Formal dining room wainscoting, as seen above, improves the beauty and ambiance of a home.
For as long as people have been building houses, we have also been building walls. And walls need to have a surface that is durable, beautiful, and functional.
You’ve probably seen wainscoting on a wall many times, like the flat panel wainscoting above. But maybe you’d like to find out why people use wainscot in their homes and what options you may have with this look.
In this post, we’ll dive into all the details about the history of wainscoting, what wainscoting is, why it is used, and what styles and materials are available today. Plus we’ll give you a look at some of our favorite custom home-build projects where we utilized wainscoting. And we’ll talk about if this idea is out of style today or if it is more popular than ever.
We’d love to inspire your own dream home plans as you consider this timeless building option.
48-inch wainscoting wood paneling in a hallway adds texture, interest, and a sense of formality to this luxurious 7000-square-foot home in Lexington, SC.
What Is Wainscoting?
What is wainscot paneling exactly? Wainscoting refers to decorative wood paneling applied to a wall in a home or office. It’s normally from the floor to chair rail height (36-42 inches), although, it can cover the entire wall. (Raised, rectangular wood panels on a wall may be called “judges paneling.”) Today, wainscoting sometimes goes to a modern height of 4 feet from the floor.
Wainscoting on walls has been used for hundreds of years in homes, palaces, offices, and government buildings. There is much debate over whether it is wainscoting or wainscotting, but the accepted spelling today is generally wainscoting.
Where does the term wainscoting come from?
Wainscoting likely comes from an old Dutch or Flemish word, waghenscote "superior quality oak wood, board used for paneling." Or from the old German word, “wagenschot,” meaning wagon partition but came to mean a wooden wall covering. (It was likely used originally regarding wagons and coaches but came to mean wall paneling made of wood.)
At first, high-quality oak wood without knots was used. The wood we use has changed since then. Now, people use MDF, hardwood, high-density fiberboard, beadboard, or other products. But the name wainscoting has stayed the same.
Decorative, custom wood molding and chair rail in a formal dining room.
Why is wainscot paneling used?
In previous generations, wood wainscoting also added a level of insulation to homes and other buildings, especially those with cold, damp stone walls. In more recent times, wainscot panels was used to protect delicate plaster walls or drywall from chair backs and scuffing from tables, shoes, and other damage.
Modern wainscoting is often used to improve the aesthetics of a room, giving it a more formal, textured, or traditional look. Sometimes, it is also used in innovative, new ways to bring a fresh style to contemporary design.
For tall rooms, a wainscot can visually alter the size of a room to make it seem smaller if that is the desired effect. It provides contrast and texture, which is always welcome in home design and architecture. And for remodeling and renovation jobs, wainscoting can be a great way to cover damaged walls.
Today, wainscoting styles don’t necessarily have to be functional — although, they can be. Mostly, people use wainscoting trim and panels (or faux wainscoting) to achieve a specific look and sense of style.
Wainscoting and wall paneling in a formal dining room and in the hallway in the background add a luxurious touch to this 7000 square foot Southern Manor.
What Types of Wainscoting Styles Are Available?
There are several main styles of wainscoting that are popular today. But the sky is really the limit. You can be as creative as you like.
7 types of wainscoting
There are several major styles of wainscot paneling that are used most often today. Which one is best for you depends on your sense of style and the type of architecture of your home.
Tongue and groove
Tongue and groove wainscoting is one of the most traditional styles with vertical wood panels that are generally about 3-4 inches wide.
Beadboard wainscoting is a type of tongue and groove style wood paneling that generally appears to have narrow vertical planks of wood (about 2 inches wide) side by side with no overlap. There is usually a ridge or “bead” between the wood planks. This type of wall covering comes in panels that connect with the familiar tongue and groove interlocking effect.
Board and batten
Board and batten is a popular finish for the outside of homes or for accents on the exterior. And board and batten wainscoting is a beautiful way to enjoy this look. It has wide vertical wood boards with narrow elevated trim pieces between each board that cover the seams. It is a great fit for Craftsman-style homes.
What is raised panel wainscoting? Raised panels are one of the most traditional wainscoting styles from Colonial times. The wood panel has a beveled edge that makes it almost look like a series of cabinet doors across the wall.
To get this look, there are numerous wood panels, rails, and stiles that fit together to create each panel.
If you are looking for an Arts and Crafts or Mission style, you may want to consider a recessed flat panel wainscot. This look has large flat wood panels flanked by raised vertical frames for a very stately effect.
Some people like to do a combination of two other styles of wainscoting. Or come up with something completely unique. Perhaps an intricately designed overlay. Allow the shapes of the panels to follow along the angle of your staircase. Create custom panels with column effects. Or use a more complicated shape than just squares or rectangles with specialized millwork.
Another idea? Design raised panels and use wallpaper on the flat recessed areas for contrast. Or have a designer use different-sized squares and rectangles to make something extra special for your sense of style. Cover an entire wall as an accent. Or use a uniquely carved extra tall chair rail.
Shiplap wainscoting also uses wood panels but they overlap each other a bit rather than being interlocking by tongue and groove. Traditionally, shiplap was used on boats, barns, and cottages to protect against rain and wind. They can be used horizontally or vertically.
Today, shiplap is often used as an accent wall or ceiling but also are a great choice for wainscoting. It’s especially popular in Modern Craftsman, Modern Farmhouse, and Coastal styles. But it can also be used in Industrial and Contemporary architecture.
4 ft tall white wainscot in a bathroom with sculptured tub and oversized custom shower with picket tile.
Where Can You Use Wainscoting in Your Home?
Wainscoting is a look that showcases how luxurious a room is.
