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Wainscoting Ideas (Ultimate Design Guide)

Welcome to our ultimate guide of wainscoting ideas including cost, installation and popular types for your interior design.
Traditional living room with wainscoting, coffered ceiling and brick fireplace Wainscoting is a type of wall paneling that homeowners, interior designers, and architects have used for centuries. When it comes down to it, though, wainscoting isn’t a one-size-fits-all design. There are plenty of factors that allow you to personalize wainscoting to your personal preferences, home design, and even specific room design. This can all seem overwhelming at first if you are considering wainscoting in your own home. To help you out, we’re going to break down what wainscoting is and what design styles might work for you.

What Is Wainscoting?

Craftsman living room with wainscoting walls, gray paint, hand scraped maple hardwood flooring Wainscoting is a rather all-encompassing design term. Generally, it refers to paneling that covers the lower half of the wall. It can be used as an accent design or more structural purposes such as covering or preventing damage or even adding insulation to a room.

Wainscoting is also referred to as Wainscot and is frequently made from oak wood. The origin of the word wainscoting is thought to have originated from the Dutch word ‘wains’ which meant wagon. This type of paneling was originally used extensively for wagon construction and coachwork.

There are a few terms to know when it comes to discussing wainscotting. The two main pieces of this concept are the panel and the frame of that panel. The panel itself is made up of four pieces; the top rail, bottom rail, and pair of side rails. The side rails are often referred to jointly as the stiles.

Wainscoting Height

Wainscoting can vary be design and homeowner wants but, by strict definition, it covers the bottom 3 to 4 feet of your wall.For an eight foot wall that standard size of wainscoting is 32″ and for a nine foot wall the standard size is 36″. For higher ceiling rooms and larger spaces a size of up to 48″ is a good fit.

Of course, you can have wainscoting that’s taller or even cover the whole wall.  In fact taller wainscoting designs have currently been trending lately. It’s also an interior wall design, so it fits a living room, bathroom, hallway, or even kitchen well. This definition varies slightly from beadboard which is a term that is often used interchangeably with wainscoting. We’ll take a look at the differences in these definitions a little later on.

Cost to Install Wainscoting

Living room with white wall wainscoting and high ceilings The cost of installing wainscoting depends on quite a few factors. These can include material, design, installation, labor, and the area and size of the wall or walls you’re installing wainscoting on.

As for material, prices can vary greatly. Some you can find at as little as around $7 per square foot while others can be up to $40 or more per square foot. It’ll be easier to break these prices down more specifically when we look at different material options.

Then, there are installation costs. While wainscoting can be taken on as a DIY, labor costs can add up if you choose to go that way. This depends on how difficult the wainscoting style and type is to install as well as hourly labor costs. On average, most contractors work at around $90 an hour on this project but this can vary on who you hire. So, you’ll need to consider that cost multiplied by the time the installation will take. Your contractor should give you an estimate before they start the job. If you are taking this on as a DIY, remember that you’ll need to buy the tools to do it.

Luckily, you won’t have to worry too much about maintenance. While they may need extra dusting, high-gloss finishes make wainscoting easy to wipe off – often easier than bare walls themselves. Unlike some home improvement investments, you aren’t likely to need services such as resealing. Just a little soap and water from time to time usually does the trick.

Types of Wainscoting

One of the first decisions you’ll make when it comes to wainscoting is the material you want to use. Luckily wainscoting is a rather versatile design piece meaning that it can be done with a number of materials, allowing you to match your unique architecture and interior design.

Wood Wainscoting

Office with wood wainscoting The cost of wood wainscoting has an extra variable that not many other materials have: type. Just like wood flooring, you have quite a few options that vary in hardness, grain, and color. Poplar veneer costs about $7 to $17 per square foot, oak runs at around $12 to $30 per square foot, maple runs at about $13 to $35 per square foot, and $14 to $40 per square foot. This makes wood one of the more expensive choices among materials.

Another factor that can affect the price of wood wainscoting is if you are ordering pre-stained. Factory stained oak is about $19 to $31 per square foot, stained maple ranges from $20 to $37 per square foot, and factory stained cherry is estimated at about $20 to $40 or more per square foot. You can reduce these cost if you have the skills and supplies to stain the wood yourself.

