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Master Bathroom Renovation: Plywood Plank Wall

2014 March 9
by Becky

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It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve written about our master bathroom renovation adventure, you know the one that started out as “no big deal” and has since eaten up much of our free time and all of our patience?

Well, here’s where we left off…

Master Bathroom Renovation - Butcher Block Countertops

The original plan called for painting that back wall and calling it quits. But after living with it for a while as we slowly made progress on the floors, cabinet, and wall tile, it felt like something was missing back there. And I’m not just talking about the unpainted, unmudded drywall patch. We wanted to punch things up a bit.

I’ve been in love with the look of board and batten or wainscoting or really any kind of molding for years but just haven’t had a chance to really go crazy with it yet. I’d wanted to do something in this room but removing the tile walls was overwhelming. There’s so much tile on every wall and around the tub that taking them out would have meant a near-complete gut job—I’m just not that committed to this room. So we worked around the tile, removing some to add beefy trim.

But kept coming back to woodwork, especially planks.

Bathroom Plank Wall Inspirations 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

Far from an original idea, as the world has gone plank crazy in the past few years and there are about 5.34 million examples and methods out there on the web. And since replacing the rest of the wall tile with wood wasn’t an option, we thought maybe, just maybe it would work on that big blank canvas of a back wall.

First up, I had my heart set on reclaimed wood pallets for the planks. I even found a whole bunch of them and asked the owner to drop them off in our garage until I realized it was like 14 degrees outside with no signs of warming up—no way I was going to work outside. We’d already been working on this room for weeks, it need to wrap quicker than I could get those pallets ripped down. Especially when nap time and evenings are my only times to work.

Pallets were a no-go. Thanks a lot St. Louis weather!

Next, I rooted around online and found a blogger that used fencing boards called “cedar dog eared pickets“. At only a little over $1 each, they seemed like a viable and cost-effective option. We grabbed a couple boards to test out at home and after give them a good sanding…

MasterBathroomPlankWall-SandingFencePlanks

(I of course went over them again with the electric sander after Little Man gave it his all)

we threw on some stain leftover from another project, just to test the waters. Clearly the saw marks were a problem…I have no idea how the Kyla got these to work on her nursery’s whitewashed walls—hers turned out beautifully smooth. Not so much for us.

MasterBathroomPlankWall-StainedFencePlanks

We decided plywood was our next best option. Everybody and their mother has used cheap ole plywood (here, here, and hereto create plank-style walls in their homes, and at under $30 for two 4×8 sheets it was worth a try. I headed to Home Depot to make the purchase. I looked for the paint-ready plywood at the $13 price point, as that’s what many sites said they used, and asked a nice associate to cut the sheets into 6″ strips.

I think everyone who’e done one of these projects has this exact photo.

Master Bathroom Plank Wall - Cutting Plywood

I asked him to cut the piece in half width-wise, THEN cut the 6″ strips so we were going with the grain of the wood but there was a lot of back and forth and, before I knew it, he was cutting the strips the short way, meaning he cut through the grain instead of with it. Since I’d pretty much decided to paint the planks anyway, this wasn’t a problem for me. BUT, if were planning to stain them, a do-over would have been in order.

On Saturday, after a week in Florida for Ethan and I while Stu traveled for work, we were refreshed and ready to assemble our wall. I’d sanded all the planks when the weather was nice, making sure to really sand the good-side edges well and just do a quick run over the bad-side edges.

Master Bathroom Plank Wall - Sanding Plywood Planks

MasterBathroomPlankWall-SandingPlywoodPlanks2

The bad-sides were pretty horrible. Overall things sanding out quite nicely. With cheap plywood, there’s going to be some splitting. Looking back, knowing we were going to go through with this, I probably would have spent more on nicer hard-board plywood. We were kind of heading into this project with “Failure” written across the backs of our brains so cheap = more sensible.

Anyway…

Master Bathroom Plank Wall - Nailing Plywood Planks

Nap time began and so did wall assembly. We had 2.5 hours of uninterrupted plank-nailing-and-cutting time. Things started off great, using our finishing nail gun (a purchase made looooooong ago that has been used only one other time) we started staggering the planks on the wall. Since it was freezing outside I opted to paint the planks on the wall instead of before, but we did make sure to prime the whole wall so no gray peeked through.

I forgot how fun nail guns are to use. 

We spaced the planks with a nickel. It looked great. I started priming the planks as we nailed because we just couldn’t tell how things were looking until that coat of white brought everything together. It was going to be fantastic!

Master Bathroom Plank Wall - Spacing Plywood Planks

Until we realized the boards were not cut straight. Sweet. I almost gathered them all up and drove back to Home Depot, ready to have everything recut. Some planks varied from 6″ at one end to 6.25″ at the other. Trying not to panic, I measured both ends of all the planks and graded them. A, B, or C in quality. The C grade planks were reserved for short cuts, the As and Bs used right away where most visible.

There weren’t many As.

MasterBathroomPlankWall-GradingPlywood

If this isn’t s reality of renovation, I don’t know what is. You think you’ve covered all the bases, the level is registering straight, but the gap isn’t making sense. No one mentions this kind of stuff! It’s always swept under the rug once everything turns out fine. That is, until the day after I wrote this post I read about Jenny’s plywood plank floors—she too had uneven planks! It just feels better to hear even the pros have these issues.

