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.
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. This 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.
Unless you want a natural wood finish, there is little need to install solid pine wainscot. 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. The pressed fiberboard or plywood wainscoting are cheaper, easier to install, and can be painted. Wainscot was traditionally painted just one color: white. If you're trying for a classic or even a "beachy" feeling, white wainscot looks very clean and fresh.
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 if that were not enough, wainscot is great for covering up holes, scratches, and other imperfections along the lower section of walls. As a rigid material often painted with semi-gloss paint, wainscot is easy to spray down with cleaners and wipe off. Many homeowners install wainscoting, knowing in advance that the room will get heavy usage: mudrooms, children’s rooms, dens, and more.
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.
While wainscot usually implies beadboard—or at least wood of some type—you can upset the norm and try something a bit different by choosing unconventional materials. Shop around, test out materials you like, and create your own take on a traditional style.