As for aesthetics, wood offers plenty of options for wainscoting ideas. Wood can range in a variety of colors from white and light colors to deeper colors. This is especially true for woods that take to staining very well such as cherry and oak. You can also paint your wood to get a unique look – we’ll get into how to do that later. You can also get different appearances by choosing different grains. If you aren’t a fan of wood grain, many kinds of wood are easy to camouflage, once again, with paint or stains.

Painted Wainscoting

Dining room with painted wainscoting Painted wainscoting can be almost any color you can imagine although white is most common. Another classic choice for darker decor is shades of gray. Painted wainscoting could also be more than one color. It isn’t rare that wainscoting uses a pair of colors either. This is used a lot with raised panel wainscoting with the raised design painted white and the area flushed against the wall matching the wall color.

There are some variations on the cost of painted wainscoting. To purchase wainscoting that is only primed for you to paint, it’s probably going to be around $7 to $11 for each square foot. Factory painted panels are more expensive at around $15 to $18 per square foot.

PVC Wainscoting

PVC wainscoting panels are often used in kitchens and bathrooms. It handles moisture well and it’s easy to wipe off any spills or splashes without permanent stains. They’re also fire-resistant, so they add a little safety to your home too. When it comes to cost, PVC wall panels are easy to install and can be as inexpensive as $1 to $4 per square foot. The biggest downfall of PVC panels is that they aren’t the most environmentally friendly choice to manufacture.

Vinyl Wainscoting

Home office with vinyl wainscoting Vinyl wainscoting is one of the most affordable options you can make since it’s only about $4 to $7 per square foot on average. Even better, it’s one of the easiest options to install as well. So, if you’re hiring someone for installation, you won’t have to pay for as much for labor.

Vinyl also a smooth, clean surface and stands up well to wet and humid environments. This is why many homeowners choose vinyl wainscoting for bathrooms. However, vinyl is more prone to cracking than other materials. Some homeowners dislike what they often refer to as the “fake” appearance of vinyl over options like wood.

Tile Wainscoting

Bathroom with tile wainscoting Tile wainscoting, just like tile flooring, is another fitting option for bathrooms or environments that are exposed to humidity. Like wood, there are a few types of tile you can choose from that will vary in cost. For lower end costs, options like linoleum, laminate, and vinyl will run an average of $2 to $7 per square foot. Classic materials like porcelain and ceramic are around $5 to $10 per square foot.

This is also a material that is easy to keep up with although you will have to make sure to keep grout lines clean for the best appearance. It doesn’t retain heat well but this isn’t as problematic with wainscoting compared to tile floors.

Metal wainscoting Metal Wainscoting

Metal wainscoting might sound off the beaten path but it can be attractive with a variety of home decor. For one, it fits well into a modern or minimalist design. It also matches well with natural materials such as stone or wood, making it an interesting pop in rustic design. It’s also durable, so many use metal wainscoting not only in the home but in shops, barns, garages, or even in exterior wainscoting.

When considering it as exterior wainscoting, though, keep in mind that metal will rust if it isn’t properly taken care of. Stainless steel is an alloy that is more resistant to rust which makes it a good material to consider.

Since metal can be bent, it’s a good way to get a textured appearance. So, if you aren’t sure about flat metal wainscoting, you should consider corrugated metal before dismissing the idea entirely!

Wainscoting Styles

Wainscoting styles are made up of the design of the panel type. We’ve already looked at the type of material you can use in your wainscoting but here we’re going to look at the shape or design of the panels themselves that are often used with almost any material. This will also be a factor to consider when it comes to costs.

Wainscoting Wall Paneling

To further define these styles, contractors, manufactures, and interior designers refer to them more specifically as wainscoting wall paneling. Each of these panels has one of a few options of design that we will look at below. When installed, these panels are meant to look seamless.

Raised Panel Wainscoting

Raised panel wainscoting Raised panel wainscoting is a traditional style that many use to give a room an elegant or more formal look. The style gets its name not from being raised entirely but rather using raised designs. The most common pattern is raised squares in the center of each panel. This style also typically has raised top and bottom rails. These styles don’t extend out to an odd length but rather have the appearance of molding. This can be one, simple line of molding or a beaded raised portion.

