Board and Batten Wainscoting (Design Guide)

Here’s our board and batten wainscoting design guide including what it is, types of wood to use, how tall it should be and decor & wall paneling ideas. Living room with gray board and batten wall panels Board and batten is a type of vertically installed wainscoting. It started as a practical option for exterior siding. 18th century Americans found that if the boards were installed vertically, rain ran down the outside of them rather than seeping into the home. If they then covered the seam between boards with another, thinner board, no rain could get in at all, and the siding was now relatively air-tight.

But board and batten is more than just practical, it’s also beautiful, so it didn’t stay restricted to exterior use for long. Soon, board and batten methods were being applied to shutters. Not long after that, the board and batten pattern was brought inside the house, where it was used to protect walls from damage.

Today, board and batten has been largely removed from it’s practical origins. Exterior board and batten still exists, but the most popular use of this design is interior. Entire walls or ceilings can be covered in board and batten, or it can be used as wainscoting.

Board and batten wainscoting is usually applied about 32 inches up the wall, measuring from the floor. It has a comfortable, upscale farmhouse feel. Best of all, it can be easily installed by a non-professional with minimal carpentry experience.

Wainscoting can be an inexpensive way to add dimension to a room and achieve your design goals. For example, you might choose a horizontally installed wainscoting if you have a small room and your goal is to create the illusion of more space.

If you’re looking for an easy DIY project that will add architectural interest to your home, you may be considering board and batten wainscoting.

What is Board and Batten?

Living room with board and batten walls Board and batten is the name given to a decorative and sometimes protective architectural detail. It consists of wide, vertically-oriented boards laid side by side. Where the boards meet, a thinner board (called a batten) is used to cover the seam.

Traditionally, the boards were made from wood, but today almost any material can be used, including vinyl, aluminum, fiber cement, or even steel.

As mentioned above, the original application for board and batten was as exterior siding. The boards provided the bulk of protection from the elements, while the battens prevented air and moisture from penetrating the seams between the boards. When used as siding, it still functions in this way.

However, as so often happens in architecture, the board and batten pattern has evolved for use in other settings. Interior board and batten paneling is popular in informal country homes.

Board and batten shutters modify the design slightly, with the batten being laid diagonally across several boards as part of the shutter’s structural support system.

Is Board and Batten Wainscoting?

Hallway with white board and batten wainscoting It depends. Wainscoting is a protective barrier applied to the lower half or lower third of a room, usually on all the walls. Board and batten refers to a specific design that can be used to create this protective barrier.

So, when a board and batten pattern is applied to the lower portion of an interior room, it is accurate to call that wainscoting.

However, board and batten isn’t always used in this way. It’s not even always used inside. A board and batten design can be used for non-wainscoting applications, such as exterior siding or shutters. In this case, it would not be called wainscoting. See more wainscoting ideas on this page.

What Kind of Wood is Used for Board and Batten?

Glam dining room with board and batten wall paneling wood floor While board and batten was originally made out of wood, today it can be purchased in a wide variety of materials.

Popular woods for exterior board and batten siding are; cedar, cyprus, redwood, locust, hemlock, and white oak. Non-wood materials for exterior use include fiber cement, vinyl, and steel.

When board and batten paneling is installed inside, pine or MDF are often used. Lattice boards and furring strips are popular materials for DIY board and batten walls.

How Tall Should Board and Batten Wainscoting Be?

Living room with white wainscoting wall molding Board and batten wainscoting should be proportional to the total height of the wall. Generally, it is installed on the lower half or lower third of a room. 

The original purpose of wainscoting was to protect the wall from damage. It is often used in dining rooms to protect the wall from dings and dents when guests push back their chairs.

While it can still serve this purpose today, most homeowners choose to install board and batten wainscotting for purely decorative purposes. There are no hard and fast rules, so if you’d like your board and batten wainscoting to cover ⅔ or even ¾ of your wall, go right ahead. We wouldn’t recommend going below ⅓ of the total wall height.

If you’re looking for an exact measurement, try 32 inches. The average residential ceiling height is eight feet. 32 inches of wainscoting would cover the bottom third of the wall. 32 inches is also the average height of other wainscoting materials, such as beadboard panels.

