I’m going to start off by saying something possibly a little shocking – controversial, even – I hate open concept houses.  Sure, they look all great and wonderful on HGTV but have you ever lived in one? Tried to decorate one?  Couldn’t hide the dirty kitchen from whoever walked in the front door?  I’m all for an open flow but I want defined rooms.  I want space to hang things on the wall!  These were things I did not think about before I moved into my home.  My entryway, living room, dining room, and kitchen are all one big open space.  That means my design has to be cohesive for this giant space.  It’s been a bit of a struggle over the years but I think I’m finally getting there.

Anyway, let’s get to the reason why we’re here today.  My dislike for open concept is a post on its own.  I’ve never really been happy with how my front entryway has looked.  When I bought the house, none of the walls had ever been painted past the construction stage.  I suppose I should mention that this is a builder basic house that was about five years old when I bought it.  There were black marks and scuffs all over the wall from the previous owner (some as high as four or five feet!).  Oh, and damage from their dogs on the trim.  I used some old paint my parents never used (it did not age well) and painted everything.  What was supposed to be tan turned yellow-ish due to the old paint.  Viewer discretion advised because here comes a slightly frightening picture of what this space looked like in the very beginning.

It was so bland and beige and plain and ugly!  You obviously can’t see it but I’m pretty sure the ugly $10 brass boob light was still in place.  Sometime after this, I decided to experiment with color.  I’ll save you the time of looking through all of them.  This is what it looked like before I started the most recent (and hopefully last) makeover.

You can see by this time I had painted all of the trim white, replaced the doors, changed out the brass knobs and hinges with oil rubbed bronze, and swapped out one ugly boob light for a better looking boob light.  If used correctly, brown paint has a place.  My entryway was not it.  It was too dark and there was no contrast between the walls and décor pieces.  It took me a long time to figure just what to do here to lighten up the space.  I didn’t want to paint everything the same color again because I just didn’t like so much beige but I had to figure out how to keep to cohesive with the other spaces.  I refuse to put white shiplap up in my house.  While it looks good in other spaces, I do not live in a farm house and I don’t want to put trends in here that don’t fit and I don’t love.  After a lot of internet searching and pondering, I finally decided to go with a board and batten look.  It’s more timeless and classic than something like shiplap and will allow me to define the space while keeping it cohesive.  I planned it out on SketchUp so that I could visualize it better.  And to show everyone I could to get second, third, whatever opinions before I dived in.

I wanted to do a really cool wood treatment to the ceiling but I realized that the walls that opened up into the living room aren’t even.  Can you believe it took me 8 years to notice that?? (Insert face palm emoji here)

Since the first coat of old, yellowed paint, I have repainted the whole house at least once and have settled on my base neutral, a tan.  I brought that color back and painted the top portion of my entryway in this color.  The space isn’t even completed and it’s already so much lighter.

Once the paint dried, I started marking my studs to attach the “batten” to.  Stud finders are generally inexpensive and super handy.  It is somewhat of a “you get what you pay for” situation so invest at least a little in a good one, especially if you will be using it a lot.

It’s at times like this that you sometimes find out how frustrating it can be to do home improvements.  Studs are typically (emphasis on typically) 16 inches apart on center.  I think I had only two studs that matched that.  There were some that were 20 inches or over apart as well as some that were much closer.  So, my plans of attaching to the studs were thrown out the window.  Luckily, I was using very lightweight material so it wasn’t a huge deal.

A lot of tutorials for board and batten show people using 1 by material (3/4 inch thick).  That’s all fine and good and looks great but I was not going to change my trim (that would be a royal pain because it would have to be changed all over the house) so I had to find a thinner option.  The top of my trim was slightly wider than a quarter inch.  I chose to use quarter inch MDF to create the look.  The good thing about using MDF as opposed to lumber is that you’ll get a lot smoother look without all the work.  When I planned the space, I thought about three inches wide would be good for the batten.  During the research process, I found MDF Bender Boards that were a quarter inch thick and 3 ¾ inches wide.

