What is Wainscot Paneling?

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  • Written By: Lou Paun
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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Wainscot paneling is paneling installed on part of interior walls. It is usually installed to beneath a chair rail, to a height of around three feet (0.9m) above the floor. At one time, wainscot paneling was often installed much higher up the wall, sometimes to just a few feet below the ceiling. Wood is the traditional material for wainscot paneling, although other materials are frequently used today.

The earliest examples of wainscot paneling date to the late Middle Ages. In England during the Tudor period and afterward, quartersawn oak was the most popular choice of wood for wainscot paneling. The word "wainscot" was sometimes used as a synonym for "oak" in Early Modern English.

Traditional wainscot paneling is made up of seven elements. The wainscot begins at the bottom with a baseboard or molding and a wide, flat bottom rail. The central section contains narrow vertical boards called stiles, square or rectangular panels, and moldings to give the panels a beveled appearance at the edge. Wainscot paneling is finished with a wide, flat top rail and a chair rail or wainscot cap. Building wainscoting was once the work of a master carpenter, but today pre-assumbled wainscot paneling can be installed by most handymen.


There are several different styles of wainscot paneling, ranging from formal to informal. In raised panel wainscoting, each panel is placed so that it pushes out in front of the rails and stiles. The edges are beveled or use molding to give a beveled appearance. This is the most formal kind of wainscot paneling. It was popular through the Stuart and Georgian periods. Today it is often installed in Queen Anne, Georgian, and Colonial revival style houses.

Recessed panel wainscot is sometimes called flat wainscot. It is a more informal style that first appeared in America during the 19th century and was often installed in Craftsman homes. In recessed wainscot paneling, the individual panels are set further in than the stiles and rails. The edges are not beveled.

The most informal kind of wainscot is beadboard wainscoting. Beadboard is attached to the wall, usually with the beaded lines running vertically. There is a simple baseboard at the foot of the wainscot paneling and a chair rail at the top. Beadboard wainscot paneling is often painted. It was popular in Victorian beach homes and summer cottages.


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