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The current issue of Dwell magazine features a home with no drywall. The ceilings are plywood and the interior walls are either board-formed concrete or wood. On paper it might sound a bit stark or cold but when I was poring over the images, I didn’t notice the absence of drywall. In fact, I had quite the opposite reaction. Everything felt really warm and inviting. A particular sentence within the article struck a chord in me.

“No part of the house is drywall, which Sheine (the architect) describes as a kind of crutch – the material of last resort.” - Fred A. Bernstein for Dwell magazine

It got my wheels turning. Where I come from, drywall is standard for walls and ceilings. You might see a planked wood wall, a stone wall, some paneling or an exposed brick wall in a house from time to time but that’s as exotic as it gets. And it’s usually just one wall – not the entire house. (In older homes, including ours, plaster walls are common as well.)

Drywall does have its advantages: efficiency of installation, ease of repair, relatively inexpensive, thermal resistance, availability, various decorating options like paint and wallpaper, etc. But, if you think about it, it does innately lack depth, warmth and texture. Maybe that’s why so many of us gave those sponging and rag-rolling painting techniques a try in the ’90’s. (FYI – I’m guilty! I totally rag-rolled the hell of out the bathroom walls in our very first home. Gulp.)

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Admittedly, I don’t know anything about installing interior concrete walls. How do you run electric? What about structural concerns? Can you add them to existing structures? Doesn’t everything sound echo-y? I’ve seen them popping up everywhere in the design world though and I’m intrigued. I’m especially fond of board-formed concrete. THE TEXTURE.

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And what about plywood? It’s so warm and handsome. Surely, the extra moolah would be worth the beauty but do you have to take special precautions for fire resistance? Moisture? Sun exposure?

Anyway, I’m completed fascinated by this idea of no drywall. Am I going to rip out all the drywall in my house tomorrow? Obviously, no. (…as Steve breathes a sigh of relief) But I will be filing this no-drywall house into my inspiration folder.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on unconventional materials for interior walls. Have you ever stepped foot in a house with plywood or concrete walls? Do they exude as much warmth in person as they do in photographs? Do you agree with the architect’s statement claiming drywall is a crutch? It’s something I hadn’t considered before reading this article. Just an idea to throw at you today!

See more of the Sea Ranch house and read the full article right here.

images: Mark Mahaney

21 Comments

24.July.2014

My sister’s father in law owns a lumber company (they mill and manufacture hardwood floors in Pennsylvania). In his own house he has wood everywhere (ceiling/floors/walls). Every time they have added on to their old farmhouse they just use wood. The only rooms in the house with paint/wallpaper are the bathrooms. It’s in interesting house for sure.

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25.July.2014

Our house was built in 1951. We have actually discovered that behind most of our drywall is plywood with wallpaper over it. One room almost seems more of a plaster over the plywood with no drywall. It was confusing at first trying to figure out what was going on, but maybe they were on to something. I’m sure it cost less to do that at the time, especially if they were wallpapering over it, then to do probably all plaster. It was probably a little more average Joe friendly as well as a DIY… I do really like the warmth and texture that those walls have… But I’m not sure I would want to live it…

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25.July.2014

My grandparents house has no drywall. My mom and dad still own it and
use it as a guest house. It has wood panels about 1foot wide with carved details
on the sides that fit together. It is gorgeous! It was pretty standard
building material back then in southern MS. You can’t find it today. When my mom
and dad needed to repair a few spots on one wall they had to search high and low for
a few similar panels. They ended up getting some from an old house in the same area
that was being torn down. As an adult I have always admired the beauty of those wooden
walls! One problem my dad mentioned was that they were a fire hazard. He said his dad
had previously built a similar house before this one that had burnt down when he was a child.
But the beauty of those wooden walls in my grandparents home still takes my breath away!!

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25.July.2014

I know some people see this as a design choice … but I’ve got to be honest and say that to me it looks like something from Trading Spaces a la Hildi. I think I may be too traditional at my core for this look! As far as other alternative wall-coverings, our home had a couple of plastered bathrooms from the previous owners (why just the bathrooms I have no idea) and that wall material is beyond impractical — drilling a hole to hang a shelf is a pretty major commitment in a plaster wall!

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25.July.2014

My entry is plywood. The walls and ceiling, and it also has an old barn wood wainscoting. It was something my mother in law had her brother do years ago, before she gave us the house.

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25.July.2014

There are NO drywalls in South African homes. We find the drywalling concept very peculiar whenever we watch American homes being built on tv (these homes are constructed sooo quickly as a result). Almost all of our homes in sunny SA are brick and mortar and plastered. When we need to make plumbing or electrical alterations we have to chase into the bricks – messy and costly. But I will say this, our homes are solid!