Although it was wider than I had planned, it meant that I did not have to rip down MDF  which makes this project much faster so I went with it.  Bonus, they were only $2.75 each at Home Depot.  I bought ten to make sure I had enough plus waste for the project but only ended up using eight.  First, I started by placing the boards lengthwise (the rails) across the bottom on top of the trim and nailed it in place with a nail gun.  I used 1 ¼ nails.

The next step was to add my top piece.  I wanted the very top of my board and batten to be three feet from the top of the trim.  Here’s a “hindsight is 20/20” tip.  Mark your wall at three feet in several locations.  It is very hard to hang a bender board (the name is too fitting) that is 8 feet long by yourself.  Using some painter’s tape I had handy, I taped up the board to help hold it in place.

As you go along, make sure the top of the board lines up with your marks then nail it in.  How do I know to do this, you ask?  Because I had to pull this top board off twice to adjust it.  The smaller pieces are much easier.  Just cut them to size and nail them in place. (You may also be asking why I went ahead and put my mirror back up already.  Because I’m a dork and I couldn’t wait to see the contrast between it and the new wall color.  Insert shoulder shrug emoji.)

Most board and batten I’ve seen has two boards running lengthwise close together at the top.  There are really no set rules, especially when it comes to your own home and décor style.  I opted for the two at the top and placed them six inches apart.  Just like the top board, I made several marks along the wall to line up my boards and nailed them in place.

We’re getting closer!  Now it’s time to work on the stiles of the board and batten (stiles are the up and down pieces).  Since my studs weren’t even across the board, I had to figure out where I wanted the stiles placed.  For the wall with the front door, I decided to put them at the corners/edges/whatever you want to call it.  It would have looked awkward if I placed them anywhere else there.

For the solid wall, I figured out how many stiles I wanted and how much space I had remaining once I subtracted the width of the stiles.  Get ready for some math (don’t worry, it’s easy math).  After I accounted for my stiles on the edges of the wall, I wanted three “middle” stiles.  I had 91 ¼ inches to work with.  This may seem like it’s going to get into some ugly fractions but the design gods smiled down on me today because it works out wonderfully.  At 3 ¾ inches each, my stiles came up to 11 ¼ inches.  I subtracted that from the total and ended up with 80 inches.  I divided that by four (because there were will four “board” spaces) and that meant I needed to place my stiles 20 inches apart.  I measured 20 inches, marked it, then 3 ¾ inches, marked it, and so on.  Next is to cut and install them.  I started with the shorter pieces of the stiles.  If you recall, the space is six inches so, ideally, I should just be able to cut all my pieces at six inches.  I’m not perfect so I know there is going to be a little room for error.  It is highly important that you measure each space before you cut to ensure you have the best fit.  Between your own human error and the human error of whoever built the house, you’d be surprised at how different the measurements will be.  Board stretchers are just a myth, folks!  That being said, caulk and wood fillers do exist and are extremely helpful.

Anyway, once your pieces are cut, put them in place!  When you are putting the longer stiles in place, you might end up nailing them up a bit crooked (again, speaking from experience).  Use a square to make sure it’s lined up before you nail.

You can see here that I got lucky in my planning and did not have to cut around any outlets.  If you do have to work around one, you can simply scribe the hole onto your board and cut it out with a jigsaw.

When you are lining up your top and bottom stiles, you can use a long level to make sure they are lined up together.  Once you get them all attached to the wall, stand back and admire your hard work (it’s not really that hard).

Okay, enough admiring.  It’s time to get back to work.  Fill your nail holes with wood filler.

