The art of wainscoting dates back centuries, but that doesn’t mean your home can’t benefit from a bit of updated wainscoting sophistication.
Perfect for sprucing up walls on the plainer side, as well as protecting them from undesired scuffing and overall wear & tear, the wainscoting models of today are designed to add some utilitarian elegance to your space.
Comprised of trim, chair rail, and molding detail, and running the horizontal length of your wall unit, wainscoting is ideal for entryways, stairs, and hallways, as well as dining rooms, bathrooms, and social areas.
With an endless assortment of millwork designs and wall covering finishes to choose from, there is truly no limit to the ways you can individualize and add value to your cherished abode. From simple panel molding (evident in its recessed frame piecework) to more elaborate shadow boxes (featuring painted or stained trim pieces topped with a chair rail and reinforced with a baseboard bottom), today’s wainscoting motifs are designed to act as your wall’s second skin, complimenting rather than deterring from your home’s overall aesthetic.
These wainscoting ideas and designs lend a warm but high-end appeal to your household’s rooms and corridors, adding value and an extra layer of protection to your home for years to come. With surprisingly easy installation options and twice as many styles to choose from, your house can be transformed into an estate in no time, and garner much-deserved use and admiration for years to come.
If you’re not a DIY expert or don’t have time to do your wainscoting project yourself, I’d recommend finding a professional on Thumbtack. They have loads of home remodelling contractors across the US, and you can compare their prices and reviews before contacting them. Check it out!
1. Bathroom Wainscoting Ideas
While it might seem strange to put this much work into the smallest room in most homes, bathroom wainscot projects are a great traditional touch and look amazing. Instead of common, run-of-the-mill tiling, wainscoting gives a far more luxurious touch to your washroom. Check out the following images to see how much of an impact well-planned wainscot makes in these small rooms.
Wainscoting is constructed using several pieces of molding and trim, but there are basics that nearly all wainscot projects use. The top and bottom boards that stretch from corner to corner are referred to as rails. The vertical pieces that run between the rails are known as styles. Inside of the rails and styles are panels. If those names sound familiar to you, it’s probably because they’re the same terms used to describe cabinet door components.
For an interesting look at how wainscoting is built by a true craftsman, check out the following video. There are different methods and moldings described, as well as some really impressive tools on display. You should get a good idea of what goes into the process and we’ll further explain some of the finer points of wainscot design as the article progresses.
2. Formal Dining Room Wainscoting Ideas
Installing wainscot in your dining room can be one of the most impactful upgrades you can complete. Wainscoting will add a luxurious and premium feel to the most formal room in your home. You may not have a room dedicated solely for dinner-party purposes, but you can take a few cues from the following images to improve the feel in the dining space that you do have.
When you’re considering what direction you’d like your dining room’s wainscoting to head in, you can’t go wrong with something traditional. This is the one room or area of your home that will see the most formal entertaining and it’s best to keep the molding and trim work as classical as possible.
One rule of thumb to remember in traditional wainscot is that it should take up one-third of your wall’s height. In other words, if you have a 9-foot ceiling, the top rail of your wainscot should come to three feet. This is the simplest and most visually-appealing design rule to keep in mind, but if you were to go ahead and break this rule, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
3. Stairway Wainscoting Ideas
Formal stairway wainscoting has been a staple in Colonial and early-American style homes since, well, early America. They make an amazing impression and will draw your guests’ eyes upward, creating a design feature out of a utilitarian set of stairs. The following images are some great examples of how to pull this off, whether it be a grand staircase from your main entryway or a basic set of steps that could use a little extra touch.
There are several ways to make wainscoting work for your staircase, from covering an entire wall with beautiful frame-and-panel moldings to an installation that covers only from the railing down. Regardless of which style you choose to go with, this takes careful planning and quite a bit of know-how to get right. You want your rails and styles to be straight and consistent, which rarely means level and plumb.
While we encourage you to get creative here, the added angles can make it a challenge when it comes to the actual work. You’ll need a pretty comprehensive set of hand tools to take measurements and scribe accurately, while also needing a decent complement of power tools to cut the components. It’s a little more advanced than a standard wainscoting installation, so don’t be afraid to sub this one out if it’s above your skillset.
4. Floor-to-Ceiling Wainscoting Ideas
If you have an empty wall that you’d like to accent or you have an entire room that you’d like to make as formal as possible, floor-to-ceiling wainscot can be a great idea that makes a huge difference. In the images that follow, you’ll see different rooms with a number of different functions that have benefited from floor-to-ceiling coverage. While it may seem like an overwhelming undertaking, the end result is completely worth it.
Dining room and entryways are the most commonly thought of rooms when wainscoting comes to mind, but as you can see there are a number of different uses for the classic trim-style. By creating an entire wall of wainscoting, you can buck the trend slightly and create a beautiful backdrop for any room.
