You may not have heard of Lincrusta, but we bet you've seen it before. In its heyday, during the Victorian era and the early 20th century, this ornate wall covering was a popular addition to upscale homes, including well-known examples like the White House and the John D. Rockefeller mansion. Pioneered in England in 1877, Lincrusta been made the same way ever since: A mix of linseed oil, wood paste, and other natural products is fed through rollers that emboss a pattern on the surface. Because it's as durable as it is delicate looking, it's well suited for walls in high-traffic areas like hallways—or for a wainscot, as we've done here. Follow along as senior technical editor Mark Powers installs Lincrusta panels and gives them a two-tone paint job that highlights their handsome texture.
Wainscoting: Lincrusta's Art Nouveau wall covering; Lee Jofa.
Paint: Benjamin Moore's Pilgrim Haze (base) and Metallic Silver (highlights); Benjamin Moore
Overview of Installing a Lincrusta Wainscot
Friday Lay out the placement of the panels and affix the liner to the walls.
Saturday Cut and install the panels and prepare them for painting.
Sunday Paint and highlight the panels, and attach the chair rail.
Mark a Level Line and Create a Layout
Remove receptacle plates and protect floors with kraft paper. Measuring from the baseboard, use a pencil to mark the top edge of the wainscot that will sit below the chair rail. With a level, transfer this line around the room; the top edges of the panels will follow this level line, ensuring that they will hang plumb. Next, just below the level line, use a pencil to mark where the sides of the panels will fall during installation. Shift the placement left or right as needed so that the panels you'll cut to fit at corners or around moldings are no narrower than 4 to 6 inches. This makes matching the seams easier.
To help you determine the panel layout, use a length of cardboard or scrap wood as a stand-in to see how the panels will land at the corners.
Affix the Liner to the Walls
Measure the length of one wall and add 4 inches. Cut strips of liner to this length. (You'll need two strips if the wainscot is taller than the liner is wide, as ours was.) Brush adhesive onto the back of the first strip; to help the paper soften, book it like wallpaper, with the coated surfaces touching. Once soft, place the liner on the wall, aligning its top edge with the level line and centering it horizontally so that there are 2 inches of excess at each end. Fan the smoothing tool over the liner to remove air bubbles, moving from the center outward. Place the second strip below the first, butting up the seams. Use a utility knife to cut off excess liner at each end and along the baseboard. Repeat for the remaining walls. Allow to dry overnight.
Cut the First Panel to Size
You'll position the first panel out of a corner or against vertical molding, such as a door casing. Use the level to mark a plumb line where the side of the first panel will fall. Next, measure the horizontal distance from the plumb line back to the corner or molding, at the top and bottom. Transfer these measurements to the panel, making sure to align the factory-cut edge with the plumb line and the edge you will cut with the corner or molding. Use a utility knife guided by a straightedge to cut the panel to size.
Wet the Backs of the Panels
Use a sponge soaked in warm water to wet the back of the first panel. (There should be enough water on the surface so that it would dribble off if you tilted the panel at an angle.) Repeat for the remaining panels for the first wall. Lay the panels back-to-back, with the wet surfaces touching, and set them aside for 20 to 30 minutes. This will allow the material to expand slightly before installation, preventing the panels from buckling at the seams once they're in place.
Wipe excess water from the back of the panel with a clean, dry cloth. Stir the clay-based adhesive well, then brush a thin coat onto the back of the panel, applying it more liberally at the edges.
Place the Panel
Align the top edge of the panel with the level line, and press it into place. The factory-cut edge should sit on the plumb line; the edge you cut should abut the corner or molding.
To minimize surface cracks, don't bend or flex the Lincrusta panels any more than shown here. Small cracks and imperfections can be filled later with caulk; paint will hide them even further.
Remove Air Bubbles
Use the smoothing roller to get rid of bubbles beneath the panel, working from the center outward. Wipe the edges and low-relief areas of the panel with a clean, damp cloth to rub away small imperfections, remove excess adhesive, and flatten out the panel on the wall.
Mark the Cut Line
Use a pencil to mark the height of the baseboard on each side of the panel.
Trim Away the Excess
Slide a piece of hardboard behind the base of the panel, resting it against the wall as shown to create a hands-free cutting surface. Align the bottom edge of a straightedge with the marks on each side of the panel. Use a utility knife with a fresh blade to score and cut the material on the waste side. Press the bottom edge of the panel onto the wall, and smooth it down with the roller and a clean, damp cloth.
If you don't have a piece of hardboard handy, use a kitchen cutting board as a backer instead.
Install the additional panels. To fit the last panel of a run into the corner, repeat the procedure for measuring, cutting, and applying, as in Step 3.
Turn the Corner
Measure the cutoff of the last installed panel. Transfer this measurement to a plumb line adjacent to the corner on the next wall run. Only remove as much material as necessary to position the cutoff on the plumb line; trim the piece, holding the utility knife at a 45-degree angle. This beveling will take down the cutoff's high relief and allow it to tuck into the corner, making a tight seam with the adjacent wall.
Put Up the Remaining Panels
Keep installing panels as described. To make cuts at receptacles, measure from the level line and plumb edge of the last panel installed, transfer these marks to the next panel, and carefully cut away the material. Allow the installed panels to dry for 24 hours.
Clean the Panels
Wearing safety goggles and rubber gloves, use a lint-free cloth dampened with odorless mineral spirits to degrease each panel. Follow with a dry cloth to wipe the panels clean, and allow them to dry thoroughly.
Fill the Corners and Joints
Run a thin bead of caulk in the corner seams, along the baseboard, and at each seam between the panels; you can apply a small amount to fill gaps, cracks, or imperfections on the panels themselves. Use a clean, damp cloth to smooth the caulk and wipe away any excess.
Apply the Primer and Paint
Tape off moldings with painter's tape if needed. Use a roller with a ½-inch-nap cover to apply a primer-sealer, then roll on the base color. Use a paintbrush to smooth the finish and carefully cut in along the edges.
Add the Highlights
Dab a paintbrush in the highlight color, then blot it on a cloth until it's nearly dry. Lightly swipe the bristles over the high-relief areas of the panels. Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe away stray brush marks on the base color as you work.
Install the Molding
Cut the chair rail and install it above the panels by nailing it into studs along the level line. For full instructions on installing the chair rail, visit This Old House Bonus. Fill the nail holes, and sand, prime, and paint the chair rail.