What is Wainscot & How to Use for Interior Design

Written by Milan Jara on 6th Apr 2022

Wainscot Paneling

Wainscoting allows you to add some pizzazz to plain walls by using a stylish trip. The added benefit to this feature is that it guards walls against scratches and scuffs, making it ideal if you have children. Wainscoting allows you to provide a handsome, well-designed appearance to your walls. We address what wainscot is and how to incorporate it into your decor.

What is the Purpose of This Design Element?

Wainscoting is centuries old and used to provide the house with decorative elements. It is the perfect marriage between style and form. The Dutch used wainscoting in the 1300s to shield the lower part of plaster walls from riding boot spurs, bumped chairs, or carelessly swung items. It was to safeguard the walls from damage.

Fast forward to today, and wainscoting still guards walls. While people may not use it to protect against spurs from boots, we use it to protect walls from dirty boots in mudrooms, scuffs from close quarters, and fingerprints in kitchens.

Covering walls using stock board wainscoting accompanied by panels is an easy DIY project, providing you are well-acquainted with a chop saw. If you aren’t handy, wainscoting comes fully assembled and installs easily on your walls.

How Hard is it to Care For?

Wainscoting needs very little maintenance or care. Just use a clear polyurethane finish or semi-gloss paint so you can wipe away any marks using soapy water and a sponge.

Where is it Best Used?

Wainscot Paneling

Wainscoting comes in different patterns along with panel options that suit most decors. Its best application is to guard against walls that regularly receive a beating, including foyers, baths, halls, and kitchens. It is usually composed of solid wood but can also be plastic, plywood, and medium-density fiberboard.

  1. Children’s Rooms. While children may not care if wainscoting is in their rooms or how it looks, parents will appreciate how easily it cleans up. If your children regularly leave fingerprints behind or use the walls as a creative canvas, then you will appreciate wainscoting in their room.
  2. Bathrooms. An alternative to tiled walls, wainscoting is perfect for this area. If you are concerned about warping, you’ll be pleased to know the wood is resistant to it. If you use solid surfacing or specially treated MDF, it will protect the underneath against water damage. Wainscoting contains a warming effect contrasted against ceramic floors, tubs, and porcelain fixtures.
  3. Living Room and Family Room. Placing wainscoting in rooms where pets and kids regularly gather has a calming effect. It is perfect for a recreation room as well, especially if you place a cap rail or trim on top of it to place a drink, pool-cue chalk, or pool cue on.
  4. Kitchens and Dining Rooms. Dining rooms are ideal for tall wainscoting and a grooved plate rail, allowing homeowners to display things like serving pieces and fine china. Casual kitchens benefit from wainscoting that strategically goes chair height. Paired with a top rail safeguard, this is a great way to prevent scuffs from chairs being pushed back.
  5. Hallways and Stairs. Walls of narrow passages will benefit from wainscoting, preventing them from marks. Using horizontal rails and caps as trim to follow the stair’s pitch and add interesting architectural detail.
  6. Entryways/Foyers. Wainscoting is useful in a mudroom where wet umbrellas, muddle shoes/boots, and book-filled backpacks easily damage walls. Beadboard is an excellent choice for this area since it has fewer edges to ding and dent. Formal foyers tend to be clad using paneled wainscoting.

Experts advise using wainscoting in places where you will be able to appreciate them. A beadboard panel tends to be better in closer areas.

What Material Does It Come in and When Should I Use it?

How it holds up, its aesthetic appearance, and its price depend on what it is composed of.


This material is the original material used for wainscoting. Homeowners can paint woods like pine or use a clear coat for cherry or walnut to highlight grain and color. Wood does require proper installation and finishing, preventing gaps and cracks from forming due to seasonal contraction and expansion.


This wainscoting comes in wide, long sheets and provides a quick installation. You just have to rip it down, glue the wainscoting to the wall, and use base and cap moldings to complete the look. The groove profiles on plywood do tend to be rough and shallow.


This wainscoting looks like painted wood and is the same material utilized for kitchen counters or cellular PVC. It won’t rot, making this material suitable for laundry rooms, baths, and kitchens.


Medium-density fiberboard is cut like wood. However, it won’t expand, warp, contract, split, or leave knots. It comes primed or veneered, but homeowners must keep it away from water as water causes it to break down and swell. However, moisture-resistant MDF can be used to withstand steam in a bathroom.

Wainscoting Tips

A cap for wainscoting finished one-third of the way up to your wall. If your room is nine feet, then your wainscoting should be three feet. If you go with taller wainscoting, a plate rail should be capped two-thirds of the distance up from the base of the wall.

When installing wainscoting under windows, if you use beadboard, cut it to size. If it is paneled, order your central wainscoting panel the same width as the cased window. Wainscoting height varies according to the distance between the window’s bottom stool and the floor/baseboard.

A baseboard with a profiled cap can anchor wainscoting visually. It also adds additional protection. Where the wainscoting meets your floor, cap this area with shoe molding.

What is wainscot? It is a decorative area between the lower part of the wall and a distance up from the ceiling where you can apply wall paneling. It can be effective in high-traffic or narrow areas to preserve the entire wall underneath from damage. When used effectively, it can make a room look beautifully decorative.

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