Whether your décor style is casual or formal, wainscoting can add a finishing touch to any room. Wainscoting is wood paneling that spans the lower portion of the wall. It’s both a decorative and protective feature for many rooms.

A 700-Year-Old Home Décor Trend

Originally, the term “wainscot” referred exclusively to a high-quality oak plank from slow-growing trees. These planks had no knots, so they were considered superior. Currently, the term refers to any wood paneling along the lower 3’ to 5’ of the wall.

The Dutch originally developed wainscoting in the 14th century to protect plaster walls from scuffs and dirt. The style came into fashion again during the 18th century when the paneling was used to hide damage from damp in plaster walls. It also protected expensive wallpaper in days when it couldn’t be cleaned without damage.

Types of Wainscoting

There are two types of wainscoting: Elegant panel molding and the more casual beadboard.

Panel Molding

There are several types of panel molding wainscot, including flat panel, raised panel, and overlay. The panels can be constructed onsite. Alternatively, you can purchase pre-made and finished panels that need nothing more than installation and a cap rail. Panel molding topped with a chair rail produces an elegant look in any home. For the most part, It’s best suited to formal dining rooms and foyers.


Beadboard provides a more casual look, and it’s a favorite in kitchens and family rooms. With its thin-planked vertical design, it can be used in a country décor or a nautical-themed room. It’s the easiest to install and the most affordable. As a result, it’s also the most common type of wainscoting in use.

Advantages to Wainscot

Wainscoting is particularly good for high-traffic rooms, and more importantly, rooms that host seating areas. Wainscoting provides a sort of armor against nicks and dents. It’s very useful in playrooms and children’s bedrooms.

You’ll often see wainscot walls in dining rooms. These wood panels are often topped by a chair rail. As a result, these low-panels protect the walls against chair backs when diners push themselves away from the table.

  1. Once a luxury enjoyed by the wealthy because of the high cost of labor and materials, wainscoting just adds “tone” to any room décor. It becomes an instant value added, as long as it’s installed thoughtfully and well.
  2. Wainscoting can hide flaws in the walls. If you have an aged home with uneven horsehair plaster walls, wainscoting will not only fit in with the period, it will also hide any plaster cracks or imperfect surfaces.
  3. A wood wall can be a bit overwhelming from floor to ceiling, but wainscoting adds the rich look and warmth of wood without overpowering the room.
  4. Wainscoting is also another layer against the cold. Wood paneling was invented to take the place of tapestries hung along the walls to keep the warm in and the cold out. Although it’s only half the wall or less, wainscot still increases the effectiveness of wall insulation.

Disadvantages of Wainscot

There aren’t very many disadvantages to adding wainscot to your home. However, homeowners should keep a few key points in mind when shopping.

  1. Solid wood wainscoting and paneling does require some maintenance. Natural wood paneling requires a good oiling on occasion, to prevent it from drying out.
  2. Because it’s a natural material and sensitive to humidity and temperature, it can warp or swell. Especially if it hasn’t been kept oiled or hasn’t been sealed.
  3. Plastic and vinyl can age quickly. This means that it can look cheap and ugly sooner than you’d hoped. If you’re renovating a historic home to preserve it for years to come, use real, era-appropriate materials that have already shown their worth.

Wainscoting Materials

The best wainscoting is always solid hardwood, but it’s also the most expensive. Home fixture manufacturers have expanded production by using a number of materials, including plywood, plastic, and MDF board.

Wainscoting Ideas

You can use wainscoting in any room of the home, but there are a few traditional locations.


Wherever there’s a door, there’s a reason for wainscot. For backdoors and mud rooms, wainscoting cuts the time and effort for keeping walls clean of mud and debris from outdoors. Beadboard is a popular choice, because of its low cost and casual appearance.

Formal entries look great in paneled wainscoting, finished in high-gloss white or natural wood, but the concept is the same.

Dining Areas

In a formal dining room, use high paneled wainscot with a grooved plate rail to show off your china. In an eat-in kitchen, paint beadboard with high-gloss white acrylic for a washable wall around young diners.

Family Rooms

Protect family rooms and playroom walls from wrestling youngsters with durable wainscoting. Along with providing protection for your drywall, it also dampens sound and gives the room a serene feel. You can also add a wide cap rail to hold drinks, remotes, or other needful items.

Children’s Rooms

Like family rooms, kids’ bedrooms can see a lot of rough and tumble. Not only that, they’re often the victims of covert art projects. Painted wainscoting is easy to clean. Furthermore, you can paint it with blackboard paint to encourage more art projects without permanent damage to the walls.


With water-resistant plastics, vinyl, and treated MDF board, wainscoting is a warmer alternative to cold tiles in the bathroom. It can be easier to install than tile for the walls, too, making it a great homeowner DIY project for snazzing up a dull bathroom.

Stairs and Hallways

Corridors and stairwells can get some rough use in busy families. Particularly when these spaces are tight, they’re subject to all sorts of abuse as household members rush through in a hurry.

Stained wood wainscot adds charm and warmth to formal rooms and gathering areas. White-painted beadboard sets the tone for casual living, whether it’s country chic or nautical vibe.

Along with adding real value to your home, you’ll spend less time repairing plaster and scrubbing dirt from painted walls. Wainscoting adds elegance to any home, and installing it in your home is an investment that can pay off.

Featured Image: CC by 0, by The Finishing Company via Flickr

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