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