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The Absolute Guide to Wainscoting

Adding a bit of elegance into your home’s interior starts with wainscoting in any room where it’s added. But aside from the decorative element, how is wainscoting an important interior design addition? This informative guide will provide a bigger picture of how and why wainscoting is used and how it can benefit your home in return.

Image: Anna Ejsmont

The Purpose of Wainscoting

The actual reason that wainscoting became essential inside rooms and hallways was much more simple than we’ve been led to believe. In reality, these decorative panels were used to protect walls from scuffing, scratches, and furniture dings. As far back as the 1300s, the Dutch used hard and dense wood that was imported from Germany to protect plaster-coated walls.

Of course, the purpose of wainscoting hasn’t changed much over the years and still provides protection to the lower half of walls from moving furniture around, accidental dings from boots and shoes, and occasional misplaced decorations. Wainscoting is also a series of wood slats that are attached to a wall similar to a fence with decorative railings and baseboards to give it more appeal and beauty.

Wainscoting does differ from house to house and has no limit to how intricate the design can be, but does follow the same time-honored formula. Depending on the decorative elements within your home, wainscoting is customized to reflect the ornate décor within a room that also contains crown molding along the top half of ceilings and decorative doorway entrances.

If you look at the powerful impact of wainscoting in the timeless film “The Haunting” from 1963, you can see it does add a gothic and ominous appearance. But for most homes, the simple beauty can increase the elegance factor instantly.

• How Does it Change a Room?

On average, wainscoting tends to make rooms appear smaller due to the scale and height of the wainscoting itself. Visually, it reduces the size of a room by separating the two halves of a room that are interpreted as being reduced. This all depends on the size of a room, yet our eyes immediately size up identifiable objects within our field of view. Taller rooms with cathedral-like vaulted ceilings are now proportionately scaled-down using wainscoting.

It is also thought that the vertical lines between wooden slats will make certain rooms look thinner. What is important to understand about wainscoting is the top crown is used to create what is called a sightline. Disneyland uses carefully designed sightlines at their original Anaheim location to further extend the size of their park using scaled-down building extensions to fool your eye.

Which Rooms Should Wainscoting go?

Many home décor experts will all have an answer where wainscoting best fits, but there is no rule where it can’t go. As mentioned earlier, it all depends on the illusion of sightlines and the impact of making a room appear larger or smaller. In general, the first room that people enter in a home is a good place to impress everyone with wainscoting. This is often called the Foyer, but not limited to hallways, bedrooms, and living rooms.

It all is determined by how you want to highlight your home and can be as simple as a single panel wall, or peppered throughout your home. One thing that is important to mention is that wainscoting does not need to follow the same pattern or design. This is what differentiates the look between rooms where wainscoting is not directly connected. This allows each room to have an appropriate personal touch that completes the desired illusion.

• How far up should it go?

The overall height of wainscoting is a funny notion that needs to follow the sense of scale. Most ceilings are roughly 9 feet tall, so to keep wainscoting in scale, it needs to be one-third the height of the ceiling’s height. This is going to be 3-feet tall in most cases, but not automatically set to this height if you have taller ceilings. Shorter sections of wainscoting that match the height of selected furniture and decorations can make a room appear larger.

As you can imagine, smaller rooms are problematic if the furniture inside is dwarfing the room. This is why choosing the appropriate-sized décor needs to remain scaled-down to make the room appear more spacious. Sure, it’s playing with illusion, which is what most small homes are lacking. If you have taller ceilings, then this won’t be such an issue. The golden rule is to stick with the one-third scale for any wainscoting that’s installed.

The Difference between Beadboard and Wainscoting

Just like you might see in some country kitchen cabinets, beadboard is a style of wood paneling that includes thin grooves that run vertically along the entire surface. The distance between each groove will range from 1-inch to every 3 inches depending on the style. It’s easy to spot beadboard because the pattern looks like panels with baseboards and crowns attached. Wainscoting will look like slats that are placed together within a framed design.

Image: joyfully treasured,

Most wainscoting has a repeating frame-like design that isn’t blending into the wall and doesn’t look like flat wood paneling with repeating grooves. For the most part, wainscoting is intended to appear structurally supporting the rest of the walls. You don’t see beadboard that has rich wood colors and is often painted white or solid colors. The whole point of wainscoting is to highlight a rich wood grain that makes any room increase in value.

And though beadboard wood paneling is not exactly an appropriate wainscoting material, it is used for simplicity and budgetary reasons. Not that inexpensive wood slats cannot be assembled to create traditional wainscoting designs and stained to appear more expensive. There are plenty of decorative wainscoting designs that are painted to reflect simplicity.

Why install wainscoting in your home?

Video: our sweet living

Wainscoting is beautiful and decorative and will automatically give any room more visual appeal. It’s not difficult to add wainscoting inside your home and is no more than a trip to any home improvement center for the appropriate supplies. The only question is what you will choose for the best-fitting look of each room that you add wainscoting.

Melina Divani

Melina Divani is the owner and creator of Decoholic.org. Interior Design is her infinite passion without stop. Follow Melina on Instagram

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