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!
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:
or on that “5th wall” — the ceiling!
or put it on just part of the wall as a wainscoting treatment, like this:
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.
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.
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.
Here’s the basic process:
- Stain your wood a medium brown (we used Wheat by Rustoleum with just a touch of Kona to make it a bit darker).
- Mix up 1 part water to 2 parts flat white latex paint (we used budget ceiling paint from our local hardware store).
- Brush (don’t roll) the paint on in the direction of the wood grain.
- Wipe off with a paper towel or rag in the direction of the wood grain.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 if desired.
Now that doesn’t sound too hard, does it?
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…
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.
I could spend all day every day in this room.
We loved the whitewashed look so much that we even whitewashed the closet door. You can find the tutorial for that project here.
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!
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.
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.”
Will this technique work on rough cedar? I would like to do my fireplace surround.
In theory this technique could work on any piece of unfinished wood, but there are two tricky things that may change the effect. First, your wood may already be finished with some kind of oil or sealant; that could inhibit the paint from seeping into the grain. Second, the rough cedar may make rubbing the whitewash into the wood difficult, which could alter the finished look. If you have a way to test it on an inconspicuous area, I would definitely recommend that first. Or – even better – if you can find a little scrap to try, you could get an idea of the effect without risking ruining your mantel. I am sorry I don’t have a more definite answer for you, but I hope this helps!
Thanks for this awesome DIY tutorial! I am currently in the process of building a home and this was a huge help when it came time to install shiplap in my living room.
Here is the finished product…
I would worry about that criple wall you removed in the attic. That is was there for a support reason and may have taken away from the structural integrity. Just my opinion.
I am building a new ‘dream/forever’ home on the coast of Big Island, and I wanted the coastal look I so often see in magazines, to include a whitewash accent ceiling. Since my upstairs is exposed beams, I had my EXCELLENT carpenters help me and prime/paint them, and then apply the whitewashed new wood boards. My husband admitted that he thought it would be ugly, and the carpenters had not seen that technique, but it is coming out sensational. I followed all the techniques from the article by Cass, even trying three different shades of stain, but the initial shade, a mid-brown penetrating oil base stain worked best, and I then covered that with an oil base decking product. I rolled the stain on one board, then sponged off the excess, applying the excess to a partner board, then rolled the white, streaking it with a 6″ oil paint brush, to give that grained and covered look. No two boards are alike and each is wonderful, and though I am probably the most pleased, my husband and the carpenters are also fans. The one thing I would ‘complain’ about is that the little snapshots I take with my phone camera do not seem to show the finish look well; those photos seem to make the boards a browner shade when the white in actuality is fairly dominant. I would recommend this to ANY one wanting that coastal look be it Cape Cod or the Carribean or, Hawaii!
We will be whitewashing our beach cottage ceiling this summer and your tutorial is full
of helpful information. How would you suggest we clean the very old and very dusty wood?
I love this! My dining room (aka “The Dungeon”) has 11′ ceilings and shiplap walls covered in 70’s paneling. I was looking for something to encourage me to rip out the paneling and whitewash. This is my inspiration!! Thank you!!
I just bought a home with tons of wood and want to brighten up a lot of it with whitewash. Some people say you need to seal afterwards with poly, some say no need? What is your opinion. I will probably do polyacrylic for ease of use and some complain that polyurethane has a yellow tinge to it…Thanks for any advice or insight you can provide!
I think it depends on how much wear your boards will receive. Since it’s a ceiling and my boards were raw to begin with, I didn’t bother to seal at all. But if you are planning to do walls that will be rubbed against regularly, you might want to try some kind of matte sealer; polyacrylic would probably be great. Just remember that once you seal the wood, you’ll have to remove the sealer (or at least degloss it) before you can paint over or change it in the future. I hope this helps!
I really like what you did here, Rachel. I am in the process of remodeling my attic, and I am using whitewood tongue & groove raw boards for the ceiling. I plan to follow your instructions to a tee, after pre-treating the boards with a combination of black tea, to increase tannin content in the wood grain, and iron buff, a mix of white vinegar and ultra fine steel wool.
I have one question for you, if you can find the time to address it: how long do you wait between step 3 and 4? In other words, how long does the thinned white paint sits on the boards before I wipe it off with a rug? Somehow, I feel that if I remove the paint too soon, I will wipe off too much, but if I let it dry excessively, it will not create the desired effect.
Thank you so much! So glad you like it. 🙂 I wish I had a firmer answer for you, but it was definitely a trial and error process. It depends on how dry your wood is, how much the paint is soaking in or resting on top, how intense you want the final white look to be… If I remember right, I usually waited 15 seconds or so and then wiped once. Often I would have to go back, though, and do it again or wait longer. Just remember, you can always try again, but if you let it soak in too much, it’s hard to go backwards!
So lovely! We’re about to purchase an old home that, underneath all the layers of wallpaper, has unfinished wood plank walls. I really don’t want to rip everything out at put up drywall, but dark wood for floors, walls, ceiling, and windows/doors is too much! I just showed my husband this post and we’re going to try this technique out on a few walls to add some light and keep a rustic vibe!
Do you mind sharing the ceiling height at the tallest point? We are considering finishing our small attic, and I’m having a hard time visualizing the space. If the end result was anything like yours I’d do it tomorrow!
I’m sorry, I actually don’t know! We moved a couple of years ago and no longer live there. I’m guessing it was between 8 and 9 feet at the peak, though.
My walls next to the cedar were just painted a light grey.. the ceilings are brute white …
I would like ro white wash the cedar do it has grey and white tones… a mix of both to compliment ..is this possible to do… how do I achieve this?
I think you’ll find that a whitewash over cedar has a ton of gray tones in the mix. The exact gray tones will depend on your wood and its age and undertones, so you might try a little patch that’s not as obvious and see if you like the balance. If it’s not the right tones, you could try mixing just a touch of your gray paint into your white before you water down to whitewash; that will add the same gray tones into your wood.
Hello. I know you posted this years ago, but I am just now seeing it. We are looking to do this in our downstairs and I am trying to figure out if you stain the wood BEFORE you put it on the wall and then once the boards are on the wall then you whitewash, or do you do it all on the wall, or all before?
Sorry if you have already answered this. I tried to go through the comments to see first, but didn’t see anything.
I have a question about the whitewashing you did on your ceiling. I plan to whitewash a wood wall in a house we just bought. I thought I would need to sand it before I whitewashed it because I believe it is currently stained a darker brown by the previous owners.. but I see that in your tutorial, you purposely stained it first before you whitewashed. Do you think I will still get the whitewash look going over wood that’s already stained and sealed? Or will I need to sand it? Thank you!
Love the look we have a cottage that has pine ceilings that look like they have a sealant or varnish on must I sand first???? they are very high!
To get the whitewash to stick, yes, you’ll need to sand or otherwise remove the sealant. Good luck!
love your article!
I have a question. I am considering whitewashing my bed`s headboard. I LOVE your light fixture the White One on the how to whitewash a plank wall article.
Do you have any idea where it came from or where I could find one…
Your help much appreciated.
I love this! There’s something about a whitewashed ceiling that really brightens a room, while maintaining a cozy feeling. We recently whitewashed our cabin pine ceiling with a similar technique: https://thevanderveenhouse.com/whitewash-pine-ceiling/