Wainscoting Basics: Types, Cost, and Finishings

Wainscoting is a decorative system of wall paneling that adds a touch of distinction and stately elegance to interior walls. Wainscoting is not just attractive, it is a practical solution for protecting walls from wear and tear. Whether crafted from wood or another material, there are numerous types of wainscoting, each appropriate for multiple design styles. This makes wainscoting a practical and versatile option for any interior wall where you want to add some texture or protection.

What is Wainscoting?

What is Wainscoting?

Wainscoting is a wall paneling technique applied to the lower part of the wall. These panels typically cover the area of the wall from the floor to the height of the back of a chair, though you can see many different heights. Wainscoting emerged around the 13th century but has evolved in style through the years as architectural styles have changed.

When it was first conceived, the primary purpose of wainscoting was to protect delicate plaster walls from scuffs and scrapes. It also provided insulation for walls and covered up the damp that seeped inside. People soon began to see wainscoting panels as a decorative feature that could enhance and beautify interior walls. Interior designers today use this technique to accent a variety of diverse architectural styles. It is an attractive wall feature that can increase the stature of any room. It is also useful for protecting the wall from scuffs and scrapes that are common in everyday life.

Wainscoting panels are crafted from a variety of materials. Wood was the most common throughout history, but builders today use MDF, plywood, and even plastic depending on the desired look and budget. The design of wainscoting varies from traditional to modern.

Types of Wainscoting

Wainscoting comes in a variety of types and styles, each with its own distinct look and character.

Raised Panel Wainscoting

Raised panel wainscoting is a classic wainscoting style. Raised panel wainscoting features panels that are raised above a surrounding frame, creating a three-dimensional effect. This style complements traditional and formal style homes.

Beadboard Wainscoting

Beadboard wainscoting consists of narrow, vertical panels separated by smaller, evenly-spaced grooves or beads. This comes as either individual boards with two vertical panels or as a sheet of plywood with already connected vertical panels. This type of wainscoting is a popular choice for achieving a cottage aesthetic. It is a popular choice for bathrooms, kitchens, and other casual spaces.

Board and Batten Wainscotting

Board and batten wainscotting features alternating wide flat panels framed with narrow strips in different patterns. This wainscoting type works with a variety of home styles both traditional and modern.

Flat Panel Wainscotting

Unlike raised panel wainscoting, flat panel wainscoting features a flat panel recessed into flat framed edging. This type of wainscoting has a simple and modern appearance that works well in contemporary home styles.

Picture Frame Wainscotting

Picture frame wainscoting features rectangular or square frames applied directly to the wall. This creates the look of raised panel wainscoting without the expense and expertise involved. This style is popular in formal spaces like living and dining rooms.

Shiplap Wainscoting

Shiplap wainscoting is a new wall panel style that became popular in modern farmhouse design. This type of wainscoting features horizontal boards with a slight gap between each. The unaffected style of this wainscoting works well in rustic and coastal-style homes.

Cost of Wainscoting

The cost of installing wainscoting depends on multiple factors including the materials, the type of wainscoting, your location, the size of your room, and whether you hire a professional or do the job yourself.

Some wainscoting styles like picture frame or flat panel are easy for a DIYer, but others like raised panel wainscoting may require a professional unless you have woodworking expertise. Certain materials like plastic molding and plywood will be more cost-effective than using wood. If you plan to do the work yourself, the cost will be somewhere between $1-$30 per square foot depending on the type of material you use. Using a professional will cost between $7-$40 per square foot, depending on the materials and the complexity of the design. Expect to pay somewhere between $1,000-$5,000 with an average cost of $3,000 per room to install wainscoting.

Finishes for Wainscoting

Carpenters finish wainscoting in a variety of ways depending on the design aesthetic and durability required.

