What Is Wainscoting?

Wainscoting has been around for centuries and can transform a room from ordinary to luxurious.

It can be installed anywhere in the house. I’ve seen it at stairways, in bathrooms, even in finished basements. Price will vary quite a bit, depending on the market you’re in and the material you choose.

Prefabricated kits enable you to create relatively inexpensive wainscoting, while raised panels made of hardwoods like cherry or mahogany will make a sizable dent in your wallet. When the smoke clears, you could find yourself spending between $300 and $400 per running foot. On the other hand, there are several options that will cost less than $100 per running foot. (I didn’t want you to get discouraged).

One of the challenges when it comes to wainscoting selection is to pick something that will fit in with the style of your room. If the room is traditional, you should probably stay with raised panels. These give an Early American, or historic, appearance. In a less formal room, beadboard panels or tongue and groove planking might be more appropriate. In contemporary homes, flat panels will go best.

Your wainscot panels will probably be topped with a chair rail, which was traditionally used to protect wall finishes from chairs that hit the walls when people got up from the table. Another option is to make the wainscoting higher and top it off with a plate rail, used to display dishes or other decorative items.

Installation can be tricky. You have to deal with uneven floors, door frames out of plumb, electrical outlets, and so on. So if you don’t have experience doing this sort of thing, I recommend letting a professional do it.

If you are going to be hands-on, I have a couple of TIPS:

Let the wood sit in the room for 48 hours before it’s installed. This will allow the wood to adjust to the atmosphere, and minimize future expansion and contraction.

Also, the softer the wood, the more expansion and contraction will occur. So if you’re using pine, you will have more of a problem than if you use oak, or cherry, but price enters into it as well.

Paint or stain the panels prior to assembling with borders or framing pieces. If you do your finishing after assembly, the unfinished edges of the panels will show when the wood contracts (in the winter months when the indoor air is dryer).

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