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replied on July 25th, 2014

I think that’s fascinating! It’s interesting to hear how different cultures, societies, resources and climates affect the choice of building materials. Thank you for sharing.

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25.July.2014

Our condo has cinder block interior walls and a concrete ceiling (all painted white). They are very sturdy, but a bit echoey and difficult to hang pictures. I’ve struggled with trying to keep things looking more “industrial chic” and less “low-income housing.”

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25.July.2014

I love the board-formed concrete elements. I think in most homes you need a mix of materials, including drywall or plaster, to make things work. All concrete and wood is great in these modernist houses with tons of natural light, but can read dark and depressing in other homes. I recently looked at a ranch built in the 60s where every single room was covered in dark tongue & groove wood boards. Real, quality wood which may have been georgeous paired with huge windows and plenty of sunshine. Unfortunately, the home had more average size windows, so every room felt like a dungeon.

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25.July.2014

When we were in Turkey a few years ago, they were in a construction boom — everything was cinderblock & plaster. Our home is cinderblock, wood, & plaster but it’s nearly 100 years old. We used drywall in the carriage house we are building — there are a lot of benefits, but I agree that wood walls are so warm and cozy! Maybe when we find that weekend mountain house…

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25.July.2014

Drywall is definitely a design crutch! Drywall does offer fire protection, and plywood is part of the structural system in many commercial applications. There’s something more natural about concrete and plywood. Life of an architect blog just talked about board formed concrete!

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replied on July 25th, 2014

Oooooh, totally going to check out that blog post!

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25.July.2014

I don’t know… The last picture just reminds me too much of wood paneling, which most people quickly try to paint over or change when they inherit it in a house. Drywall seems to give easier options for change (paint colors, easy to make and patch holes for artwork, etc), which I like.

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25.July.2014

Totally not keen on the plywood for practical purposes and absorption of light BUT I bet that board formed concrete would be awesome as countertops in a kitchen and to make a patio look more casual and relaxed than cold and modern.

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26.July.2014

I am so curious how they hung the wood. I don’t see many (if any) nail holes. It is a fun look, I wonder more about the functionality, with humidity, insulation, etc.

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26.July.2014

This home is beautiful, but I would never, ever want to make the interior of my home plywood. Plywood is one of the biggest culprits of formaldehyde off-gassing, and it does so indefinitely! So many design choices are beautiful, but rarely do designers consider the health effects of the materials they choose.

That being said, yes it is beautiful. I do like the warmth that wood adds to an interior, but there are healthier (though more expensive) ways of achieving this look.

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28.July.2014

In the Netherlands were I live, almost all homes are entirely build out of poured concrete and slabs of concrete. This creates a very solid structure. Some have cinder block interior walls. We plaster the insides of our homes and add brick to the outside. Rewiring electricity is not an option unless you want to see an unsightly wire, dito for plumbing, you have to chisel holes in the concrete to accommodate that. Mostly only older homes are made of just brick or just wood but that’s quite uncommon.
I love the look of plywood instead of plasterboard! Looks warm and cozy, almost cabin like! :)

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28.July.2014

I don’t mind the concrete but I have to admit I would pass on the plywood walls. They look unfinished and cheap to me in this context. That said – I have seen plywood employed in a fashion that I do find attractive – just not this one.

I think calling drywall a crutch and “the material of last resort” is incredibly presumptuous on the part of the architect. Not everyone wants to stare at miles of woodgrain.

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28.July.2014

I love the abundance of texture! I’m one of those crazies that likes to run my fingers over everything and have too many throws and toss pillows to add extra interest to every room. I love the plywood and concrete as an overall look, but it would be nothing I could live with unless everything harmonized with it. It reminds me of an updated cabin space – my grandparents had a cool 1970’s style cabin back in the day and I remember loving all the wood walls.

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31.July.2014

I’m late to this party, but I lived in an in-law apartment in Oakland, CA for 5 years and the walls were either wood-formed concrete or wood (recycled flooring for kitchen cabinets from the main house). Aside from not being able to hang anything on the walls, I LOVED our place. My brother described the bedroom as a prison cell because of the concrete walls, but the room was the perfect temperature all year (no echoes and with plenty of outlets) and the wooden built-in furniture gave it a lot of warmth. The living room had a lot of windows which I think balanced it out. Our landlord’s son is an architect and designed the apartment. Here is a link what our living room was like: https://flic.kr/p/9VrJMs

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replied on July 31st, 2014

Gorgeous!! Thank you for sharing your experience.

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