Your next step can get a little messy so make sure you have a wet rag handy.  It’s time to caulk.  Caulk is one of those things that can erase a multitude of sins when it comes to trim.  I love it once it’s done although I don’t really love to work with it.  You can choose squeeze tubes of caulk or the type you must use in a caulking gun.  I prefer the squeeze tubes because they are much easier to work with, in my opinion.  There are several different kinds so make sure you choose what is best for your project and that it’s paintable, if your project requires paint.  This is what I used.

To get a nice edge on the caulk, I taped off the wall.  Cut the tip off at an angle (they have handy little marks that you can follow to make it easy) and run a bead along your trim.  I focused on areas where the boards met the wall/existing trim and needed a seamless appearance (the top and bottom of the board and batten as well as any corner and joint).  I did not mess with putting any on the inner parts of the board and batten because I knew I could seal it with paint.

After caulking, I used a corner scraper to run along the caulk.  The scraper has different degrees on the corners for different amounts of caulk to be left behind.  I virtually always use the 90 degree corner.  If you don’t have one of these tools, you can use your finger or a wet rag.  I recommend caulking in smallish sections so that you minimize the amount of caulk waste you’ll have after you scrape it.

Once the caulk and wood filler dry, sand it down to a smooth finish.

Here’s another “hindsight is 20/20” tip.  When I applied the caulk to the MDF joints, my intent was for a seamless finish.  After I started painting, I saw that I wasn’t quite getting the look that I wanted.  How do you fix it?  Grab a tub of wall spackle/joint compound and put it on your joints.  This is a wonderful little hack that works surprisingly well.  Once it dries, sand it down then get to painting.

Before I start on the painting section, I’ll throw this out there.  A lot of people will recommend using a primer before painting on MDF.  I didn’t.  Why, you might ask?  Because I throw caution to the wind!  Actually, I simply forgot.  I had already started painting and saw the paint being sucked into the MDF before I remembered.  Although, I will say this, I don’t think I needed to prime it beforehand.  It covered really well in just a couple coats.  I actually had more trouble covering all of the brown than the MDF.  So, skip it, if you choose.  If you are doing this in a wet environment, like a bathroom, you might want to consider priming with an oil-based primer to protect the MDF from moisture.

I started out by painting the inside edges of all of the MDF.

Use a regular bristle brush for this.  The foam brush was in reach when I decided to do this then quickly ditched it after this picture because it wasn’t working well.  Just keep going over the paint until you have reached good coverage all over.

When you’re ready to pull the tape off, use a box knife, utility knife, or plain ol’ razor blade to run along your tape lines.

Nothing is more frustrating than pulling the tape off and pulling off your caulk and paint with it.  It may seem like an annoying extra step but it’s much less annoying than having to redo your work.

Look how bright and different it is now!!

From this point, I did some touch up paint, painted the ceiling, and installed a new, gorgeous light fixture I’ve been dying to put up since it came in!

I had a heck of a time finding just the right light for this space.  Once I had finally decided on this one, I couldn’t find it anymore!  I checked the website repeatedly and even contacted them about it.  One day I got lucky and it happened to be in stock again so I snatched it up.  I just checked to see if it was still available and couldn’t find it.

If you’ve never changed out a light fixture on your own, it is super simple!  You just turn the power off, connect like wires, and secure it.  That’s really about it.  If you happen to have an extra set of hands available, it makes it much easier.  I had no extra hands and ending up dropping this light right on my head.  It’s possible we both suffered dents.

I think I’ve rambled on enough so let’s get to some final pictures.  As a reminder, here is the most recent before.

And here’s the after…


I can’t get over how much brighter it is!  It also seems a lot bigger.  Not only was I able to give the space a little definition from the other areas, but I was able to add a little bit of character to my builder basic home (that is slowly becoming not so builder basic).  At some point, I’ll also be adding crown moulding.  The plan is to do crown moulding throughout the entire house but since this space is tied to the others and I’m not ready to install the moulding there, it’s on hold for the moment.  I’m also scared to do it.  Ha!  The next home project will be in that hallway.  I’m still not sure what I’m going to do yet but it’s coming!

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