Raised panel wainscoting in dining room While raised square frames are the most common style, homeowners can arguably use any design they can think up. As for cost, raised panel wainscoting costs about $10 to $30 per square foot.

Flat Panel Wainscoting

Traditional dining room with flat panel wainscoting walls and light green paint Flat panel wainscoting is the in-between for recessed and raised options. The design for these is rather simple and doesn’t use decorative molding. It’s also a style that’s incorporated into other designs such as Shaker style wainscoting. The middle panel is completely flat – hence the name. It’s a great fit for transitional rooms and gives a room a traditional feel. This runs anywhere from $7 to $20 per square foot.

Recessed Panel Wainscoting

Bedroom with recessed wainscoting panel walls Recessed panel wainscoting, as you might have guessed, is the exact opposite of raised panel wainscoting. Instead of using raised shapes as decoration, these designs fall back – or “recessed” – into the wall. To create this look, the wainscoting panels themselves are often made a little thicker and slightly more protruding in the same way raised panels are in their raised designs. The design of a recessed panel is made as an indent, usually to look either slightly inward or even to look as though the design is flush against the wall.

Beadboard Wainscoting

Bathroom with beadboard wainscoting We mentioned earlier that beadboard is technically different from wainscoting even though the terms are often used in place of one another. First, let’s look at the pattern. Beadboard has side-by-side vertical paneling. At the top and bottom of the paneling, horizontal top and bottom rails are used to give the design a complete feel.

The feature that makes it specifically beadboard is the slight ridge – or “bead” – that sits between each panel. These aren’t as thick as the main panels, though. They work more like an outline between panels and look like a narrow strip between each panel.

Beadboard wainscoting Beadboard is also more likely to be installed at a taller or, less often, a lower height than strictly defined wainscoting. Traditionally, beadboard is made of wood but in recent history, it’s branched out to include more affordable or even more durable materials as well.

Board and Batten Wainscoting

Board and batten wainscoting open concept living room Board and batten wainscoting is a popular choice among homes with a more rustic design. This is, in large part, thanks to its clean and simple lines. These panels are rather inexpensive with many companies estimating even full wall panels at as little as $11 per square foot.

This is a very similar concept to recessed wall paneling but the pattern itself is different. Instead of being recessed from molding or only recessed in a certain shape, board and batten wainscoting has recessed squares or rectangles taking up almost the entire panel. Around the edges, there is a very slightly raised trim but it isn’t as drastic as the molding used in many other styles.

Chair Rail Wainscoting

Chair rail wainscoting in living room Chair rail wainscoting features a decorative wood treatment on the top of the panel that is reminiscent of a hand rail. It usually only appears as trim molding at a “chair rail” or wainscoting height. This style is usually installed around 32” to 36” from the floor. It also often has a bottom rail that is simpler and less protruding than the top rail. Since there is less material, chair railing is rather inexpensive at an average of $1 to $3 per linear foot.

Chair rail wainscoting hallway close up A close up view of a chair rail wainscoting in a hallway.

Shiplap Wainscoting

Bathroom with shiplap wainscoting Shiplap wainscoting is unique in the fact that its design is often horizontal rather than vertical. While shiplap can have a traditional vertical side-by-side design, it’s more often differentiated as slats on top of each other vertically.

Vertical designs do well in making a room look larger while many think horizontal designs work well at giving a room a sense of direction. This is why it’s often used leading up a stairway or in the entryway of a home. This style costs around $2.50 to $7 per square foot. See more shiplap bathrooms here.

Shaker Wainscoting

Dining room with shaker wainscoting Shaker wainscoting is incredibly similar to board and batten wainscoting and, thanks to their design similarities, run at around the same price. It utilizes a rather recessed look and is often installed by adding wood and molding to the wall rather than adding full panels. This is also a style that is usually carried over to doors in the room as well. These could be side-by-side rectangles or smaller rectangles stacked vertically.

