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How To Add Character To Basic Architecture: Unfinished and Raw Wood

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It’s Monday, and before we get into today’s post. I wanted to give a MASSIVE and incredibly heartfelt thank you to everyone that came out to the Rummage Sale this weekend, the people, the atmosphere, and the energy that was there was more than we ever could have hoped for so thank you for making it such a special day.

Today we are back with another episode in our “How to Add Character To Basic Architecture” series. If you are new to the blog or the series be sure to check out “Wall Treatments” and “Ceiling Paneling” as today we are diving into options from both of those categories but using unfinished and raw wood. A quick note on all of these options below, although some of them do appear to be “unfinished” or “raw” if you do end up deciding to use raw wood in your home you will want to treat the wood with a clear sealant to help preserve it from stain, discoloring and everyday wear and tear.  Some of these ideas and concepts may seem repetitive from the last post but we wanted to dive even deeper into the series by offering up a ton of inspiration photos showing you how drastically a room can change when you give it (the walls and ceilings) a little bit of love. Bye bye neglected white, boring and bland rooms across America, let’s get into it.

Vertical Paneling:

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We will start with vertical paneling as it is probably the easiest way to add character to your walls. It can instantly transform the look of your bland walls into something special and unique. When it comes to vertical paneling this can be done fairly affordably with some options that your local hardware store will stock or you can really go for it with honed and beautiful wood like you see above and below.

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These wide plank options are typically going to be much more pricey than what you would find at your local hardware store (and by much more we mean A LOT more), but I mean, come one… the difference in appearance and quality is obvious. These houses are all stunning and filled with unique character due to that pretty wood on the walls that creates such a warm and subtle texture.

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The room below used wide panel planks to create an accent wall in the kitchen as well as in the dining room. By leaving the center wall white and without wood it gives the eye a visual break which allows the space to still feel modern and clean and not lean too “cabin”, “rustic” or “woodsy”.

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If the wide plank version is not your vibe or is way out of your price range then you can still get the same warm textured effect with simple vertical siding that has a more standard width of 6-8″ like the bathroom below. Without this addition of the wood the room would have felt cold, sterile and too modern, but by wrapping the wood on three of the walls it helps balance out the concrete wall and floor that are also in the room. Warm with cool – always a good combo and one that every room needs.

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Photo Source

While this post is about raw and unfinished options the pictures below were too beautiful to leave out even though it appears they have treated the wood with some sort of stain, lye, or whitewash treatment. The treatment helps to tone down the warmer undertones of the wood without completely taking away the texture and grain.

White Washed Wood Paneling
White Washed Wood Hallway With Stairs

You can also go more rustic with this application like they have done in the next few photos.

Rustic Wood Paneling With Stacks Of Wood
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Has the painted accent wall been replaced with the wood accent wall? The above and below pics really give the “accent wall” a strong case. And it is something that we WOOD definitely stand behind. (Forgive us… moving on).

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Horizontal Paneling:

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Much the same as the previous concept, horizontal wall paneling is a great option to add some character to your walls or ceilings. Horizontal paneling works especially well in smaller and more narrow areas where you want to visually increase the eye into thinking the space is larger than it is, like they did below. Just as it does with clothing, horizontal stripes (or paneling in this case) is going to elongate the area visually. Although we don’t have a tummy or some love handles to hide beneath a striped shirt we do have some not so appealing blank walls to hide so horizontal wood stripes to the rescue on this one.

Modern Wood Bathtub Wood Paneled Wall

The refined versions of this paneling option helps to add warmth and a beautiful texture to the above room. And below the more rustic version (dare we call it shiplap) adds some major character to this vintage looking kitchen.

Wood Shiplap Wall Kitchen and Dining Room

This room and that wood is so beautiful. The tonal variation of wood is just about as soothing as that cozy bed looks.

Wood Paneled Walls Bedroom White Window Bright

Wainscoting:

Wainscoting Wood Paneling Modern Grey Walls

So, what if you aren’t ready to commit to a wall or a ceiling full of wood. Well my friends, then wainscoting is for you. The term wainscoting refers to any type of wall treatment that goes a portion of the length of the wall. So while some people think wainscoting only involves beadboard or v-groove, this “a portion of the way up the wall method” can be used for any wall treatment and these rooms are really selling it.

Wainscoting Wood Paneling Modern Hallway

The above and below examples showcase it in a more modern way with beautiful simple wood and an unfinished edge at the top.

Modern Wood Wainscoting Paneling Plywood Bed
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And this room (wherever it may be) is very proud of how good its walls are looking with this beautiful treatment that it is sporting. They kept this one more modern and simple as well by keeping the top cap and the baseboard at the same depth as the wainscotting so that it all is one flush panel and doesn’t recess at all. Well done wall, well done.

Modern Wall Wainscoting Paneled Walls Raw Wood

Ceiling Paneling:

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Moving on up to the ceiling, the same concept continues that we discussed in the last two sections. However, when you add wood to your ceilings it is innately going to make the room feel more rustic and woodsy unless you go for a really smooth finish with not a lot of variation.

