What is Wainscoting: The Unsung Design Detail that Totally Makes a Room

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Maybe you’ve got a room that feels like it’s lacking character, no matter how many times you’ve changed up your decor. Perhaps it’s time for something a bit more dramatic. If you love the storied charm of old buildings, wainscoting (pronounced (WAIN-SCOT-ING) is a great way to add value and style to your home. Here, we’ll answer all your questions about wainscoting and how you can use it in your space, with some of our favorite examples.

Wainscoting is paneling (most often wood, though that’s changing quickly!) that’s added to walls to add a bit of depth and visual interest. The rules of wainscoting of the past were pretty standard: it was about one-third the height of a wall, made of wood, and painted white. While that look certainly endures today, we’re starting to see cool new trends like different geometric shapes incorporated into the wainscoting, along with dark, dramatic colors that pop against painted white walls (instead of the opposite) and even very tall wainscoting that doesn’t follow the one-third rule. 

Our Favorite Wainscoting Ideas

If you love this look as much as we do and want to achieve something similar in your own home, whether you’ll DIY or have it professionally installed, you’ve come to the right place. Keep scrolling for nine looks you’ll love.

1. Geometrically gorgeous

The wainscoting shown here definitely bucks tradition with its clever use of columns made of alternating triangles and circles. Painted a bright, peppy teal color set against a tangerine background, this wainscoting definitely stands out and gives this room tons of visual appeal. 

This homeowner chose black wainscoting set against a light gray wall for a look that’s both moody and beautiful. Dark gray hanging lanterns above the table coordinate with the wainscoting for a room that looks modern and sophisticated.

3. Ceiling-height paneling

Painted in a deep navy hue, this floor to ceiling wainscoting by @jennyatfullcirclehomes is certainly different. What is wainscoting if not dramatic, right? Here, the owner has used it to surround a historic brick fireplace for a dramatic, elegant vibe. 

Rachel @mr.yoderswife opted for soothing neutrals for her kitchen revamp. She incorporated wainscoting in a slightly darker color than the wall, but both are in the same color family for a continuous look. She added a chair rail to the top of the wainscoting to pull the whole thing together. 

One thing to consider when adding a wainscot, besides the height, is how it relates to other objects in the room. In this bathroom on My Domaine, the wainscot skirts the window, but terminates directly under the medicine cabinet, for a neat look. (The ledge at the top is a convenient spot for toiletries, particularly in a bathroom with not much space around the sink.)

This wainscot spotted on Houzz has a geometric pattern that’s very different from the paneling you typically see. This would be perfect in a hallway, entryway, or any room that needs a little extra pizzazz.

Adding a chair rail and then painting the space underneath in a contrasting color can create the effect of a wainscot without the heavy lifting of paneling the wall. The black wainscot in this hallway from Seventeen Doors corresponds nicely with the black door beyond.

Just because wainscots are typically made from wood paneling doesn’t meant they have to be made from wood paneling. In this gorgeous dining room seen on Dwell, colorful tile makes for an elegant and unusual wainscot.

This beautiful historic home in Amsterdam, spotted on The D Pages, has a wainscot made of marble. If that’s not luxurious, we don’t know what is.

Thinking of trying the look at home? If you’re DIYing, Craving Some Creativity has an excellent tutorial for using trim to create the look of paneling — without the bother of installing actual panels.

Nancy Mitchell

Contributor

As a Senior Writer at Apartment Therapy, Nancy splits her time among looking at beautiful pictures, writing about design, and photographing stylish apartments in and around NYC. It’s not a bad gig.

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