Picture Frame Wainscoting

Foyer with picture frame wainscoting With a similar look to the board and batten style, picture frame wainscoting is often used for DIY projects to create the look and an inexpensive price. By adding small strips of wood in the shape of a picture frame one can create this type of design with little construction experience. You would first assemble the picture frame in the size desired and then attach it to the 1/4″ wall paneling using glue and finishing nails. After its attached you can paint the area to match the other trim and molding in the room to create a cohesive interior design.

Two Tone Wainscoting

Master bedroom with two tone wainscoting and honey oak flooring Two tone wainscoting often uses the picture frame style and the walls base paint color with the trim color to achieve the look desired. If you are creating this style from home its a good idea to paint the trim before attaching it to the paneling to save time and energy.

You can buy wainscoting painted or primed, however many choose a paint and primer in one. A lot of wainscoting uses a semi-high gloss painting, so all-in-one paint can be a huge time saver. You’re also going to want painters tape to keep lines clean. An angled brush helpful to tackle ridges in the design. We cover painting in more detail later in this article.

Wainscoting Design Pictures

Beautiful living room with wainscoting and hickory hardwood flooring Now that you know the styles and material you can choose from with wainscoting, let’s take a look at that information in action and consider some room-specific design ideas.

Bathroom Wainscoting

Bathroom with white wainscoting and freestanding tub Using wainscoting in a bathroom is a great way to create a unifying style. It’s a style that many love because it can match a bathroom with a free-standing tub well but it can really be attractive in any bathroom. You’ll want to choose a material that can stand up well to water, though, or you might have a hard time with longevity.

Master bath with white wainscoting and large tub When using wainscoting to make a powder room look bigger as well as attractive, there are a few tips to keep in mind. For one, don’t go with anything tall and dark – especially full wall wainscoting in dark colors. You can visually open up the room by using light colors and contrasting against the rest of the wall. See more bathroom wainscoting ideas here.

Dining Room Wainscoting

Dining room with tall white wainscoting walls gray paint and hardwood flooring Wainscoting in a dining room can add an elegant touch and it’s a great way to frame a large dining room table. You have a lot of freedom with the style of wainscoting here. Standard height and shoulder height wainscoting work well. White or stained wood wainscoting are among the most popular choices.

Kitchen Wainscoting

Kitchen with white wainscoting white cabinets wood flooring We already discussed that PVC or vinyl wainscotting are easy to clean. Because of this ability to stand up to messes without staining, this can make them perfect for the kitchen. Specifically, wainscoting in the kitchen can work well next to a dining area and they can make a great backsplash.

A bare wall against the counter or behind a stove isn’t a look that many homeowners fall in love with. That’s why many opt for backsplashes. There are still a lot of options when it comes to backsplashes and adding wainscoting can be a way to add some texture to your kitchen and connect your backsplash to the rest of the kitchen decor. Around counter space flowing into the standard wall space, tall wainscoting can be utilized.

Living Room Wainscoting

White wainscoting in living room Living rooms have a lot of versatility when it comes to wainscoting. One option, like most other rooms in the house, is to use standard height wainscoting and let the color blend into the door frames. However, you can also get a great look by playing with colors or height. Since living rooms are one of the highest traffic areas in the home, you can use wainscoting to cover any existing damage,protect the walls, as well as add a decorative touch. In living rooms specifically, wainscoting is often used to match the design of molding at the joint of the wall and ceiling.

Wainscoting Hallway

Hallway with wainscoting Wainscoting your hallway has many of the same practical benefits of using wainscoting in your living room. After all, your hallway gets almost as much traffic as your living room. In addition, wainscoting can lend itself to the flow of a hallway and make it look longer and larger. It can also help homeowners play with paint colors in a structured way if they aren’t sure how to tackle paint pairings on a blank wall.

Wainscoting Stairs

Stairs with wainscoting wrought iron stair rail Wainscoting can be a great way to lead up a set of stairs and, again, add an elegant touch to your stairwell. Most often, this is standard height wainscoting. This way, the top rail lines up with wall railing if the staircase has it. Even if it doesn’t, the wainscoting is measured to line up with the standing railing on the other side of the staircase.