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Typically yellow pine is not something that we would endorse in large quantities but this bedroom below is really selling it with those clad ceilings.

Wood Paneled Ceiling Twin Beds

Ceiling Beams and Paneling:

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If you want to take it one step further then not only do you clad your ceiling but you add some wood beams into the mix. Now, a disclaimer on this one. Wood beams in any room if not done right can look very much like an awkward afterthought and will end up hurting your space more than helping it.

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Photo Source

A few quick rules to keep in mind with this. 1) Does the style of the house dictate a wood-paneled ceiling and beams? If not, then maybe skip this option and go for one of the other options we have outlined. 2) Are the beams that you are adding, what would structurally make sense if they were, in fact, helping to hold up the structure? You will want to install said beams in a way that makes them look original to the house not in a way that says, hey look at me I am a faux Tuscan beam that is trying to fit in real hard. 3) Go easy on the distressing. We get that you want your beams to look original but don’t make them look like they came from the bottom of a river. Make it look natural and authentic to the house but no more and no less.

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The example above and below are perfect examples of how to do it well without overdoing it. They kept the additional beams to a minimum and also didn’t try to make it look like the house was a converted barn from the 1800’s.

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If cladding your ceilings with wood sounds a bit scary then there is the option to add it in just in one small area or niche. This home used it in this little sink niche area to add some character and it makes the ceiling line in that area feel so special.

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And if you are ready to get real experimental then you can try something like this below. Which really would only work in a modern space like this that is filled with natural light, tall ceilings and plenty of open space.

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Entire Room Paneling:

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So we’ve walked you through how to do it halfway up the wall, all the way onto the walls, and then how to do it on your ceilings. But what if you just want to go ahead and have no wood-grets and just throw that material all over every surface? Well then you get a collection of rooms that looks like these.

Plywood Wall Paneled Bathroom Modern
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Plywood:

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Hold the hammer, did we just title a category “Plywood” and are we actually recommending that you put it on your walls to add character? Why yes, yes we did and here is why.

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Plywood, when done in the right way and with the right quality of plywood can be very beautiful. We aren’t talking about your builder grade plywood that every DIY project is made out of. Instead, we are talking about a higher grade plywood like the ones you see in these pics. This type of plywood is going to have far less knots in it, have a more even tone and will also be smooth.

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Cladding your walls in huge plywood panels is a very modern way to instantly change the look of your room. Unlike the other options which lean both traditional and modern, this option skews more modern when it is installed due to the size of the plywood panels and the look that it provides.

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I would wash my hands in that washroom every day if I could and just stare up at the beauty of that plywood contemplating how long I could last until I caved and had to put a picture on the wall thus creating a big nasty nail hole in that beautiful plywood.

The room below used sheets of plywood and then at the vertical seams added a larger beam and at the horizontal seams added a small piece of moulding. A pretty clever way to install it that keeps the visual lines of the panels to a minimum.

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Talk about an accent wall. This room took it onto the wall and then all the way up onto the ceiling. It works here because everything else is kept simple and clean and because they pulled in some orange tones into the room to help bring that color of the plywood throughout the room design.

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Modern Wall Applications:

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If you have unlimited funds, are feeling very daring or really want to get custom with it then these last options are for you, which we have titled “Modern Wall Applications”. They are unlike any of the other options that we have pulled together thus far in the post and yet are some of the most impactful because the raw wood is really the statement piece in the room.

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Let us know if you have any questions on any of the applications below, and if you have tried and succceeded at adding nautral and raw wood to your walls/ceilings we would love to see any pics that you have. xx



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  1. So much inspiration here… THANK YOU

    1. Ditto!!

  2. Small clarification to DIYers (as a contractor will likely recommend this) it is CLEAR FINISHED…..if unfinished you will have to keep every single scuff, stain, dust bunny and watermark.

    Coming from the interior architecture side: I used tons of plywood in a physiotherapy office design and we did Baltic Birch B/BB c/w clear lacquer finish, B side facing out. If you’re using a contractor and would like that beautiful light high quality plywood look, that would be the product to specify!

    1. Yea this is all most likely clear finished, which is in fact a finish. They should change the title of this post because there is a huge difference between a clear finish and none at all. What they’re really referring to is unstained un- shellaced wood (wood that isn’t colored in any way) in a matte clear finish. If you tell a contractor or carpenter you want raw unfinished wood in your home they’ll prob look at you like you’re insane.

      1. Another thing to keep in mind is that not all clear finishes are equal. ANY finish with oil in it will impart an amber tone. A water based poly will be the most crystal clear… etc.

  3. My husband and I just finished building out an electric fireplace with raw wood on the surrounding walls. We LOVE the warmth and natural element it adds to the room, and it was just stock cedar tongue-and-groove paneling from Menards, super quick and relatively cheap to install! (I have a picture but I don’t know how to comment it…)

    1. Love hearing that! Sounds like such a pretty space.

  4. Question, do you think/ feel the wood paneling of today MIGHT turn into the “70’s wood paneling” of tomorrow? Curious to hear your insights/ thoughts on this. I know everything is a trend and I know you try to put *disclaimers* on how/when to use them (like the faux beam outlined above), and while these design elements can look (more) timeless in the right structure/design, I struggle with imagining “GOOD” 70’s wood paneling (I’m talking with a stained finish, not painted white or something). What do you think?

