Wainscoting adds an elegance to a room you can’t get any other way. A beautiful architectural statement, wainscoting is an inexpensive way to make a room feel upscale and custom designed. This tutorial shows you how to get the look with basic materials.
A few weeks ago, I shared that for the longest time, I had this terrible yellow bathroom and I hated it. Installing wainscoting added a classic, upscale style and broke up the space in a way that makes it feel elegant.
- Chair Rail Moulding – you can see our design below, but there are multiple variations.
- Compound Miter Saw
- Tape Measure
- Painter’s Tape (recommended)
- Wood Filler
- Brad Nailer or Finishing Nails and Hammer
- Wood Glue
- Paintable Caulk
I personally do not like pre-made panels you can buy at big box stores, because you can’t adjust the sizing. I don’t like the idea of ending in awkward places in the pattern, especially on small walls.
Our design is a combination of a few trims, particularly for the chair moulding area. We glued and nailed them together. We used this Chair Rail Backer Moulding, along with a Small Crown Moulding, and a flat cap. Below is a 45-degree angled cross section of our dining room wainscoting, which is similar.
Deciding Your Wainscoting Design
For this or any type of wainscoting design, draw your design before you purchase materials. This will help you visually see how everything will look.
You can adjust the height as needed and the sizing. This will also help you see anything that may interrupt your design such as wall vents, a sink, a doorway. For our bathroom, we had to work around the sink and a wall vent but we did not change the size of the squares and it looks fine. Check the corners of your squares with a T-square or vertical level for perfect 90 degrees.
Use painters tape while you are still deciding on the design. That way you only have to mark once. I still recommend drawing out the squares once you have decided the sizing.
And of course, measure twice before purchasing your materials!
How To Install Wainscoting
Step 1: Cut pieces to size using a compound miter saw.
The corners are mitered (i.e. cut at 45 degrees to line up). I personally prefer to cut one piece at a time and tack them as we go around.
If you are layering trim pieces like we did for the chair rail, I recommend putting them together and then cutting each piece.
Step 2: Attach to the Wall.
These easiest way to attach is to run a small bead of caulk along the backside of the trim and then nail into place. Use a level to make sure tops and bottoms are straight.
Although nails and a hammer will work for this project, I highly recommend a brad nailer. It’s fast and requires a lot less hole filling.
Fill any nail holes as necessary, but gluing with caulk will cut down on how many nails you need.
Label your cut pieces as you go so you aren’t searching for where they belong when tacking them to the wall.
When tacking the boards to the wall and there isn’t a stud, nail at an angle for a better and tighter hold.
Step 3: Caulking around the Frames
Here’s the thing… walls are NOT perfectly flat. Even brand new ones. Taping, mudding, and patching create imperceptible bumps in walls. Therefore, you may notice that not all of the wood pieces lay perfectly flat against the wall. That’s ok!
To get professional looking results, use a thin bead of caulk around every edge that touches the wall. Make sure to use paintable, interior caulk. For more tips on the best way to caulk, I repaired and caulked the baseboards last year. Caulking can be a bit of an art.
Step 4: Paint
I used trim paint that matches our baseboards throughout the house. Since I used pre-primed wood, I did not have to prime.
Installing wainscoting can be a tedious process, but it gives a look that you really can’t reproduce any other way. In total, we spent just under $200 on all of the wainscoting and supplies, which includes the crown molding we added to the top as well.
It has been lovely not to have those horrid yellow walls smacking me in the face and the lighting color is so much better than it was before.
Frequently Asked Questions
Both paneling and wainscoting or board and batten are styles of architectural additions to walls. Paneling may cover a wall floor to ceiling, while wainscoting normally covers ¼-2/3 of a wall.
It depends on the style and mouldings that you choose. Traditional wainscoting costs about $10-17 per panel for materials. Hardwood paneling is more expensive, depending on the species.
Wainscoting by itself doesn’t make a room look larger or smaller. The paint colors that you pair with wainscoting make a bigger impact. Dark or bold colors will feel smaller, more intimate while light, airy colors will feel larger and casual.
Wainscoting’s purpose is mostly decorative, rather than functional. Particularly when paired with deep colors like navy and black, waincoting helps create a bold statement without feeling overwhelmed by the dark, moody color.
More Simple Home Improvement Projects
- The Easiest Way To Repair Baseboards and Trim
- Building a Custom Closet
- Tips for Easy Install of Peel and Stick Glass Tile
- How to Spray Paint Outdoor Furniture
- How to Paint A Garage Floor to Last
- Living Room and Main Floor Design Inspiration
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How To Install Wainscoting
- tape measure
- Straight Edge or Level
- Trim and Moulding
- Wood Filler
- Paint's Tape
- Cut pieces to size using a compound miter saw. Label your cut pieces as you go so you aren't searching for where they belong when tacking them to the wall.
- Attach the trim to the wall using a small bead of caulk along the backside of the trim and then nail into place. Although nails and a hammer will work for this project, I highly recommend a brad nailer. It's fast and requires a lot less hole filling.
- To get professional looking results, use a thin bead of caulk around every edge that touches the wall. Make sure to use paintable, interior caulk.
- After drying, paint the wainscoting in desired trim paint of choice. If using pre-primed wood, there is no need to prime before painting.
- Use painters tape while you are still deciding on the design. That way you only have to mark once. I still recommend drawing out the squares once you have decided the sizing.
- The corners are mitered (i.e. cut at 45 degrees to line up). I personally prefer to cut one piece at a time and tack them as we go around.
- Although finishing nails and a hammer will work for this project, I highly recommend a brad nailer. It’s fast and requires a lot less hole filling.