Well I’m here to tell you, we got mad about our gaps being messed up for a few minutes, but, per our usual, we decided to move forward. Ripping finishing nails out of the wall is pretty simple and we wanted to make absolutely certain things weren’t looking good before stopping.

To our great astonishment, once that primer went on, things still looked good. Our gaps were a little uneven in places, but we thought it kind of added to the plank charm. We were already randomly staggering the planks, why not have a little variance in spacing? We’re talking millimeters here people.

Master Bathroom Plank Wall - Installing Plywood Planks
Each time we stepped back for a look, our hopes of project success were renewed. It was looking totally sweet. Speaking of second looks, see that white medicine cabinet? It was removed shortly after this picture was taken, replaced with a nice big piece of drywall, mud, and paint. We just hated it and didn’t need it. There’s plenty of storage in our huge vanity.

Once we hit the ceiling and everything was primed, we filled the nail holes and any obvious blemishes before beginning to paint. I just used the same white semi-gloss we used on the kitchen trim. The first coat was mostly brushed on, but then I got smart and used a small roller for the next two coats. I was sure to watch for gap-covering paint, that would totally ruin the effect we were going for.

Master Bathroom Plank Wall - Painting Plywood Planks Master Bathroom Plank Wall - Painting Plywood Planks 2

Using a highly specialized tool (a springy hair clip) I cleaned out goopy gaps as I painted. It was not a fast process and took up a few days worth of nap times and evenings.

Long gone are the entire-weekend projects where we didn’t stop until it was done, because trying to do home improvement while little ones are awake is just plain comical…

MasterBathroomPlankWall-EthanUnderStu

Stu installed the new scones and I wrangled Ethan for a bit while so he could cut the big wall trim pieces. See the new trim above the wall tile? It may be a little unconventional as molding goes, but we love it and feel great about working with what was there. (I mean, who installs four feet of 6″ tiles on all the bathroom walls anyway???? Annoying.) 

We think it all turned out pretty nice…

Master Bathroom Plank Wall - DIY Plywood Plank Wall

A little caulking and touch up, some counter top organization (yes, we do have many more items to put on the counter top then what’s showing), and a mirror. The mirror is killing me!!! I just can’t make a decision and have spent entirely too much time looking. But it’s time to hang one so I need to just make a decision and be happy.

Master Bathroom Plank Wall - DIY Plywood Plank Wall Vessel Sink

As for that big beautiful window, I’ll be filling it with beautiful green plants and a simple fabric valence…preferably something with a little pop of mint and yellow. Goodbye ugly metal blinds.

Walking into this bathroom is a whole new experience these days.

Master Bathroom Plank Wall - DIY Plywood Plank Wall

Master Bathroom Plank Wall - DIY Plywood Plank Wall

The room is impossible to photograph.

I’m glad we tackled this renovation but I can’t wait for it to end.
So I can finish the other five projects I’ve got going start on something else. :)

Next up, the finishing touches…stay tuned.

Anyone tackled a plywood plank wall? Did it go perfectly? Tell me about it. See the finished bathroom here

14 Responses
  1. Linda Johnson permalink
    March 10, 2014

    The bathroom looks beautiful! Great job on the wood planks! And I especially love the photo of Stu and Ethan on the ladder together!! Too darn Cute!!!

  2. March 10, 2014

    Looks great!!!! What a project! I love the picture of Stu and Ethan too. No way to work with him there.

  3. March 10, 2014

    Looks great – we salvaged and reinstalled the old pine boards in our attic onto the front sloped wall of E’s room – and then primed and painted for days. I love that wall, especially the irregularities.

  4. March 12, 2014

    Thanks for the link! Totally LOVE this space that you have created! Can’t wait to explore more of your blog!
    Lauren recently posted..A Quiet CornerMy Profile

    • Becky permalink*
      March 12, 2014

      Thanks for the tips Lauren!! Your walls turned out fab too.

  5. jennifer permalink
    August 28, 2016

    good job!! I had an idea to do whitewashed, plywood planks on my walls in the bathroom and this is the closest I have found to an example. Would not have thought of spacing the boards… You guys rock!

  6. August 16, 2017

    It creates a wonderful change. I like the bathroom. So classy and stylish.

  7. Tiff permalink
    November 7, 2017

    Just wanted to leave a comment and say we are having the same issue with uneven spacing between boards: bowed wall, wonky, floors, and slightly imperfect boards don’t mix well. Your post made me feel better. We are going with the ‘add to the charm’ line of thinking too. Thanks for the great honest post! The bathroom looks great!

    • Becky permalink*
      November 16, 2017

      Glad I could help! There is no such thing as perfection in these old houses with wonky walls :)

  8. Julie permalink
    January 27, 2018

    Your article has sealed my decision to go with white board-and-batten and blue paint. Your bathroom is superbly gorgeous! I have a small-ish bathroom in my condo and have been going back & forth about how to redo it. I couldn’t visualize a color I thought would “go” with the gray vanity/mirror set I bought. When I saw yours with the colors, that was my validation. My entire vanity top is white, but at least I know my choices will go together! Thanks!

  9. September 29, 2018

    Your idea is really very helping me. I like your beautiful bathroom making the idea. Thank you for share such an amazing tip. Your bathroom is looking so beautiful.

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