    1. Depending on the way that it is done and the color that you end up staining it, it definitely could go 70’s in the way that it looks. But a beautiful toned wood done in the right color will always feel timeless. I would steer clear of anything too yellow, orange, or cherry toned and go with something a bit more subtle for longevity.

  5. the picture where the ceiling is clad only above the sink is by Kate Marker Interiors. It wasn’t properly credited from that random Coco or whatever site. Please give the designer credit. Thanks. 🙂

    katemarkerinteriors.com

    1. Does anyone know the source for the beautiful dining room with the round table, the photo source link isn’t working for me.

      1. Here is the link in to the house tour: in case it wasn’t working directly for you.

    2. Thanks for letting us know. We swapped in her directly link, and also swapped out the pic for another one from that house she designed. It’s so pretty and she did such a good job with it.

      1. Hooray Emily! You are so cool about linking and giving credit! I love how on top of it you and your crew always are. 🙂

  6. These are gorgeous but…..

    All wood changes color as it ages, which can be good or not. My house was previously owned by someone who either loved the look of unfinished/raw wood or was too lazy to do anything about it once it was up. All that pine and birch that looks so lovely when it’s new and pale, turns a horrible dark orange color when it ages.

    It was a long haul to finish painting all 30 windows, many doors and trim and window seats and cupboards and shelving etc. It’s done now, and no matter how gorgeous these rooms look now when they are fresh (and I love lots of them) I will never have raw wood in my house again. If you want that pale, raw, look, it has to be treated to stay that way.

  7. These options will have to soak in a few days … I do like birch plywood when it’s cabinet grade. One look I like is a wall of cabinets installed flush so it looks like a wall of paneling. The storage is hidden but on hand and you have a wall of beautiful wood.

    Loved the rummage insta-stories. It was almost as good as being there with a magic ticket to get in … but w/o the rain.

  8. ahhh so pretty! My favourites are the first wide plank vertical application, all the plywood and the modern 🙂

    We added teak veneer plywood to several of our rooms (and we’re doing our stair risers in teak) and I love the warms it brings to the rooms without looking too busy. I finished in Danish Oil so the colour is a rich warm tone compared to it’s still beautiful

  9. What are they doing there with those really narrow beams of wood in the super modern applications section? I’ve been photo lusting that look for a while but I can’t quite tell what’s going on with it. Second question, is this too much statement for a small space (say a 700 sq ft condo)? I know you said horizontal paneling in small narrow spaces but I do wonder if it’s jusy trying to do too much in a small space and could quickly look like a cluttered mess. Thoughts?

    1. You may not want too much texture. I.e., you may not want to have too much variation in color, width, or depth of the wood pieces. Otherwise, it could feel like the walls are closing in or too much visually. Follow the other tips for small spaces: go for a wood with less or tighter grain, uniformity (less knots), and a lighter color. Use a clear finish that will not turn orange over time unless you like orange.

  10. I love the photos in the modern applications among other things but every time I suggest something like this to a contractor they roll there eyes and say it can’t be done. We see this in magazines so someone does it. Do you have any advice?

  11. Hi there!
    Do you happen to know the stain in the very first picture (vertical paneling) Is that knotty pine? We have knotty pine paneling from the sixties that has a darker stain. I would love a lighter look and I love the first pic. I also really like the almost white pickled wall from a later pic too. Thanks for a great post!

  12. ADORE this post. There’s something so soothing about being surrounded by wood in all its natural glory.

    While I haven’t quite figured out how to cohesively integrate this kind of panelling into my Victorian home, I’m attempting to convince my parents to incorporate it into theirs instead.

    Last summer I was lucky enough to step foot inside the Susanna Vento/Kannustalo house featured in your source photos above, when they were still doing house tours. While I know it may have been the idyllic Finnish forest/lakeside setting and double height floor to ceiling windows… the overall effect was so breathtakingly heavenly that I still think about the feeling the space evoked often.

    Would love to see a similar slice of heaven in your Mountain House design plan!

  13. Love, love, love that whitewashed vertical panelling

  14. Very nice

  15. I’m loving a lot of these treatments. I have never thought of doing wood as an accent wall! I have always hated the painted accent walls for some reason.
    But honestly, what I love most is the storage cabinet in the lead photo and the rug in the first “horizontal paneling” photo. Beautiful!

  16. Netflix just added a lovely new show- “The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes” and I already watched the first 2 episodes. Some of the homes used wood in some truly inspiring ways that still felt totally modern and purposeful. If you’re digging this post, you will likely also dig this show. Although it’s definitely more focused on architecture than styling.

  17. Great architecture by wood. Thanks for sharing your idea. I really inspire.

  18. This is a very impressive post and I am glad to see this post and all the photographs are awesome.

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