How to Use Real Wood in the Bathroom
See great examples and get tips for sealing and installing wood in the bathroom
I love tile, but just because it’s so popular doesn’t mean we have to design with it. And tile and grout aren’t as impervious as you might think and are not required for looks, durability or cleanliness in wet areas like kitchens and baths.
In fact, you can do amazing things with wood, even in the bathroom. The way it feels, sounds and even reflects light is wonderful. It also offers color and depth, and can soften the look of hard ceramic finishes.
Yes, this ceiling is above a shower. You can imagine the potential moisture problems. I always recommend using a fan in the bathroom, but adding a second barrier between the steam rising from the shower and what’s behind the ceiling might be smart here. I recommend sealing the wood surface with boiled linseed oil and/or urethane. I also recommend sheeting the ceiling joists with 15-pound tar paper (the black paper you see under roof shingles) before installing the wood.
Tar paper is water resistant and will keep moisture that does make it through the ceiling (not much, if any) inside the room. The moisture will evaporate back into the room and dry with the rest of the air, especially if you’re using planks instead of a tongue and groove material.
When it comes to wood, I like the texture to be the star, so I prime the base coat with oil (it’s smelly, so do it outside) and make sure the end grains and backs get coated to thoroughly seal the wood.
Bare wood will stain, but coating it with a water-based urethane will help keep all that natural wood grain vibrant. And having different-coloured wood cabinets and storage is a nice touch, with clean, horizontal lines drywall can’t touch.
I recommend tongue and groove stock, as opposed to planks, to create a continuous barrier to minimise moisture migration into the walls.
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This pallet floor is custom detailed for this shower assembly. An easily customisable pallet built from any number of widely available lumber species – pine, cedar, Douglas fir – could be designed for a standard shower with a poured and sealed shower pan in place of tile. Or it could cover tile, which is my preference, because I find it easier to clean.
I also like the idea of creating a simpler element inspired by this design: a wooden bath mat. Wood is easy to seal and clean with basic household detergents, and it’s much less slippery than glazed tile.
Where have you used real wood in your home? Share your photos in the Comments below.
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