While basic wainscoting can be created by building frames and panels, building an entire wall worth of paneling in one shot is a recipe for disaster. You can make this project more manageable by building separate, open-ended frames that will butt-up to each other, creating the effect you’re looking for. Another option may be cutting and fitting individual boards one at a time, and foregoing the panels. The end result will be similar as long as you maintain consistent spacing and alignment of all your rails and styles.
5. Shadow Box Wainscoting Ideas
If the whole frame-and-panel construction idea is starting to concern you, there are other easier options that are closer to being in your wheelhouse. By using chair rail molding and shadow boxes, you can mimic the look and idea of wainscoting with not even a quarter of the investment of money or time. The images below are easily replicated with shadow boxes and molding.
To set yourself up for a successful faux-wainscot application, you should follow the same design ideas as you would for the real thing. For example, you should use an odd number of boxes as they’re the most visually appealing, as well as using the one-third rule. Also, choose moldings with enough size to stand out from the wall appropriately but not so heavy-looking that it appears out of place or chunky. You should be thinking delicate elegance, not framing lumber obtrusiveness.
If you’re unsure if the layout you have in mind will work, pick up a few rolls of painters’ tape in one and 2-inch widths. Use the tape to create the layout on the wall before you start punching nails through it. You’ll have an idea if your design will work, while also being able to play with the number of boxes you’ll use and their width and height.
6. Non-Traditional Wainscoting Ideas
Since you’ve probably had your fill of formal, classic, and perfectly-designed wainscot walls and all the rules that go along with them, we’d like to introduce you to something completely different: No rules at all.
There are endless choices for wainscoting and the design behind it. This is your home, of course, no one should hold their rules for style over your head if you don’t want them to. An interesting use of trim, paneling, boards, and other materials can make for a truly impressive alternative to overly formal wainscot trim and moldings.
Since you’re now deciding what the rules will be, we’ll let go of the reins and simply suggest a few things. For one, you should still try to work in odd numbers. Odd numbers divide spaces awkwardly and can draw your attention to the center instead of allowing you to enjoy the project as a whole. Also, if you’re mixing textures or widths, the heavier materials should be lower on the wall, while thinner and lighter appearing moldings or boards are placed above. This design will help the wall to feel anchored and not like it is going to topple in on you.
7. Wainscoting Ideas for the Rest of the Home
Wainscot can find itself in other, less trafficked and more casual places than stairways and dining rooms. It can make an incredible addition to a bedroom, a hallway, or any other space that requires a little extra flair.
Don’t just assume that you can’t make use of a formal style in a casual room. Giving a master bedroom a wainscoting treatment can make the space feel more luxurious and relaxing, helping you to wind down and relax before bed.
If you decide to use wainscot in your bedroom, consider using some other touches that normally blend well with it. Built-in bookshelves and cabinets look amazing when combined with wainscot walls and crown molding, so don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and treat yourself to a fancy, five-star hotel-inspired room.
8. Fireplace Wainscoting Ideas
Fireplaces are often the most formal, visually stunning pieces in any home. They may be stone or brick-faced with simple mantles, or they can be clad with intricate, multi-layered moldings and trim work to incorporate them perfectly into the room they occupy. Not only can you appreciate these fireplaces for their impressive overall presence but also for their attention to the smallest of details.
We saved this category for last because these fireplaces are the pinnacle of possibility when a skilled craftsman tackles a wainscot project. They’re also difficult to categorize as they are so carefully constructed that they land somewhere between finish carpentry and fine furniture.
If you don’t have the tools and attention to detail that these fireplaces would require, it’s worth calling in a pro if this is the look you want. The value-added will far outweigh the cost expended and those are the types of projects homeowners should be focused on.
Will wainscoting make my room feel smaller?
Yes, wainscoting does tend to make a space feel smaller. The higher the wainscoting, the smaller the room will feel. It may not always have the perceived shrinking-effect, but it rarely makes a room feel larger. The best way to combat this is to use light-colored wainscoting or to match the wainscoting to your wall color.
Will adding wainscoting increase my home’s value?
This is a case-by-case basis, but wainscoting will not directly affect your home’s market value. However, wainscoting used in conjunction with other high-end touches will give your home a more luxurious feel, which may have a positive effect on your home’s value. More importantly, if a buyer is looking for a home with luxurious touches, they may be inclined to scoop your home up off of the market before anyone else can. This can save you money on further mortgage payments and taxes.
Can you install wainscoting over drywall?
In older homes, wainscoting was used for the lower part of the wall because it was less affected by moisture and damp conditions than plaster and lathe were. In those cases, wainscoting was often installed in place of those materials. Today, when this is less of an issue, you easily improve the look and style of your home by installing wainscoting over top of your drywall.