Wainscoting Paneling

Antique dark wood wainscotingIf you are in the process of decorating, do not overlook the option of wainscoting paneling, which can add an extremely attractive finish to the walls of your home. You might have also heard of Wainscoting by the name of bead board.

The word wainscoting has come to mean any kind of wooden wall covering, particularly paneling applied to the lower portion of an interior wall. There are two main forms; paneling and tongue and groove. Tongue and groove wainscoting consists of narrow boards into which profiles have been molded; it has a totally different look to it than the other form, wainscoting paneling. This consists of a series of framed panels trimmed with relief molding and baseboard. Panels can be veneered plywood, solid wood or medium density fibreboard.

Design Considerations

Although wainscoting can give a refined finish to your walls, a little goes a long way. Putting it on all four walls of a room can be overkill. Wainscoting has a tendency to make a room look too busy and smaller than it really is, especially if it is painted or stained a dark color. If a room has a lot of windows, wainscoting is a poor choice, since they are already visually broken up. Dark wainscoting will create a high contrast with the light coming in through the windows, and the eye will have difficulty adjusting.

Typical locations for wainscoting are library rooms, dens, dining rooms and living rooms. Hallways and kitchens can also be good areas for wainscoting

It is uncomplicated to install, and I would say that the average home decorator will be able to install wainscoting without too much of a challenge. Installation on older drywall or plaster walls can be problematic; 1/2 inch medium density fiberbaord may have to be installed as a backing.

You may have a few pieces that need to be custom cut or custom designed. This can be done by a friend with more experience than you or you can request it at the store where you buy the paneling. Of course, if you do not have to install the Wainscoting paneling yourself if you are not comfortable. Look for a contractor if that works better for you.

Custom Design Solutions

One of the great things about Wainscoting paneling is that you can make it fit almost any decorating style or design. This type of paneling comes in a variety of finishes: natural and stained wood or even painted to customize it further.

If you have children, no doubt you are familiar with the scuff marks that trail the lower walls of the house. Wainscoting is great for dealing with this problem. Wainscoting can handle the inevitable bumps and bangs that come from the playful, energetic way that children move about. It is much more durable than wallpaper and paint in this arena. Therefore, it is a great option if you want a look that lasts and that you do not have to replace every few years.


Wainscoting paneling is made up of solid wood or veneered panels which are set into froames; the frames are made from vertical stiles joined to horizontal rails, typically with mortise and tenon joints. Different styles and visual effects can be achieved by varying the distance between frame stiles as weel as the size of the rails, panels and stiles. Getting the proportions of all the elements just right for the style you want is the hardest part. Start by looking at pictures of contemporary and historical interiors to get a feel for the proportions you will want. Here are a few achitectural books to get you started:

  • Baird, Penny Drue. Bringing Paris Home. Monacelli Press 2008
  • Bowyer, Jack. History of Building. London: Granada Publishing 1973
  • Isham, Norman M Early Connecticut Houses. New York: De Capo, 1967
  • Makinson, Randell L. Greene and Greene: Architecture as Fine Art. Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1977

Hanging Wainscoting Panels

If you are doing the Wainscoting installation yourself or if you are hiring a contractor to do it, think about the creative ways that you can arrange the paneling. There is always the standard vertical design but sometimes, doing something unique and different with even a single panel can add a very dynamic look to your design. Play around with these ideas until you come up with something that you strongly like.

When assembled, the paneling is failrly heavy, so you'll need at least one helper. The trickiest part is usally the coiner joints, if you are putting the wainscoting on more than one wall, and the joins where the paneling is interupted by windows. Getting the bottom edge aligned to an uneven or wavy floor is also a challenge.

Since it is important to get the panels level to the floor, the first step will be to lay out a horizontal chalk-line parallel to the floor, marking the top of the wainscoting's top rail. If you've got more than one helper, have them lift the paneling to the wall, aligned to the chalkline, while you step back and check the fit.

After adjusting the panels, you can now attach them to the wall, using either nails or countersunk and plugged screws. One fastener every 16 to 24 inches will both horizontally and vertically will hold the rails and stiles; the paneling itself is not fastened to the wall.

Pre-made Paneling

You can also purchase wainscoting paneling in all types of sizes and widths. If you do need something unique, do not be afraid to ask for it at the hardware store as panels can often be customized for your unique situation. They can even be made to curve when needed for corners or rounded edges.

Wainscoting can be purchased everywhere: at your local hardware store, at home and garden outlets or even online. The most important thing is that you find something attractive that you like. Highly competitive prices can be found on the popular price comparison web sites found all over the Internet.

If you buy from a reputable web site, you can possibly find your self with a great deal and a hassle-free buying experience. Often large retailers sell the same products for less via the Internet. Look into these options.

There are no limits to the number of ways that Wainscoting can be used. Have fun with it and enjoy the versatility that Wainscoting paneling provides in home decoration.

See Also:
Ideas for Wood Molding

Photo by Lara, Creative Commons Attribution License