Wainscot Is a Simple Material That Adds Instant Style to a Room

How One Board Can Add So Much to a Room

Traditional Bathroom with Wooden Tub Enclosure
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Wainscot is a wall treatment made of solid wood such as solid pine, hardwood veneer, molded plastic, or pressed board. Wainscot was popular for many years before it fell out of favor in the 1950s. Recently, though, wainscot has been experiencing a renaissance. While white is a popular color, wainscot can have any number of colors, in order to provide visual interest in a room.

Traditional Style

Homeowners are discovering the many advantages of wainscot, chief of which is the fact that wainscot instantly gives newer homes the look of an older home. Not only that, but wainscot can attractively bifurcate a room so that the wall texture and color are complemented by the unique beadboard texture of the wainscot.

A Functional Side, Too

As if that were not enough, wainscot is great for covering up holes, scratches, and other imperfections along the lower section of walls.
Many homeowners install wainscoting knowing in advance that the room will get heavy usage: mud rooms, children’s rooms, dens, and more.

Installation Practices

Wainscot generally runs the entire perimeter of a room. It typically ranges from 32 inches to 36 inches high. Some wainscot can even go as high as 4 feet tall. It all depends on your needs. Higher wainscot can give a room a busy, imposing look.
Wainscot is incredibly easy to install. The best option for ease of installation is to buy the 4-foot by 8-foot sheets available at most home improvement stores which have a beadboard texture. Beadboard means that a series of vertical grooves approximately 2 inches apart run along the board. The real advantage of these grooves is that when you connect one sheet to another sheet, the seam is virtually invisible because it blends in with the other beadboard grooves.


Unless you want a natural wood finish, there is little need to install solid pine wainscot. The pressed fiberboard or plywood wainscoting are cheaper, easier to install, and can be painted. Solid wood wainscot is more costly and more difficult to install but can give you a more “classic” look if you want to leave the wood bare or varnish it.

Why Use Wainscot?

Few reasons anymore, at least from a functional standpoint. For a few centuries, wainscot has been used to line the lower half of walls to protect them against dampness and minor flooding. Wainscot, especially when capped with chair railing, has always been useful in strengthening that bottom half of the wall against chair bumps and other dings that may puncture plaster and drywall.

As a rigid material often painted with semi-gloss paint, wainscot is easy to spray down with cleaners and wipe off.

Wainscot Looks Great As Well

From a decorative standpoint, though, wainscot visually breaks up large wall expanses and, in the case of 10' or higher walls, it gives a room a more "human" dimension. Additionally, it gives you the chance to use two different colors in your room.

The Ubiquitous White Wainscot

Unfortunately, wainscot tends to be painted just one color: white (Picture #1). White wainscot does look terrific. If you're trying for a traditional or even a "beachy" feeling, white wainscot looks very clean and fresh.

Try New Materials

Waitscot usually implies beadboard--or at least wood of some type. But you can upset the norm and try something a bit different by choosing unconventional materials. "In one case," says Linda Castle of Decorated Designs, "we actually used the tile, and this is a slate tile. It’s brought up coming right off the slate floor." (Picture #2)

Bright New Colors

Castle tells that "In another one of our installations we did a creamy colored paint and over that paint, we did a glaze with a beautiful green color above." (Picture #3)

The Formal Treatment

Another direction to take your colored wainscot is formal. "We’ve got some other examples here where we’ve done it in more of a chocolate paint and all the way to using a stain. Stain is going to give a more formal treatment, a little more decorative, a little dressier." (Picture #4).