What is Wainscoting?

Architectural History
It is common for there to be some confusion between certain millwork features. People often want to incorporate a wainscot in different rooms for added architectural interest… but seldom know what to call it. 


A wainscot was a term used in the 14th Century with a Germanic origin of fine oak… typically used for panels. The term was later made commonplace to mean “wood panels on walls”. In the US, especially in old New England colonial homes we can find traditional roots for this application that became a method to separate the animals from the living space… then to protect the soft plaster interiors; and evolved to became a way to add charm and beauty and protection from chairs and daily chores. There are many types of wainscot panels and the choice you make will likely be driven by aesthetics. 


​Paneled Wainscot is a series of wood panels, typically framed and installed about 1/3 in height of the wall. The picture below is an example of a transitional wainscot using flat internal panels bordered by a flat molding with a traditional chair rail and fitted with a traditional baseboard below. It’s not your mother’s wainscot, so it reads a bit more current in style while still adding a nice sense of upscale interior architecture to the space.

Beadboard wainscoting is traditionally installed using wood planks that have a beaded edge. The earlier use of this material boomed in Victorian architecture as a result of steam mills. It was common enough that it can often be found in the service stair or even on housing built for factory workers so that the wainscot could be a durable protective buffer and require minimal maintenance. Most of what we install today is purchased in sheets, and with an upscale manufacturer we have many pattern options that look as robust as the original ¾” boards. Traditional mudrooms are a favorite for this application with all the abuse a mudroom takes with things we come and go with daily.


​Applied Molding is a great way to add an extra detail to a space with a little less work and a nice result. Powder rooms and front foyers are popular places to add this look into already existing spaces so the existing baseboards and door and window trim are not impacted. The powder room shown already has a beautiful floor and furniture vanity, and the wainscot adds that extra detail that pulls it all together.


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