When wainscoting was first introduced, the idea was that it was more functional than decorative; acting to protect the wall from getting bumped and scraped when moving chairs and so on. In fact this is why you'll more commonly find it in dining rooms of Colonial homes; although nowadays it is widely used in any room you care to mention.
Despite its old fashioned image, wainscoting is in fact gaining in popularity as we open up the possibilities of ways to use it. And don't think that it's just the domain of large houses either; wainscoting has uses in even the smallest spaces. It's all a question of choosing the right wainscoting type for the particular room. So let's take a look...
Various Wainscoting Types
Raised panel - The most popular type of wainscoting design is the classic raised panel. This design is ideal for adding both visual interest, depth, and for protecting the walls of hallways and stairs. They are also very effectively used in living rooms, especially with the use of double height panels to add a sense of grandeur. They are usually painted.
Flat panel - The flat panel design of wainscoting brings with it simplicity, and works well in any room. They would almost certainly be better painted, with a contrasting or coordinating color on the walls above. You could try installing a picture rail on the same wall to add more splendor, painting it in the same color as the wainscoting.
Beadboards - Beadboards are a popular wainscoting type as once installed they require very little else doing to them, as the detail is already there. Finding decorating ideas for wainscoting beadboard isn't difficult as, although they of course look stunning painted, left waxed or varnished for the natural beauty of the wood to shine through they are hugely appealing.
Tongue and groove are individual panels that link together with a tongue on one side and a groove joint on the other, modern equivalents may just appear that way, with clever use of a router. There are MDF types, which would obviously require painting, but the traditional wooden tongue and groove panels are ideal in a bathroom and left in the their natural state with a coat of waterproof varnish. Make sure it is made of marine ply, if you are using it in the kitchen or bathroom.
Faking It With Frames & Trim
If you don't have the home decorating budget, time, or patience, to install traditional wainscoting, then it is easy to fake it with molding and trim, to create the illusion of frames and paneling. This is also known as shadow box wainscoting.
An easy and effective way to do this is by pre-painting your molding or trim in a different color to that of the wall you are going to "wainscot" (pictured). This then cuts out any messy painting, fiddling around with masking tape and waiting for paint to dry - basically you get instant results.
It is important to first have in mind, what kind of wainscoting frame you want to go for, and then pencil the outline onto your wall using a chalk/plum line, and a spirit level to make sure everything is level. Use these lines to measure out how much trim you are going to need, adding 10% to allow for wastage. Cut each piece to size, with a 45 degree angle on each, using a miter block. You can then easily adhere these moldings directly to your pencil lines, using a high bond adhesive.
Faux wainscoting works well in pretty much any size room, so don't think you need to have a large living room, or grand hall and staircase; wainscoting actually works very well when decorating smaller living rooms as it adds a sense of depth and space.
Different Ways to Use Wainscoting Designs
Just as wainscoting designs are varied, so are the ways of using them - you do not have to add them merely as panels along the bottom of the wall.
- Try adding molding to flat panels, or to the top of raised panels to create your own unique design.
- Paint can be used to create many illusions with wainscoting panels. Try painting a dark shade around the lower parts of raised panels, or a dark grey shadow on the outside, to create more depth.
- Cut down to size, wainscoting can be used as a splashback in the kitchen in place of tiles, as long as it is moisture resistant.
- Don't adhere it to the bottom half of the wall, either use it like it is or cut it down to size to hang a few feet up from the wall at dado, or picture rail height.
Whichever type of wainscoting you decide to use in your home, thinking about how much wear it is likely to get, and painting it first, can save you a lot of time and hassle.