
    My doors are a lighter wood. Will that matter?
    Thanks so much!
    Michele

    1. I’m so glad you like it, Michele! The answer is, though, that it depends… Do a little test corner and see if you like the look. The color of the wood underneath will definitely affect the finished look (because the white is semi transparent), but you might like it a little lighter… It’s a personal preference thing. Either way, you can’t go wrong if you like the look. πŸ™‚ Hope this helps!

    1. Since we had a mixture of aged boards and new ones, I had to try to match the new ones to the depth of color in the aged ones. That was why I started experimenting with the brown (and why I couldn’t just skip that step). However, as I did so, I realized that the boards that were aged (or stained) prior to whitewashing had significantly more variations showing through the whitewash, allowing the grain of the wood to hold a more prominent place. I hope this helps! πŸ™‚

  11. Question about installation. Assuming it was screwed to the wall. What did you do with all the holes? I know my husband will ask, and I need to be prepared!

    1. Hi Dannelle,
      We actually attached most of the planks with finishing nails, so the holes were very small. Rather than fill them, we just left them as part of the “character” ;). The cross pieces were actually screwed in, though, because there was some warped board we were working to hold in place, and even those we just left the screws where they were. One of the beauties of the whitewashing (rather than a crisp, clean paint job) is that you can get away with imperfections… they are kind of absorbed into the texture of the room. Hope this helps!

  12. love your ceiling…..I have cedar plank accent walls in my family that has been treated as I see some teak oil on it….it has to be at least 15 years old…but good condition and as aged reddish sort of……can I whitewash over this directly or should I darker it first

    1. So glad you like it, Nicole! The color is probably fine (my aged cedar was sort of a reddish color), but I am a bit concerned that it was treated with teak oil. The oil may act as a resistant and keep the paint from adhering. Is there an inconspicuous place where you can try it? If the paint does not soak into the wood or looks like it may chip off later, you may have to sand or at least try a deglosser on the wood before your whitewash. I hope this helps! Good luck. πŸ™‚