What Size Boards Do You Use for Board and Batten?

Generally speaking, the boards in board and batten siding or paneling are one foot wide. A true batten is no more than two inches wide. However, you can feel free to customize the size of your boards and battens to suit your vision.

Reverse board and batten is exactly what it sounds like — instead of narrow battens overlaying the seams of wide boards, the battens are installed first, with the spaces between them covered by wide boards.

Wainscoting vs Board and Batten

From an architectural and historical perspective, wainscoting is a general, catch-all term for anything applied to an interior wall for the ostensible purpose of protecting it from damage. In interior decorating terminology, it refers specifically to decorative wall details, usually applied to the lower half or lower third of the walls.

One option for this decorative detail is a board and batten style pattern. The vertical lines add height to a room, while the change in depth between the boards and battens brings architectural interest. Board and batten panels can be painted a different color than the rest of the room to create an accent wall design to bring some character to a space.

Non-board and batten options for wainscoting include shiplap, raised or flat panels, tongue and groove, or beadboard.

What’s the Difference Between Board and Batten and Beadboard?

Bathroom with beadboard wainscoting Board and batten is one design used for wainscoting. Beadboard is another. Both designs utilize three dimensions and vertical lines, drawing the eye upward and creating the illusion of more overhead space.

In the first case, narrow boards called ‘battens’ are laid on top of other boards to form a three-dimensional design. In the second example of wainscoting, beadboard, the 3D element comes from the semi-circular raised ridges (beads) pre-milled into the boards before installation.

The beaded boards are then installed side by side. Beadboard panels are also available and significantly speed up the installation process without sacrificing aesthetics.

Where to Use Board and Batten Wainscoting

Board and batten wainscoting will protect your walls, add visual interest and dimension to the room, and increase the appearance of vertical space. It’s use is not restricted to a specific room of the house, so let your imagination run wild.

Board and Batten Dining Room

Luxury dining room with board and batten wainscoting beige wall paint chandelier The dining room is perhaps the most traditional and obvious place for board and batten wainscoting. In a larger formal dining room, spare chairs are often stored against the wall.

In smaller, more intimate dining rooms, guests may accidentally mark the wall when they push their chair back to get in or out of their seats. Board and batten wainscoting is an attractive and stylish way to prevent unsightly dings or dents in your dining room walls.

Board and Batten Kitchen

The kitchen is unlike any other room in the house because so much of the wall is obscured from view. Cabinets and appliances add a lot of visual weight to the bottom half of the room.

Board and batten wainscoting can be used in the kitchen if you have significant areas of open wall. It is not generally advised to use board and batten wainscoting as a backsplash.

Board and Batten Bathroom

Board and batten can frequently be found in bathroom designs and provides a charming design aesthetic.When used in small bathrooms with lighter paint shades board and batten can help your space appear larger than it is.

Boards are commonly placed about 12 inches apart. The top of the boards are generally placed either a third of the way up the wall or two thirds up the wall depending on preference. See more bathroom wainscoting ideas here.

Board and Batten Halls & Entryways

Narrow spaces where you may be jostling for elbow room often benefit from board and batten wainscoting for two reasons. First, the vertical lines make the space feel taller and less claustrophobic.

Second, the battens will absorb the everyday stresses of tight spaces, such as dings, marks, and dents, leaving your wall undamaged.

Entryways fitted with board and batten wainscoting give off a comfortable and informal vibe. Continuing with a board and batten design throughout the hallways of the home is a great way to achieve a country chic look, even in the middle of the city.

Board and Batten Nursery

Baby nursery with board and batten wall paneling A nursery or a playroom is a great place to install full board and batten wainscoting. In many areas of the home, you can get away with just installing the battens and allowing the sheet-rock or drywall underneath to act as the board.

Where toddlers are involved, more protection is a good thing. When playtime gets rowdy and your kiddos are literally bouncing off the wall, you’ll be grateful for the protective qualities of board and batten wainscoting.

For more related design check out our gallery of the types of baseboard styles.

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