Planning a wainscoting installation | Pro Construction Guide
wainscoting installation plan

Planning a wainscoting installation

Wainscoting installations, ranging from simple beaded (or other decorative profile) boards set between baseboard and chair rail to true raised-panel wainscoting include:wainscoting installation

  • Raised-panel wainscoting, the most traditional and formal wainscoting installation type, must be measured, cut, routed and beveled to very close tolerances. This type of construction helps prevent gaps in joinery as the wood expands and contracts after wainscoting installation. Raised-panel wainscoting is the most expensive to make and install.
  • Flat-panel wainscoting – sometime called recessed panel wainscoting – is a simpler designed comprised of a rail-and-stile frame attached over flat panels, along with traditional baseboard and chair rail.
  • Composite panel wainscoting is very similar to flat panel, except that molding (typically cove or inside corner) is applied inside the “frame” of the rails and stiles, adding visual interest.

When planning a wainscoting installation, you have to create a design that will work for the room before you begin to cut material. You do this by drawing a detailed, scaled drawing of the entire room or by marking the wall lightly with pencil and chalk lines (be sure to use dust-off chalk designed for interior finish work).

While you can vary the design to achieve a unique look, you’d be wise to follow these design guidelines when planning a wainscoting installation.

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Designing a wainscoting installation

wainscoting installation plan

Step 1

Start by setting the height of the chair rail, which is typically between 30 to 42 inches from the floor. There are taller designs, but those are usually used for more lavish rooms with higher ceilings and are generally reserved for living rooms, libraries and formal dining rooms.

Step 2

Set the rails and end stiles. The proportions of these should relate to the other wood trim elements in the room (smaller rooms will often require 1×4 stock, while larger, more formal designs may require 1×6 or even larger). The rails should be about two-thirds the width of the baseboard. There should always be an end stile where the paneling is going to meet the casing of a window or door.

Step 3

Add the intermediate stiles that create the frames for the panels. Establish a regular module (pattern) that repeats as it wraps around the room. Sometimes wide, horizontal panels will look best, while some rooms will look better with panels that are taller than they are wide. Panels do not have to be the exact same dimension around the entire room, but they should be close and share the same orientation.

Step 4

All panels on a single wall should be the same dimension. When a wall cannot be divided into equal panel sizes, make up the difference by making the corner panels slightly larger or smaller than the rest of that wall’s panels.

Step 5

Be consistent in the corners. Some designs have two stiles in each corner (remember that the edge of one stile will be tucked behind the other, so you will have to rip one to make them both appear the same width after installation). Other designs feature panels in the corner (no stiles). Just be sure that each corner of the room is the same.

Step 6

If window and door casing is thicker than the paneling, simply butt the paneling against the trim. If it isn’t, you’ll have to miter returns on the chair rail and baseboard for a clean look.

 —By Rob Fanjoy



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