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Wainscoting Designs

This traditional half-wall paneling comes in all shapes and sizes. Here's how to pick the right one to make your room stand out.

Entry

Photo by Jean Allsopp

Two-tier wainscoting mirrors the look of the French doors topped with a divided-light transom. Double-panel wainscoting, similar to shown, about $8.75 per sq. ft., Wainscot Solutions

Stairway

Photo by Paul Bardagjy

This richly stained antique pine beadboard glows under a durable top coat of polyurethane. Reclaimed heart-pine beadboard, similar to shown, starting at $6.60 per sq. ft., Goodwin Heart Pine

Dining room

Photo by Karen Melvin

Crisp white paint on this board-and-batten wainscoting provides a bright contrast to the teal walls. Shaker-style flat panels, similar to shown, about $6.25 per sq. ft., Elite Trim Works

Den

Photo by Nathan Kirkman

Beige paint on the flat panels and a clear finish on the oak rails, stiles, and cap offer a warm contrast to the cool blue walls. Solid oak over plywood panels, similar to shown, about $2.15 per sq. ft., Dykes Lumber

Bathroom

Photo by Muffy Kibbey

White-painted beadboard ties together the trim and acts as a backsplash for the pedestal sink. Moisture-resistant MDF with 2-inch bead, similar to shown, about $2.35 per sq. ft., Nantucket Beadboard

Kid's Room

Photo by Jurgen Frank

This stacked design has an intermediate chair rail to prevent headboards from bumping into the wall. Double-height flat-panel wainscoting, similar to shown: about $10 per sq. ft., Castlewood

Ideas We Love

Clever ways to use wainscoting on more than walls in bedrooms, baths, hallways, and kitchens.

Vary the Height

Low wainscoting takes a sharp turn toward the ceiling for a dramatic bedroom backdrop. Beadboard sheet, similar to shown, about $2 per sq. ft., Nantucket Beadboard

Finish a Tub

Photo by Tony Timmington/EWA

Paintable cellular PVC beadboard shrugs off water, making it a smart choice for a tub surround. 5-inch sticks, similar to shown, about $15.10 per sq. ft., Fypon beadboard

Wrap a Bar

Photo by Sara Essex

Beadboard covers the backs of stock cabinets for a custom-look breakfast bar. 4-inch sticks, similar to shown, starting at $3 per sq. ft., WindsorOne

Build in Seating

Photo by Alan Shortall/Cornerhouse Stock

Beadboard doubles as the back and sides of a window seat. Sheet, similar to shown, Astoria beadboard, about $1.10 per sq. ft., Trimac Panel

Design Guide

Illustration by Alisha Williams

Wainscoting patterns evolved with architectural styles. Here are the greatest hits.

Raised Panel

Typically built like a door, with thick beveled-edged panels held in place by a frame. Each panel expands and contracts freely to prevent cracking. Great for formal spaces, especially in houses with Colonial design influences.

Beadboard

Illustration by Alisha Williams

Thin tongue-and-groove strips, popular in Queen Anne–style homes from the late 1800s, dress up informal spaces, such as bathrooms, stairways, and kitchens. Gets its name from the round bead along its edge that disguises the joint between strips.

Flat Panel

Illustration by Alisha Williams

The Shakers favored this simple, clean look, which also works in contemporary homes. Originally, the panels were solid wood cradled in a stile-and-rail frame. These days, it's more common to lay the frame over a flat sheet of plywood or fiberboard.

Board and Batten

Illustration by Alisha Williams

Wide planks laid vertically on the wall alternate with narrow strips that cover the joints. Often seen in Arts and Crafts bungalows, this type of wainscoting usually runs high up the wall and is finished with a cap rail wide enough to display plates or pottery.

Hybrid

Illustration by Alisha Williams

The playful addition of diagonal beadboard to a standard paneled wainscoting frame can be seen in the exuberant Eastlake-style houses of the late 1800s. Today, the same could be done with fabric, wallpaper, or metal ceiling tiles.

How To Get It

Photo by Mark Weiss

You don't need a pro to build wainscoting from scratch. Choose thrifty, assemble-yourself sticks or planks, or take it easy with ready-made sheets or panels.

Sticks

Boards fit together like tongue-and-groove flooring (see inset), typically with a decorative bead detail on one face and a V-groove on the other. Pieces made of quartersawn wood, with grain running parallel to the edges, are more stable than flat-sawn ones.

A. Single-bead birch: ½" thick x 2½" wide x 36" high, about $8.60 per sq. ft., Vintage Woodworks

B. Double-bead cherry: 5/8" thick x 5" wide x 36" high, about $9.10 per sq. ft., Baird Brothers

C. Double-bead reclaimed redwood: 3/32" thick x 4 ¾ " wide x 36" high, about $4.55 per sq. ft., Pacific Heritage Wood Supply Co.

Planks

Photo by Ted Morrison

These wide boards look like high-end painted wood "sticks," but they're actually primed MDF milled with exceptionally crisp profiles, such as V-groove and bead and cove (see insets). For humid bathrooms, use an MDF made to resist dampness.

A. V-groove MDF: ½" thick x 11" wide x 36" high, about $3.80 per sq. ft., Nantucket Beadboard

B. Bead-and-cove MDF: ½" thick x 12" wide x 36" high, about $4.95 per sq. ft., Nantucket Beadboard

Panels

Photo by Ted Morrison

A millwork company custom-designs and makes each component to fit your room. The wainscoting is then shipped in pieces or fully assembled with perfect joints (see inset), ready to attach to your walls. You simply add the supplied trim.

A. Black walnut raised panel: 1 ½" thick x 36" high, fully assembled, about $30.75 per sq. ft., Baird Brothers

B. Flat-panel MDF: 1" thick x 49" high, fully assembled, about $11.25 per sq. ft., Wainscot Solutions

Sheets

Photo by Ted Morrison

Long pieces of plywood, solid surfacing, or MDF cover walls quickly, with few or no gaps. Designs routed into thick sheets of MDF (see inset) are deep and convincing; thinner sheets yield shallower and less realistic details.

A. Raised-panel MDF: 5/8" thick x 36" high x 12' long, about $16.75 per sq. ft. with cap, IntriG

B. Beadboard solid surfacing: ¼" thick x 36" high x 8' long, starting at $39 per sq. ft., Swan Corp.

C. Beadboard MDF: ¼" thick x 48" high x 8' long, starting at 65 cents per sq. ft., States Industries