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What is Bathroom Wainscoting?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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Bathroom wainscoting is partial-wall paneling used in bathrooms. Wainscoting refers to the technique of nailing on panels of wood to the lower section of walls and topping it with chair rail molding. Chair rail molding is a narrow, decorative wood trim that is positioned horizontally along walls — often at a height in which the top edge of a wooden chair could touch it without marking the wall. Wainscoting, also sometimes incorrectly spelled wainscotting, wanescoting or wayne's coating, has its origins in England and was in common use by the 17th century to help add a stylish layer of warmth to drafty English stone homes. Beadboard is the most popular type of bathroom wainscoting.

A beadboard wainscot is one that features very narrow, flat panels. It has a more casual look than the ornate types of wainscoting found in formal living, dining and reception areas. Beadboard bathroom wainscoting is commonly painted white. The beadboard wood partial-paneling wainscot may be used on only one wall or added to each wall in the bathroom. Wood paneling and chair rail trim combinations can add interesting texture plus a country appeal to a plain white bathroom.

Another common way to use wainscoting in bathrooms is to contrast the white wainscot paneling with a dark paint color on the walls such as deep blue or chocolate brown. A towel bar mounted on a wall above the wainscoting can look great with towels in colors that combine white with shades of the chosen wall color. Bathroom wainscoting usually looks tasteful with either a modern bathtub or an old fashioned claw foot tub. Claw foot bathtubs typically feature metal legs that resemble a bird's claw or foot.

To add bathroom wainscoting to walls successfully, accurate measurements must be taken and the narrow strips of beadboard panels must be evenly cut. The pieces of paneling are then nailed onto the wall side by side, very closely without gaps. The chair railing caps the top edges of the wainscoting and it is sometimes sold as wainscot caps. A baseboard, or bottom edge trim, usually completes the wainscot. Bathroom beadboard wainscoting may be painted or stained.

Raised panel and flat panel are the two other main types of wainscot paneling, but these are rarely used for bathroom wainscoting. Flat panel wainscots are still fairly informal though, as they have smooth surfaces and straight, plain edges. This type of simple wood wall look is used in 19th-century American design styles such as Shaker, with its emphasis on woods and straight lines. Raised panel wainscoting is popular in 17th-century European Colonial looks for formal dining rooms, living rooms, halls and libraries. It's fancy, beveled-edge look is considered too ornate for most bathrooms.

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Discussion Comments
By ValleyFiah — On Jan 24, 2011

@ GenevaMech- A bathroom with wainscoting may be found in a more expensive home, but it can also be a way to save money or time when remodeling a bathroom. There are many homes typical of the late 70s to early 80s build that has a half tile wall in the bathrooms. While tile is nice, these tile walls are often of the glazed ceramic type in loud colors that give a home a somewhat dated look. The tile is often a small two-inch tile in a bright pastel blue, yellow, or pepto bismol pink.

In these cases, wainscoting may be a cheaper alternative to tearing out the tile and rebuilding he wall. You can actually install wainscoting right over the tile, and cap it with a nice bit of trim molding.

By GenevaMech — On Jan 23, 2011

@ Georgesplane- If you search around a bit you should be able to find bathroom wainscoting photos online. The finish is mostly aesthetic, but it does act as a back splash of sorts, and it is much more durable than plain drywall. Think of the appeal of wainscoting as similar to crown molding. It increases the appeal and value of a traditional home, but it may be somewhat out of place in a contemporary home.

Wainscoting adds a touch of class and elegance to a home. If you are having trouble visualizing a home that would have wainscoting, think of a Chicago Victorian. These homes are intricately ornate, and have a distinct rotunda that is usually situated near the entrance. You may find wainscoting throughout this type of home, not just the bathroom. I hope this helps.

By Georgesplane — On Jan 22, 2011

Is there a functional purpose for wainscotting in a bathroom or is it purely ornamental? Are bathrooms the only area that will be wainscotted in a home? I have never seen this before so I am trying to visualize what it looks like and why it is done. Is the technique mostly used in colonial and shaker homes, or will you find it in homes that are more modern?

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