There is also the concern of wainscoting on the wall that runs underneath the staircase. This can be full wall staircases or standard height staircases. Either way, this job usually calls for at least one specially cut wainscoting to compensate for a narrowing wall.

Modern Wainscoting

Modern bedroom purple wainscoting style wall When we think of wainscoting, we often think of traditional home design. However, there are plenty of ways to modernize this design facet to ensure a one-of-a-kind appearance. The best way to do this is to use out of the box design choices. For instance, instead of the average square raised panel, you could try circular patterns or out-of-the-box colors for the design. Wainscoting accent walls can also be interesting. Similarly, tall wainscoting with a bold color on the wall above it can add a fun, modern twist – especially in a kid’s room!

Entryway with modern wainscoting with geometric design An entryway is the first place visitors see when they enter your home. A modern wainscoting with a geometric design can make a great first impression especially paired with the right furniture pieces and decor.

Craftsman Wainscoting

Craftsman style living room with wainscoting Craftsman wainscoting is custom made by an artisan or, if you’re handy, maybe even yourself. This type of wainscoting is done by purchasing an order of panels. Instead, materials are custom cut, made, and installed. This is a good way to make sure that wainscoting fits your home’s architecture perfectly especially when it comes to odd angles such as around staircases or low-sloping ceilings.

If you’re having a professional create wainscoting by hand and custom installing it, don’t be surprised if you end up with a higher cost than simple panel installations.

Rustic Wainscoting

Rustic wood wainscoting Rustic design leans heavily on natural beauty and rugged elements. Due to its affinity towards earthy elements and organic textures, wood wainscoting is the most popular choice. Even with one medium, there are plenty of options that can make rustic design your own. We’ve already covered that there are many different types of wood used in wainscoting. With the addition of staining, there is an almost limitless chance of customization. To be really true to rustic design, go for a bare wood you like and let the grain be the focal point.

Barn Wood Wainscoting

Barn wood wainscoting Barn wood wainscoting fits well into rustic design as well but it can really give any home a custom flair. You might also see this style referred to as reclaimed wood paneling. That title describes what this style is perfectly. Instead of ordering freshly cut, uniform wood for wainscoting, this is the idea of repurposing older wood.

This can work well in rustic design for a couple of reasons. First, the slightly mismatched pieces give it a more down-to-earth vibe. On top of that, it’s a green option that not only captures nature’s beauty but protects it as well.

Art Deco Wainscoting

Art deco wainscoting The Art Deco style originated in France in the early 1920’s and is considered by many the start of the modern movement. Some of the standout features of this style are streamlined shapes, geometric designs and surface embellishments.

Black Wainscoting

Modern kitchen with black wainscoting white cabinets At this point, we’ve talked a lot of materials for wainscoting and even touched on painting wainscoting. It can be hard to choose a color but one you may not have considered yet is black wainscoting.

We discussed modern wainscoting earlier and this can be a great way to get this vibe. It should be noted that while black can give an elegant look, it can also make a room look smaller. This means that full wall black wainscoting might not be the specific design and color scheme for smaller rooms.

Exterior Wainscoting

House with exterior wainscoting While wainscoting is often used in interior design, it’s also an interesting way to add to exterior design. Many times, it exists as a structural feature. For instance, a house may have a brick or even cinder block thick strip around the bottom of the house. Brick designs are more popular for their aesthetic appeal. Brick is also durable, so it holds up the elements rather well.

For a more rustic appearance, metal wainscoting is also popular. Almost every choice for exterior wainscoting uses a very clearly defined top railing to help create an attractive transition between the wainscoting and siding. Ground-to-roof wainscoting is sometimes associated with high-end homes using irregular stones.

Full Wall Wainscoting

Living room with full wall wainscoting We discussed earlier that wainscoting had a general height. We also discussed that this height could be changed for a unique look. One way it can change is to use full floor-to-ceiling wainscoting. Typically, full wall wainscoting is referred to as panel molding or just wall paneling. As a rule of thumb wainscoting reaches up to 32″ above the floor.

An attractive way to use full wall wainscoting is to create a colored accent wall to add a dramatic touch to a room. Again, it can also be used as a dramatic touch to long or narrow hallways. Of course, it isn’t unheard of for full wall wainscoting to be used in all walls of a room for a regal appearance.

