How to Make your Walls Look Like a Million Bucks on the Cheap

When it came time to finish the inside walls, we had some decisions to make. Drywall, though a popular option, requires a ton of work and some specialty equipment and tools to install and is messy! The most common alternative to drywall is tongue and groove pine planks, which are often seen in cabins and have a nice rustic look. After deciding that we didn’t want to fuss with drywall, we priced out what the cost would be to finish all of our walls with tongue and groove and to my great dismay, it was going to cost us around $1,500 just for the planks alone, not to mention the cost of stain and polyurethane. Yikes! I looked around on the internet for alternatives and found that a number of people use reclaimed wood planks on their walls; an inexpensive and rustic option. However, there was no reclaimed wood to be found in our area, so we had to get creative. We had some extra laminate flooring leftover from doing our floors, and I knew that small quantities of varying kinds of laminate could be found for not that much money.

After committing to the idea of using laminate planks on our walls, we bought up all the miscellaneous pieces that we could find, scouring Craigslist, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and the clearance sections at Home Depot and Lowe’s. Eventually we had sourced enough planks to do the first floor walls, and the best part? We only spent $130 (that’s about $0.30/square foot for you number crunchers). For the record, our planks were mostly laminate, but there was some hardwood in there too.

For us, this was a great solution to our problem, but if you’re thinking of doing this on your own walls, a word of caution: this is TIME CONSUMING! What you save in dollars, you will likely make up for in your own time. It takes time and patience to source the laminate in the first place, and then it takes time to make all of the cuts to put the pieces together on the walls (because all of the pieces are different, they won’t snap together like normal laminate, so you’ll likely spend a lot of time cutting off the “tongues”). That being said though, I would absolutely do this again because the finished product is so beautiful and, for us, absolutely worth all of the work.

So let’s get started! You will need:

  • the required square footage of laminate flooring in a variety of colors and patterns
  • a circular saw
  • a drill, jigsaw and a handsaw (not absolutely necessary but they are really nice to do outlet cutouts and stuff)
  • pencil, speed square, and tape measure
  • ear and eye protection
  • 1 1/4″ finishing nails and a hammer
  • a step ladder or chair to reach those high-up places
Pro tip: look for yellow stickers like these at Home Depot. We scored on some closeout laminate this way!

So now that your have rounded up all your supplies, you’ll need to decide on a pattern for the laminate on the wall (I guess you could go random, but it might look strange). I used a slightly different pattern on every wall, but tried to alternate light and dark colored planks to maximize contrast and bring out each unique color. For the wall pictured below, my pattern (from the bottom up) was one stripe each of maple, pecan, light oak, maple, mahogany, darker oak, and repeat!

One repetition of my pattern for the kitchen wall

Starting from the bottom, apply your first row, placing 2-3 nails on the studs through each plank. I did each individual row using the same type of plank, so they were able to “snap together” at the ends.

make sure you nail on the studs!
Since my first row here was entirely “maple”, I was able to snap together the ends
Bottom row done!

Work your way up the wall, noting the different types of tongues and grooves on each different type of plank. I was able to slide some of them together without too much of a noticeable gap, but for others, I had to cut the tongues off (use your circular saw!) so that the rows would fit together nicely without an ugly gap. You have to think one row ahead on this because once a row is nailed in, it’s not easy (or fun) to remove it, cut off the tongue, then replace it. Also, make sure to stagger your planks so that your seams aren’t all in the same place!

For electrical outlets and other anomalies, measure and cut carefully to go around them. This is where your jigsaw and handsaw might come in handy.

Measure twice, cut once
This cutout was for a range hood duct. We first used a drill to drill a pilot hole, then a jigsaw and circular saw to finish it out

After you do a few rows, you’ll get in the groove and things will go much faster

This was the first wall I did. It took me two days, but the subsequent walls went MUCH faster
Due to varying thicknesses of the planks, the walls are not perfectly smooth, but I like the rustic look and feel

Again, the key here is patience and perseverance. It takes time, but is totally worth it.

Our house/jobsite is pretty cluttered with tools, but hey, those walls sure look nice!
The other side of the house: still cluttered but looking more like a home!
We plan on finishing the windows and door with hand-milled sills and trim pieces

And that’s all there is to it! I love how this experimental project turned out and the price tag was even better. We plan on doing the same thing for our upstairs walls, but first we need to source more flooring.

Thanks for reading!

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