  • Paint – Paint is the most popular finish for wainscoting. This is a good option if you are using a material other than wood like MDF or plastic for your wainscoting. Paint offers the most color options, and it is easy to change if you decide to change the colors of the room. High-gloss paint is best if you want a finish that is easy to clean and maintain.
  • Stain – Stain is another popular wainscoting finish. It enhances and enriches the wood grain and gives the wainscoting a warm and timeless appearance. A stain finish is only possible if you use solid wood or high-quality plywood.
  • Clear sealer – A clear sealer coat like polyurethane or varnish creates a protective layer that protects the wainscoting from moisture and dust. Clear sealer finishes give the wainscoting an unaffected look and highlight the wood’s natural beauty. This finish is only possible for solid wood or high-quality plywood wainscoting.

Pros and Cons of Wainscoting

Wainscoting is a lovely and distinctive addition to any room, but like any design feature, it comes with its unique advantages and challenges.


  • Aesthetic appeal – Wainscoting adds style and elegance to any room. It is ideal for giving a new home a vintage look. Wainscoting complements various interior design styles from traditional to contemporary.
  • Wall protection – One of the primary purposes of wainscoting is to protect walls. While some types do not provide the wall with extra protection, some styles like beadboard, shiplap, and raised panel wainscoting can shield the walls effectively against scratches and dents. This is particularly valuable in high-traffic locations like playrooms, kid’s bathrooms, mudrooms, or hallways.
  • Texture and dimension – Wainscoting gives drywall texture and dimension. It creates visual interest and breaks up the large expanse of flat wall space.
  • Sound insulation – The extra density of the wainscoting is effective in adding sound insulation to a wall. For the most effective sound insulation, use a wainscoting style that covers a wide expanse like beadboard, shiplap or raised panel wainscoting.
  • Easy maintenance – Wainscoting is easy to maintain compared to wallpapered or painted walls. It can be wiped down with a damp cloth to remove any accumulated dust.


  • Cost – Depending on the type of wainscoting, it can be expensive to buy and install. Styles that use solid wood pieces and require professional installation are some of the most expensive types.
  • Installation challenges – Installing wainscoting may require a professional depending on the complexity of the style.
  • Style trends – Some wainscoting types have a timeless quality that is not subject to style trends, but some more modern styles like flat panel or shiplap wainscoting can go in and out of fashion. Because of the cost associated with wainscoting, it is not something that you change with every new style.

Is Wainscoting Right for You?

Determining whether wainscoting is a good option for your home involves weighing several factors. Here are some considerations that will help you make a more informed choice:

  1. Assess your interior style

Consider your home’s architectural style. There are many types of wainscoting that work with a broad range of design styles, but some lend themselves more readily to wainscoting than others.

  1. Identity the room

Look at your home’s rooms and decide where wainscoting might help the style or the function of the room. Formal rooms like dining and living rooms benefit from the added distinction that wainscoting adds. High-traffic rooms like playrooms and hallways are better protected with wainscoting covering the lower portion of the walls.

  1. Examine the architectural features of the room

Study the architectural features of the room like the ceiling height and the presence of other molding. Wainscoting should always complement these features in the room.

  1. Budget

Consider your budget, including the material and the labor involved in installing wainscoting. For more cost-effective wainscoting, utilize alternative materials like MDF and plastic molding to get the look of wood. Choose a style where you can do the labor yourself rather than hire someone.

  1. Personal taste

Your taste and preferences should always be a consideration if you want to install wainscoting. Many people love the timeless style and elegance that wainscoting adds to a room. Others want the protection that wainscoting offers.

  1. Future plans and goals

Think about your long-term plans for your home. For some people, theirs is a forever home and enhancing it will bring them long-term joy and use. For others, their home is a temporary resting place. Even some in this latter category may consider adding wainscoting a good idea as it will help to increase your home’s curb appeal for future buyers.

  1. Consult with a professional

Many homeowners do not have the expertise and design skills to install wainscoting or determine the best style. Talking with a carpenter, builder, or interior designer can help you understand the technical aspects and cost of installing wainscoting. They can provide valuable insights based on your needs and goals for your home.