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Panel wainscoting is paneling placed on the lower part of an interior wall. Today, wainscot can be made from a variety of decorative materials, including tiles. Wainscot can even be as simple as having the lower part of the wall painted a different color from the upper part, and marking the division with a chair rail. Panel wainscoting, however, usually implies traditional wood paneling.
Medieval European castles could be very grand, but the stone walls were cold and sometimes damp. In the early Renaissance, owners began installing panel wainscoting to make rooms more comfortable. They were very popular in Tudor England and remained so for a long time.
Today, panel wainscoting is usually positioned to reach to about three feet (0.9 m) up the wall. In the past, wainscot was sometimes installed to a much higher point, sometimes almost to the ceiling. The most common wood used for early wainscot panels was quartersawn oak.
Until recently, making and installing wainscot was work for a master carpenter, since all wainscot was cut on site. Planning and cutting all the elements of a wainscot panel was precision work. Today, pre-formed panel wainscoting can be installed by do-it-yourselfers.
A traditional wainscot panel has seven parts. At the bottom, parallel to the floor, is a wide bottom rail that may or may not be accompanied by a baseboard or molding. Above that are rectangular panels separated by narrower vertical boards. These are called styles called stiles. Typical the panels have a beveled edge, which might be produced by molding. A wide, flat top rail finishes the wainscot. It is usually topped with a chair rail or decorative molding.
Panel wainscoting can be very grand and give a formal impression, or it can create a relaxed and informal effect. Raised panel wainscoting is the oldest style, and today it is considered very formal. In this style, the central panel is raised above the stiles and rails, so that it projects a little further into the room.
Recessed panel wainscoting can be either formal or informal. In this style, the central panel is dropped slightly below the styles and rails. The style was very popular in buildings from the arts-and-crafts movement. It is also called flat panel wainscoting.
Beadboard wainscoting often reminds people of summer cottages, because it was used in casual locations during the late Victorian period and after. In this style, the area between the top rail and the bottom rail is filled with beadboard, usually laid so that the beaded lines run vertically. Beadboard panel wainscoting is often painted, adding to its informal air.