How to DIY: Wood Herringbone Pattern Basement Ceiling Idea

by Robin
math by Ed

Can you believe this natural wood herringbone pattern is a BUDGET basement ceiling idea too!?!  Ed and I devised and installed it - and I still can't believe how little it cost.  

It is even more beautiful in person, folks.  This is one of my favourite DIY projects we've done so far (though we have more coming soon that I think will compete for that title!)

It's come a long way from the before:
A VERY real before shot - heck I didn't even pause to tidy up at all!  Keeping it real.  You can see - the ceiling before was the cheapo cardboard ceiling tiles.  

Cardboard ceiling tiles are a good option - they are cheap and relatively easy to install. But is there a less inspiring ceiling?  And, as I mentioned in our basement guest room ceiling makeover post - they are nearly impossible to fix when one is damaged given how they're installed.  (see that droopy row in the photo above?)    Ceiling tiles tend to look serviceable only until you need to get behind one for some reason or if someone knocks into it with something. Which in our house of clumsies takes about 4 days.

Here's the crazy thing I just realized: our gorgeous herringbone ceiling is actually CHEAPER than cardboard ceiling tiles! Our large room cost about $250. I'm flabbergasted. 

I had some limitations when devising the ceiling for our basement media room. (I LOVE limitations - they inspire creativity!):
  • It had to be unique. Basements are usually boring boxes and need all the help they can get to be interesting.
  • It had to be affordable.  We had gotten a quote for a ceiling product that was designed especially for basements - it was going to be well over a thousand dollars for this room!  Not going to happen.  (Plus I later learned that product couldn't be painted.  That's a limitation I won't accept!)
  • It had to use the same plywood material that worked so well in our basement guest room ceiling.  These rooms are adjoining - so tying them together with the same material and finish would create a visual flow that would expand the spaces. Or at very least not visually shrink them. 

Another very cool thing I figured out for this project - this idea could turn an pesky popcorn ceiling into a thing of beauty!  It would be easier to install on an existing ceiling than our basement joist install. 

  You'd never guess it was plywood.  I love how the light accentuates the rows of wood planks.  It looks handcrafted which feels really special for any room.

What you need:

  • Enough sheets of  RevolutionPly plywood to cover your space (plan for about 10% extra for cutoffs)
  • Speed square - essential to get the angles just right.
  • Nail gun (we just got this one and we absolutely LOVE it)
  • Brad nails
  • Table saw (or circular saw and guide)
  • sandpaper
  • Optional: soundproofing insulation Rockwool is our favourite.
  • Finish of your choice: we used Tung oil (we found this one smells best and drips least) it gives a handrubbed, crafted look.

How to:

Step 1: Demo!

  We tore down the ceiling tiles and then ripped out the crossbeams.  (My grandpa had installed these crossbeams probably 50 years ago!  He was a frugal one too - you can see the pieces were all salvaged - rarely two alike.)
We then shoved Rockwool insulation between the joists - primarily for sound dampening.

Step 2: Prepare the planks. 

 This plywood comes in 4'x8' sheets which needed to be cut to size.
First - we ripped them into 4'x2' boards with the cuts against the grain.  This is important! You want the grain to run the same way for all the pieces.
Next - we cut those sheets into 3-inch pieces - cutting with the grain.
Last - we sanded the edges smooth.

Step 3: The install.

Work your way across the room along the joists.
If your joists are unevenly spaced - like ours - you'll need to custom cut the planks for each row.  We used both the table saw and our mitre saw for these custom cuts.

How to figure out the length of your planks: 

1) Measure the centres of your joists. This distance is your 'a' and 'b' variable.
2) Assuming you want perfect 45 degree angles, use the Pythagorean theorem (MATH!) to find 'c'

Alternatively - No math method:
1) Measure the centres of your joists. Mark these points (A)
2) Use a square to mark a line down the middle of a joist.
3) Measure down this line the same distance as you found between the joist centres. Mark a point (B)
4) Carefully measure the distance between the end of line (B) and the point at the centre of the opposite joist (A). This is your 'C' - the length of your board.

Start in the middle of a given set of joists.
Use a speed square on the joist to create a perfect 45-degree angle with the panel section.
Try and balance it evenly between the two joists and nail it - once on each end. RevolutionPly is light, so we only needed 5/8" brad nails.

Jump over to the opposite joist and repeat the process for the other half of the herringbone.
We initially used a small piece of metal for the gaps between the boards, 
but it was driving us crazy. So, we ended up just eyeballing most of it.

As a result of the eyeballing, there will be minor variations in things as you work. Do not stress about this - when done, you won't see the trees, just the beautiful forest.

Step 4: Install Potlights

We had to recess the existing potlights into our new ceiling. This was actually pretty easy.
Measure and cut plywood to fit between joists in the approximate location of lights
Mark the centre of the exact location for potlights on the plywood.
Trace/scribe the potlight in the location marked on the board.
Use a jigsaw to cut out the hole
Either rewire the potlight through the new hole or use a gap to fit it in.
Nail the board between the joists.
Finish securing the potlight by whatever method your lighting system uses.

You will have to scribe/cut/fit some herringbone boards around the lights, but this is actually easier than it might sound. Most potlights have a good cover system that will hide a lot of sins. We switched all of our bulbs to dimmable LEDs to cut down on heat/fire risk.

Step 5: Finish with Tung Oil.

We did just one coat of tung oil - we wanted a matte finish.  If you want a shiny finish you'll likely want 3 coats.
It was pretty straightforward - Ed just wiped it on with a rag.

Last Step: Install crown moulding.

We'll talk more about this step when we share the tutorial for our grid panelling.
(I'm still gaga for how we made this basement window look so big and beautiful. 😍 )

Other projects in our Basement Media Room Makeover...

  • We made a tiny, high basement window look big and beautiful (for less than $50)
  • Simple grid panelling - choosing and installing the perfect trims
  • Easy drapes to make a room feel taller
  • Media cabinet built-in - that only looks expensive
  • Hidden TV cabinet that makes the room feel bigger and brighter
  • The best basement floor - and how to install it
  • Building an electric fireplace that looks and feels real
  • and more!

It's going to take us some time to get all these projects finished, photographed and posted - I can't wait!!!  

In the meantime, have you seen our other Basement Makeover Projects?  We turned a closet into a powder room & made the coziest guest room that doesn't feel like it's underground.

Don't miss a thing - scroll up to the top and subscribe to our weekly-ish newsletter for updates and sneak peeks.

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