A wainscoting accent wall is a perfect way to use wainscoting in a bedroom or living space. It’s the frosting on the cake behind a dramatic bed.
Think you can’t use wainscoting in the bathroom? Think again! PVC wainscoting panels can stand up to the humidity and moisture issues in your bathroom. Or, consider using customized tile to create a wainscoting effect in or out of the shower.
Whether it’s your master bedroom or a playful children’s room, wainscoting can make a room come alive with texture, contrast, and architectural interest. This is a good place for an accent wall rather than using paneling everywhere in the room.
A formal dining room is a perfect place for the aesthetic of wainscoting. It elevates your style to a much more formal atmosphere.
Maybe you don’t like scuff marks on your walls and want to protect the hallways in your home. Or maybe you just love the look of wainscoting lining a hallway and bringing new life to a space that could be boring and plain.
An office is a wonderful place for custom wainscoting and custom cabinets and desks. Impress your clients and create a productive, professional atmosphere with stained or painted wainscoting.
Why not wrap your island with beautiful wainscoting anywhere that doesn’t have cabinet doors to create a polished, put-together look for the heart of the home? You can make it match your cabinets or contrast for a splash of color and uniqueness.
Wainscoting on walls going up the stairs or under a dramatic staircase can take your sense of style to a whole new level, protect the walls, and provide a place for hidden cabinets for storage under the stairs.
Wainscoting in a formal dining room with an alcove and double window.
What Wainscoting Materials Are on the Market Today?
Traditionally, wainscoting was made of hardwood. Quarter-sawn oak, specifically. Today, you can use real wood panels, MDF, high-density fiberboard, hardwood plywood, or beadboard. With embossed MDF, you can get beautiful raised panel effects.
Some people use PVC beadboard, especially for rooms with higher moisture issues. Or ceramic tile — there are tiles that even mimic beadboard for this purpose. For the top of the wainscoting panels, chair rail molding is generally used.
Today, you can also opt for embossed drywall. With this material, you lose any protective effect of wood paneling. But you get the same beautiful look.
Other popular materials for wainscoting? Rustic or reclaimed wood. Embossed metal. Or consider using 3D printed porcelain tiles or hardwood flooring on the wall either vertically or horizontally applied for texture, color, and a very interesting aesthetic.
Can wainscot paneling be painted? The answer is generally yes. Hardwood paneling may be stained or painted. You’ll just want to be sure to check with a painting expert before painting the existing wainscot yourself. That way you can choose just the right paint for the material in your home.
Some materials may not need to be painted, of course, like PVC panels, metal, or tile.
What kind of paint do you use on wainscoting?
Generally, for interior walls or wood surfaces, water-based paint like acrylic or latex paint works well. However, if you are painting over oil-based paint, be sure to use a primer before painting a new layer of non-oil-based paint.
Opt for durable paint that’s designed for cabinets or doors that will hold up to scuffing and minor scratches. And consider using a satin, semi-gloss, or high-gloss finish. The more humidity and moisture a space may encounter, the more important it is to use a glossier finish to prevent water damage. If possible, find paint that is self-leveling so brush strokes won’t show up.
Green monochromatic walls with wainscoting in a luxurious home office in Lexington, SC.
Is Wainscoting Out of Style?
Some people are concerned that wainscoting is outdated. It has been used for centuries, after all.
Thankfully, this wall trim has never gone out of style. It is as timeless and beautiful today as ever. Our clients love using modern wainscoting in home offices, bedrooms, hallways, bathrooms, and more. It showcases the luxuriousness of your home.
How to modernize wainscot paneling
Dark wainscoting is very popular for a moody, modern look. New shapes and sizes can look very contemporary.
Another favorite look is a monochromatic natural green, black, dark gray, or other dark color painted on the entire wall including the wainscoting, as pictured above.
For a fresh way to approach wainscoting, check out modern wallpaper to apply above the chair rail on the wall. Or up the height of your wainscoting.
In 2023, another home trend will be that people want more natural textures and materials in their homes. So unstained wood or more rustic reclaimed wood may be used to bring a powerful dose of character to the room.
Does Wainscoting Add Value to Your Home?
Wainscoting adds a level of richness and higher-level quality to your home. It transforms a mundane and simple room into a glorious work of art. It is an architectural statement that works wonders in many design styles.
The wow factor improves the appearance of your home, which can make your home more appealing to buyers. This allows maximum salability for your home if properly installed and the home is well-designed and cohesive.
The recessed panel wainscoting in this formal dining room reaches to just below the light switch level.
How high should wainscoting be?
Generally, wainscoting height should be about ⅓ of the wall’s height. That is usually about 32-42 inches.
The rule of thumb for traditional wainscoting height:
For 8-ft walls, ⅓ of the height would put the chair rail at 32 inches above the floor.
For 9-ft walls, a 36-inch tall wainscoting would be perfect.
Sometimes, people like to go a bit out of the box with higher wainscoting that is 4 feet above the floor level. Or go two-thirds of the way up the wall for a stylish new look. And if you want to cover the entire wall, we certainly won’t stop you.
Custom shower tile creates a wainscoting effect in this oversized shower with custom bench.
At Blythe Building Company, We Do All Types of Wainscoting in Custom Homes.
If you are ready to start on a custom home build in the Lexington, SC area, we hope you’ll check out our gallery and see if we might be a good fit for you.
If you have your own lot in Lexington or Richland county and are considering building a home in the $700k+ range and would like to talk with an experienced builder…
Please contact us today.
Or if you are interested in seeing the spec homes we are building in a golf course neighborhood in Lexington, SC, check out our beautiful options. At this time, we have two homes under construction and there are more lots available, along with 6 custom home plans to choose from.
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