Wainscoting vs. Beadboard and Other Paneling

Wainscotting Around a Fireplace

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Wood paneling, often associated with older homes, is increasingly being used in contemporary homes to protect walls and as a unique design feature.

Wood paneling does add to the cost of a room remodel. But it has many advantages that contribute to the home's durability and resale value. Wood paneling is a soundproofing material. In dining rooms, paneling protects the lower half of the walls against chair bumps. Natural wood paneling that is stained or clear-coated gives rooms a soothing feeling. Wood paneling, too, can be painted for a more formal look.

Summary of Paneling Types and Terms

  • Wainscoting: Panels on the lower 1/2 or 1/3rd of a room, often in beadboard style.
  • Beadboard: Vertically grooved panels that have a traditional style.
  • Shiplap: Horizontal siding boards often used indoors as a design element.
  • Tongue and Groove: A way of attaching two boards with a tongue inserted into a groove.
  • Board and Batten: Battens are wide vertical molding pieces installed on larger boards.
  • Raised Panels: Deeply beveled squares or rectangles in panels for a classic look.
  • Flat Panels: Smooth panels that have a modern look.

A Detailed Look at Paneling Types

Wainscoting

White wainscot panel with dining chair against it
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Wainscoting is any style of wood paneling that is on the lower one-half to one-third of a wall, usually around the entire room perimeter. Wainscoting protects the wall from damage, especially in areas prone to impact, such as dining rooms or children's rooms.

Wainscoting is commonly assembled from beadboard panels. Often, a thin strip of chair rail is run across the top of wainscoting as a visual cap and to receive the impact from chair backs.

Beadboard

Blue beadboard wainscoting
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Beadboard is a style of wood paneling characterized by long, continuous vertical grooves and raised beads spaced every inch or two.

Beadboard is found in individual boards, each about 32 to 48 inches long by 3 to 4 inches wide. Boards fit side-to-side. Alternatively, beadboard can be purchased in large panels as long as 8 linear feet that help expedite the installation process. The beads and grooves are molded into the board in the factory.

Tongue and Groove

Tongue and groove is a mode of attachment where the protruding tongue on one board slides into the receiving groove of an adjacent board. Tongue and groove attachment is used for paneling, exterior siding, ceilings, and flooring.

Shiplap

Vertical shiplap in a bathroom
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Shiplap is a style of interior paneling whose inspiration comes from an exterior house siding of the same name. Shiplap panels are long, horizontal boards that overlap each other along the long edges. The lip of the upper board overlaps a part of the lower board. In exterior applications, this creates a joint that is weather-proof, tight, and stable.

Interior shiplap is more about appearance than function. Shiplap gives dining rooms, bedrooms, halls, or living areas a rustic, charming look. Shiplap can also be used on accent walls for a farmhouse or traditional look.

Board and Batten

Black board and batten panel wall
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Board and batten is a style of wood paneling noteworthy for its regular pattern of wide vertical molding boards called battens. Battens generally are 4 to 6 inches wide and are placed 6 to 10 inches apart from each other.

Board and batten paneling is a strong, severe look and was commonly used in early 20th century homes. The battens serve to cover up the joints between the boards. Additional battens are placed between the joints merely for aesthetics.

Raised Panels

Raised panel wall in a bright room
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This type of wood paneling has a series of rectangles or squares that run in a line, separated 4 to 8 inches by vertical molding. Deep V-shaped bevels form raised wood panels, with horizontal rails at the top and the bottom.

Raised panel is a highly showy look; it's often found in expensive older homes. Due to the deep bevels, raised panels create deep shadows for a highly eye-catching look.

Raised panels are often incorporated into wainscoting. They can be purchased pre-built and ready for installation. MDF board or polystyrene panels can be molded into the raised panel style. Alternatively, they can be built from scratch with thin pieces of molding attached to flat panels.

Flat Panels

Flat paneling is a type of paneling that is completely smooth on the front: no bevels, grooves, beads. The only visual interruption in a line of flat panels will be the seams between the boards. The seams are sometimes left open; other times, they are covered with metal or wood strips.

Sleek and smooth, flat paneling is a hallmark of modern or contemporary design. The featureless face of the paneling lets other elements in the room take precedence.