Board and batten, or board-and-batten siding, describes a type of exterior siding or interior paneling that has alternating wide boards and narrow wooden strips, called "battens." The boards are usually (but not always) 1 foot wide. The boards may be placed horizontally or vertically. The battens are usually (but not always) about 1/2 inch wide.
What Is Board and Batten?
Board and batten is a siding and paneling style that uses narrow strips of wood placed over the joints of wide boards for a geometric, layered effect.
Historically and traditionally, a wooden batten would be placed over a seam between the wide boards, creating a stronger and more energy-efficient siding. Because it was inexpensive and easy to assemble, board and batten were used for structures such as barns and garden sheds. Board-and-batten siding is sometimes called barn-siding because many barns in North America are constructed this way. Even today, this type of siding on a house exudes a comfortable informality. Board-and-batten shutters, which use the batten as a horizontal brace, are also considered less formal and more provincial than louvered shutters. Because it's how the batten is used with the board that is important, they don't have to be made of wood.
Reverse board and batten have very narrow boards with wide battens installed over the seams. Like horizontal siding, the size variations will have a dramatic effect on how natural light creates shadows on the siding.
Use in Architecture
Board-and-batten siding is often found in informal architectural styles, such as country homes and churches. It was popular during the Victorian era as a pragmatic method of adding architectural detail to Carpenter Gothic structures. Today you can find board-and-batten siding combined with brick or stone exteriors and also combined with more traditional horizontal siding.
Two contemporary uses can be found on opposite shores of the U.S. In the planned community of Celebration, Florida, established by the Disney Company in 1994, the siding is used in one of their house plans, a Neo-folk Victorian. Celebration was designed to express an ideal community of American architecture, and the "homey" look of this structure fulfills the vision—in spite of what actual building materials may be used.
The second example of the contemporary use of board-and-batten siding can be found in northern California. Architect Cathy Schwabe used the vertical siding on a readers' retreat cottage, and the result is a much larger-looking house than it actually is.
Board and batten are sold by a number of distributors in an assortment of widths and in a variety of materials—wood, composite, aluminum, vinyl, insulated or not. Remember that board and batten is not a construction material, and often the materials used will affect the overall final appearance.
Beware of inappropriately using board and batten as siding on an architectural style that historically would never have used it; this informal siding can easily make a historic old house look weird and out-of-place. Also, remember that boards and battens become siding because of how they are used. Today you can buy board-and-batten siding and even products like shutters.