How to Determine the Wainscoting Height

Wainscoting height defines the amount of wall that the decorative wall panels cover. Wainscoting is added to create visual interest on the wall, but the height is variable and can change the look of the room.

Standard wainscoting height is between 36-42 inches, but wainscoting heights can differ depending on the style and size of the room, the purpose of the space, and personal preferences.

Interior designers install wainscoting of different heights to create a specific visual effect or to accommodate static elements in the room. The height of wainscoting is ultimately a design choice that balances precedent, taste, and style.

How to Determine the Best Wainscoting Height for Your Room

Wainscoting Height Guidelines

The ideal wainscoting height is different for each room and depends on multiple factors. Here are guidelines to help structure your ideas when you are questioning the best wainscoting height for your space.

Proportion and Aesthetics

Consider the overall proportions of the room. The height of the wainscoting should fit proportionally with the rest of the room and enhance the visual appeal. Typical wainscoting is between 36-42 inches, but this may change if the room has higher or lower ceilings. In general, the wainscoting height covers one-third of a wall’s height, but higher wainscoting is trending and can make a room look more formal. If you like a higher wainscoting look, consider a wainscoting that covers two-thirds of the wall. This will create a balanced room with visually pleasing proportions.

Room Function

A room’s function plays an important role in determining wainscoting height as this can influence the look and function of the room. In formal spaces like formal dining rooms or entries, high wainscoting adds a classic and refined look. In bathrooms, wainscoting of a moderate height would work to protect the walls from moisture and splashes. For rooms like mudrooms where the walls may receive constant wear and tear, high wainscoting works well. This is also helpful if you want to add a high shelf or hooks for better function.

Architectural Style

The architectural style of your home influences standard heights that are normal. Formal architectural styles like Victorian and Gothic often look good with higher wainscoting. On less formal styles like contemporary, mid-century modern, and farmhouse, a lower wainscoting height is appropriate. As always, the height of your wainscoting does not need to be set in stone even if the style of your home dictates a standard wainscoting height.

Furniture Placement and Look

All the elements of your home should work in harmony. The architectural features should provide the best place setting for your furniture. Consider the placement and style of your furniture when determining your wainscoting height. Consider the dining room; wainscoting should be high enough to protect the walls from scuffs from the backs of chairs. In bedrooms, the wainscoting height should consider the height of the beds so that the wainscoting looks harmonious with the style of the bed. In kitchens, the wainscoting height should take the cabinets and countertops into account

Existing Elements

Permanent room features like windows, doors, cabinets, and other molding play a crucial role in determining an appropriate wainscoting height. You can integrate them into the wainscoting, or at the least, they will provide guidance on an appropriate height for the wainscoting. Taking these elements into account will minimize the awkward transition from these features to the wainscoting.

In historic homes, the height of the wainscoting was about the same height as the window sills. While this is not a hard and fast rule now, this look is historically appropriate, it does not work if your window sills are low. Other room features that may impact the height of wainscoting include fireplaces, staircases, archways, and columns.

Future Room Design

Take existing elements into account when you are planning the wainscoting height but also consider future room design and goals. Consider permanent features that you are going to add including wallpaper, paint color, and existing element changes that you want to implement. Include also large decor pieces that you want to add to the room including large pictures, mirrors, or wall pieces. These may impact the height of the wainscoting as this will impact how you will hang the pieces.

Personal Preferences

Personal tastes play a significant role in determining the height of wainscoting in a particular space. Consider what kind of visual impact you want the room to have. Choose high wainscoting if you want it to have a more dramatic appearance or lower if you want to go for a casual look. Try to ensure that you have design consistency throughout your space with the type and height of the wainscoting in different rooms. Remember that while there are design and proportion considerations, the design of the room should please you. Feel free to experiment with different looks to find one that suits your taste and style.

Steps for Testing a Wainscoting Height

Creating wainscoting in a room requires time, planning, and money, so it is a decision that you should consider carefully before investing the necessary expenditures. Testing out a wainscoting height requires thought and planning, but it will save you, in the long run, to get the decision right before you begin the building process.

  1. Measure and Plan – Measure the walls where you want to add wainscoting. Determine the height range of the wainscoting that you are considering. Take note of your personal preferences, the style of your home, the size and proportions of the room, and existing and future elements in the room.
  2. Create a Mock-Up – A mock-up is a temporary representation of the wainscoting height so that you can visualize the height you like within the room context. Create temporary panels using cardboard, foam board, paper, or painter’s tape to create temporary “panels” or an outline of the panel shapes on the wall. Use tape to adhere the paper panels to the wall. Make sure they are level and properly proportioned along the wall.
  3. Visualize – Step back and consider the height of the mock wainscoting from different angles. Think about how it visually interacts with the furniture, the existing elements like windows and doors, and how it impacts the overall style of the room.
  4. Assess the Practicality – Consider the height of the wainscoting with regard to the room’s function. Think about if the wainscoting height enhances or detracts from the wall’s durability.
  5. Gather Feedback – Talk to family and friends about the wainscoting height and gather their thoughts concerning the height of the wainscoting.
  6. Adjust as Needed – Based on your assessment and any feedback you received, make any adjustments needed to the height of the “mock-up” wainscoting. This may involve raising or lowering the height or a change in the spacing between panels. Repeat the process of considering the new height until you find the wainscoting height that works best.
  7. Record Your Findings – Once you are satisfied with a particular wainscoting height, write down your measurements and take pictures of the mock-up for future use.
  8. Consult a Professional – If, after this process, you are still unsure of the best wainscoting height, it may be helpful to consult a professional. Talk with a builder or interior designer regarding their insights and expertise regarding wainscoting height. They will be able to advise you based on their experience with how to achieve your goals for the room.

Wainscoting Height Design Ideas

The height of the wainscoting will have a dramatic visual impact and should enhance the visual appeal of the room. Consider these design ideas and the way that you can use the height of the wainscoting to amplify the style of the room.

Wainscoting Height by House Style

Wainscoting Height by House Style
Fox Interiors

Mid-century modern and contemporary homes often feature simple forms of molding. Fox Interiors used low, wood plank wainscoting in this dining room. Painting this bright blue, along with the corner cabinets creates a cohesive yet eclectic look for the dining room.

Wainscoting Height That Incorporates Existing Elements

Wainscoting Height That Incorporates Existing Elements
Thomas Jacobson Construction

In this formal dining room remodel, the building used the height of the windows to determine the wainscoting height. This mid-height wainscoting style gives the dining room an elegant but understated look.

Wainscoting That Frames Furniture

Wainscoting That Frames Furniture
Mary Rooney Interior Dimensions

Considering your furniture is vital when determining the best wainscoting height. The height of the wainscoting in this bedroom frames the high headboard in an effective way. This is more visually pleasing than low wainscoting in this space.

Wainscoting With Wallpaper

Wainscoting With Wallpaper
Dufner Heighes

Certain wallpaper designs will work better with some wainscoting heights than others. In this example, the designer chose a custom wainscoting height based on the specific wallpaper design that perfectly fits the wall space above the wainscoting.

Wainscoting Height and Room Function

Wainscoting Height and Room Function
Witt Construction

Wainscoting is useful in mudrooms because it protects the walls from scuffs and scrapes. It is also helpful if you want to add wall hooks or shelves as it makes a sturdier surface to support the extra weight.

Wainscoting in Large Rooms

Wainscoting in Large Rooms
Magleby Construction

High wainscoting is fitting in spacious rooms with high ceilings. The wainscoting in this room follows the visually pleasing standard rule of thirds. The wainscoting covers roughly two-thirds which leaves a remaining one-third of wall space.