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What is a Wainscot?

Interior Design and Decor
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What is a wainscot? If you've ever seen wood paneling or raised panels covering the lower half of a wall, then you've been eyeing wainscoting. This ornamental wall treatment usually stands three to four feet tall, and is generally capped by a chair rail or other decorative wood molding. The word is generally thought to come from a German word which literally means timber that has been cut down and/or prepared.

Why wainscot? Why not! This historic wall treatment is growing in popularity again, and in addition it dresses up just about any room in the home. It can even add to the curb appeal of your home if you're getting ready to sell.

A Short History of Wainscoting

Homeowners used to apply wainscoting, especially in dining rooms, to protect the walls from damage from chairs and tables. The chair rail atop the wainscoting serves as a "bumper," protecting the wall from dings and chips created when a chair or table gets a little too chummy. This wall decoration was often also used to add interest and texture to stairways, while protecting them, too. In fact, it first grew in popularity during Elizabethan times, and it's quite common in historic English and American Colonial homes.

Wainscoting Today

Today, wainscoting has traveled far and wide from the dining room. It fits in just about any room where you'd like to add interest and texture to a plain, boring wall. Bathroom, bedroom, den, entryway or wine cellar, you'll find wainscoting everywhere, and in many different styles, colors, and materials.

Traditional wainscoting was made of tongue-and-groove wood or beadboard with a wide baseboard at the bottom. Now, wainscoting can be leather or other fabric trimmed with wood molding to create a raised-panel look. It can also be stone, faux stone, wood, or just about any material you choose. In fact, many people are choosing granite or slate for their bathroom walls, and sisal, pressed tin, and other materials are also available, so no matter what style you prefer, you're sure to find wainscoting that will fit your style and budget.

This wall treatment fits in a wide variety of decorating styles, too. Knotty pine, painted or stained brings a country home to life, and raised leather panels add elegance to a library or formal dining room.

So, now you know what a wainscot is, and how to use it in your décor. When you're looking for something new and special for your walls, think about adding wainscoting for a traditional look that's now fresh and exciting again.

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