Tall Wainscoting

Dining room with tall wainscoting On a similar note, tall wainscoting extends higher vertically than the standard height. Usually, it’s installed at around average shoulder height. There are a few ways to make the most of this design. A classic choice is to use a rectangular recessed design with a square recessed design for the extra height.

An interesting idea for tall wainscoting is to use extended molding for the top rail to create a shelf. This style is also a great way to frame a room that has a large fireplace or hearth. Unlike full wall wainscoting, tall wainscoting is almost always used around an entire room.

DIY Wainscoting

Bathroom wainscoting with tub If you’re into DIY home projects, you’ll be happy to hear that wainscoting is a project you can take on with the right tools and time. Here, we’re going to look at some of the basics for this project.

Wood wainscoting kit Wainscoting Kits

If you’re new or nervous about building wainscoting from the ground up, a wainscoting kit can be the perfect middle ground.

These kits come with pre-cut panels or, if you’re buying wood, they may also be pre-finished. This is also a great way to speed up the process of a wainscoting DIY while still saving on installation costs.

An example of a wainscoting kit is this Nordic knotty pine kit that covers 24 linear feet of wall with chair railing molding.

(See this pine wainscoting kit at Amazon)

How to Install Wainscoting

The first thing to do when installing your own wainscoting is cleaning the walls. If there are any holes in the wall, use a drywall filler to patch them up and sand the filler down when it’s dry. Be sure to measure and mark the walls to ensure the paneling goes where you want it to. Use a level to be safe.

Prime the wall in the area that you are wainscoting. Then, start by installing the top and bottom rails. Then, you’re going to start on the design itself which is variable. This could include adding molding in a traditional raised panel wainscoting or raised frames to install recessed or board and batten styles.

Glue is a common choice for installation since it doesn’t have an outside appearance and caulk can help you fill in any gaps.

Painting Wainscoting

Small bathroom with black wainscoting and wallpaper

When it comes to wainscoting there are a few tips and tricks that help make any painting project successful, and a few more to help with the aesthetics. There are not too many things needed to paint wainscoting, just the same products you use when painting anything else.

Paint, primer, painters tape, and most importantly, and ANGLED brush – trust me on that last one it will come in handy – and any other drop cloth, towels, rollers, etc. that you may use depending on the size of the space at hand.

Starting off is the selecting of the color and patterns of the wainscoting. Traditionally white is used for moldings and trims, but why do we have to stick with traditional? This is a great opportunity to add an accent and really spice up this space, or even just bring an extra dimension to the space with a gray or beige. The possibilities are as big as your imagination takes you. Not only will adding colors to the bottom part of the wall be able to coordinate with the rest of the wall and ceiling colors, but it will also be more forgiving to the bangs and bumps the lower half of the wall is sure to get.

Sometimes wainscoting is on the entire wall, which gives an even better opportunity to bring dimension to the space with lights and darks of the same colors. Depending on which style of wainscoting is selected helps determine what color is best suitable as well as how many different colors can be selected.

Now that the color is selected, time to start the painting, right? Hold your horses, first we need to prepare. It is of utmost importance that you use the painters tape to separate the neatly painted top wall from the current painted area. As much as you think you can paint a straight line, use the tape, it will be worth it. This can also be useful for making any additional designs or separating multiple colors if that is what is being applied to the different parts of the wainscoting.

Painting time! Typically wainscoting is in a semi-gloss paint, meaning if you are repainting it is a little more difficult to cover. Instead of sanding or scraping, get a primer, or better yet a 2 in 1 paint and primer. This takes a coat or two depending on the gloss level of prior paint.

If the 2 in 1 paint and primer is missing some spots, taking an extra coat of primer should get the right level of adherence. While painting wainscoting it is beneficial to work in sections, particularly focusing on the horizontal and vertical sections separately to get the correct brush strokes. This is where the angled brush comes in handy, in most wainscoting applications there are a lot of creases and seams, which is where that angled brush will give the best chance at reaching. Make sure all brush strokes are going in the proper direction to get a professional, well done paint job.

Written by Brooke

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