Wainscoting Styles: Designs For Every Home Aesthetic

Incorporating wainscot styles into your next project creates the potential to add both beauty and character to your home. A style dating back to the early English Renaissance, wainscoting is, without doubt, a timeless look. Though its original function was to protect walls, its most recent use is altogether style driven.

Wainscoting Styles

When clean lines meet classic designs, it’s easy to see why wainscoting panels have grown in popularity. Take a look at the wainscoting styles below and find out how this simple addition can take your home from builder grade to custom creation.

What is wainscoting?

Wainscoting is a decorative wall paneling made up of different size boards and trim. Fixed to the lower portion of the wall, it offers a sense of seamlessness all around the room. Considered as versatile as it is charming, wainscoting panels mesh with countless styles. On top of that, it can also be used to break up colors and textures creating a contrast that’s hard to beat.

Wainscoting Components

No matter the style, wainscoting is made up of several different pieces which can leave even the best home improvers lost in the terminology. To cut down on any confusion, below is a basic diagram that gives a clear representation of each piece of wainscoting and where they’re often placed. Feel free to use this as a reference whenever needed.

Wainscoting Components

Is there different types of wainscoting?

An added bonus of these beautiful wood panels is that they come in several styles. From modern to rustic homes, you can dress up your living space with these options. Check out the five main wainscoting styles below.

Board and batten wainscoting

Board and batten wainscoting
Contented Interiors

Made up of rectangle or square boards divided by vertical boards known as “battens”.

The battens used to cover seams created by the smaller boards but that’s not an issue nowadays with access to larger materials.

Now, the distance between these vertical battens is often left to personal preference.

However, a minimum of 12 inches apart and up to 24 inches apart is a helpful guideline you can follow.

Flat panel wainscoting

Flat panel wainscoting
First Lamp

Sometimes referred to as “recessed panel”, flat panel wainscoting uses rails and stiles to give it the flush look it’s known for.

It’s a smooth, simplistic style with no groove system, just continuous, clean lines.

Again, the distance between stiles and trim depends on preference and the amount of space you’re working with.

Raised panel wainscoting

Raised panel wainscoting
Anthony Baratta LLC

The most traditional wainscoting style, raised panel wainscoting is just what it sounds like.

The panels and accompanying pieces all fall flush with one another, despite still having intricate grooves that provide a sense of formal elegance.

Overlay wainscoting

Overlay wainscoting
Mimi & Hill interiors

This combination of flat and raised panel wainscoting, overlay wainscoting uses a flat panels first with additional panels mounted to the top, the base panel still exposed as part of the design. For an easier project, you can also install a shaped panel right onto the drywall for the same overlay effect.

Beadboard wainscoting

Beadboard wainscoting
Dichotomy Interiors

The most simple to install, beadboard wainscoting is known for its even spaced vertical grooves with a rail at the top for a complete look.

These boards can come in a tongue and groove system or purchased in large, singular sheets that you can cut to size.

Though it’s the most affordable choice, it’s not lacking in style.

Wood, plastic or vinyl?

Wood is often what comes to mind when you think of wainscoting panels but it’s also made in other materials as well.

Your choice in material hinges on many details such as durability, cost and designs offered.

Review the four main wainscoting materials below for the pros and cons of each option.


The classic choice, wood wainscoting is known for its durability and texture. Acoustic and thermal insulation are huge bonuses with this material as well.

However, wood can warp if it’s inundated by water or extreme temperature shifts, so that’s something to consider.


Made of composite and resin, MDF is a dense material comparable to particle board and acts as an eco-friendly option.

It’s susceptible to water damage though, so it works best in low moisture areas like hallways and living rooms.


Most common in the beadboard style, plastic wainscoting panels are a sturdy, water resistant option.

A great choice for moisture prone rooms like your bathrooms and laundry rooms, plastic wainscoting is an easy to clean and affordable alternative.


Most of the time, vinyl gets thrown into the plastic category as they share many of the same qualities but they’re altogether different materials.

Vinyl has a high water resistance and you can count on it being long-lasting. Its flexibility also makes it easier to work with compared to its plastic counterpart.

Though it has a lot of great features, it is a newer material compared to the others, so it’ll come at a higher price.

Decorating Around Wainscoting Panels

Decorating Around Wainscoting Panels

While it’s not an exhaustive list, here’s five ways to help you get started decorating around your wainscoting panels.

  1. Paint

The most simple way to decorate around your wainscoting is with paint. Whether you choose a soft, neutral or something vibrant and bold, your options for using paint with wainscoting are endless.

  1. Wallpaper:

Solid, patterned or textured, wallpaper is a near effortless way to display your personal style. Up against the solid, clean wainscoting panels, wallpaper will give your space both contrast and cohesion.

  1. Hang Decor On Top:

If you choose a taller wainscoting design, hanging decor right on top of it is a great option. A piece of artwork or a large mirror for example, would be a chic addition overtop your wainscoting.

  1. Hang Decor Above

Wainscoting panels that fall at normal heights leave you plenty of space to decorate above without running too close to the ceiling. Also, some wainscoting styles end up with a small ledge offering enough depth to set artwork on, creating another option for decorating above.

  1. Contrasted Moulding:

Each wainscoting style comes with its own moulding type, all of which can be easily contrasted if they’re made different colors. For example, paint the main boards that make up the majority of your wainscoting a deep green and the small boarder pieces a bright white.

More Examples of Wainscoting

Entry Way

Entry Way
L. Lumpkins Architect, Inc.

Flat panel wainscoting creates a ceiling height focal point for the entire room in this entry way.


LMB Interiors

Overlay wainscoting panels coupled with textured wallpaper give this contemporary bathroom a welcomed level of contrast.

Home Office

Home Office
Aaron Usher III Photography

Added touches of beadboard wainscoting panels give this home office a polished, clean look.


Magleby Construction

Board and batten wainscoting panels tie in the rustic feel of this farmhouse bedroom.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

Are wainscoting panels expensive?

According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of a project measuring 5 feet high in a 12 by 12 room ranges from $1,050 to $1,600 with the average cost per square foot being $5.50. Of course, you’ll need to keep in mind that this price can be higher or lower depending on several factors, including location, materials, design and more.

How high should wainscoting be?

A general rule of thumb ranges from 36 to 42 inches but this is dependent on your ceiling height. Measure a third of the way up your wall and that’s where the top of your wainscoting should land.

Can I install wainscoting myself or do I need to hire a professional?

That’s going to be based on your experience with DIY projects. If you’re newer to home projects and have yet to take something this size, it might be best to leave it to the professionals. If you’re good with measurements and have the tools needed you should be able to handle it.

Take a look at the minimum tools required for wainscoting installation: Pencil, measuring tape, miter saw, nail gun, caulk gun and sandpaper.

Will installing wainscoting increase the value of a home?

While it does increase the value of your home, don’t believe the misconception that wainscoting will add a huge amount to the bottom line. It’s elegant and expensive look is sure to turn heads when it comes time to sell, but don’t expect it to add zeros to your home’s overall worth.

Does wainscoting have to be white?

It’s common to see wainscoting panels in white but yours don’t have to be, you can paint them any color you’d like. Wainscoting panels are sold with a white pre finished look which could be one reason you’re used to seeing them in white. Also, many people keep them a bright white as it contrasts the secondary color above the wainscoting so well.

Installing wainscoting panels can add a finished look to various living areas. With several different styles to choose from, each providing a unique flair, there’s something to fit everyone’s personal aesthetic. Offered in different materials, it’s also a project that can be afforded on any budget.

Start planning your wainscoting project today and give your home the custom look you’ve been dreaming of.