Adventures in Wainscoting

May 10, 2010

Did you know I’ve had my little heart set on wainscoting in my living room for like ever ?  Have I mentioned this before ?   Perhaps I have. 

So this past weekend was Mother’s Day.  My husband asked the obligatory question, “Dear, love of my life, mother of my children and wife extraordinaire, what is it that you want for Mother’s Day?”  

It took approximately 1.2 seconds for me to shout “Wainscoting!”  

Wish you could have seen him wince. 

I think he was hoping for “Spa Day” or “Chocolate” instead of “Wainscoting” since he had his heart set on a relaxing weekend watching the San Jose Sharks win the playoffs, woot woot !   No, my idea  of relaxation is a home improvement project – call me crazy. 

I started my Saturday morning with some coffee and research.  I learned the following.

thibaut wallpaperWainscot (paneling on the lower part of a wall) comes in many different styles. 

You’ve got your tongue and groove beadboard, board and batten, inverted panel, flat panel, and raised panel wainscoting.  Researching the ‘how to’ is enough to make your head spin.   This Old House has a great article describing all the different kinds of wainscoting.

I had my little heart set on picture frames sitting on top of smooth panels with a chair rail above, or really something that looks a whole lot like this photo to the left. 

Plenty of websites want to sell you prefabricated kits.   Some online articles recommend hiring a carpenter.  For what I had in mind, I was pretty sure we could do it ourselves in a weekend with some simple supplies. 

And so we did ! 

Sort of.  We’re not finished, but we made great progress.

sat a.m.

sun pm


Here’s the step by step on our version of this picture frame wainscoting. 

Get your second cup of coffee, you’ll need it.  Boring pictures ahead. 

Supplies: 4” x 8” x 1/8” panelboard cut to height; construction adhesive; chair rail; trim molding; spacers; spackle; caulk.   Tools: jig saw; nail gun with brads (or hammer & finish nails); compound miter saw; level; measuring tape.

We chose to use some smooth 4 x 8 panelboards available at Lowes for $12 dollars each.  They are made by this company, and they are only 1/8 inch thick, so we knew we could place them right on top of our existing 5 inch baseboard and not have to remove the baseboard at all.  Whew, big time saver there. 

We wanted our wainscoting to be 41” high, so we had the panelboards cut to 33” at Lowes – they do it for free.  5” baseboard + 33” panel + 3” chair rail = 41” in height. 

We brought it home and had the panels acclimate to the room temperature and environment for 24 hours. 


Well, it’s official. 

That has to be the most boring picture ever posted on the internet. 

I think it deserves a gold star.

 paneling with star 

Yay, that’s much better.

Next, we used a jigsaw to cut out the square around the electrical socket.  switch spacersThen we realized we had to extend the electrical socket to accommodate for the extra 1/8 inch smooth panel we were adding to the wall. 

We used spacers on the mounting screws to extend the outlets so they would be flush with the new paneling.  

When working with electrical outlets, be sure to turn off your power !  Also, check with an electrician and your local codes to make sure you are following the proper procedure.  Safety first !

Once our electrical sockets were extended, we dry tested our panels on the wall to make sure they fit and the seams were straight. 

Next, we added some construction adhesive designed for wood paneling to the backs of the smooth panelboards.

** Update  ** Several people have asked why not just paint the wall and skip the paneling ?  We have troweled walls that are not smooth so it would look obvious, at least to my eyes, that I had painted instead of paneled.   You can still achieve the same look with just paint, but I wanted to add the paneling for the textural difference and since the panels are only $12 each and Lowes cuts them for free, we went for it.    



Then we secured the panels up on the wall with a brad nail gun.  You could also use finish nails and a good old fashioned hammer, it works just as well. 

brad nailer


One other problem you face when tacking up panels and chair rails is gaps between the boards and your door trim, and also gaps in the seams between the boards.  So I used some caulk to fill in those gaps.  

latex sealant


Once the chair rail was up, the panels looked like this:

panels up


Next, we measured out where we wanted the picture frame boxes to go, then trimmed our molding with the compound miter saw and tacked it to the wall.

I like to use this little level that Santa brought me in my stocking.

chic level

See how it holds your finish nails with a magnetic strip on the side?  Mr. CG called it a “chick tool” but secretly I think he’s jealous.

After my picture frames were attached to my smooth panels, I used a little spackling to fill in the holes. 

I hope you’re paying attention, there will be a quiz at the end. 

patch n paint


Once the spackling was dry, I gave my new wainscoting a coat of white paint. 

wainscot after


Class, are you with me ?  

Who can tell me the difference between spackle, caulk and wood filler ?

**  crickets chirping  **

Bueller ?


Have I put you to sleep ?

If so, feel free to bookmark this page for your future bouts of insomnia. 


So by Sunday night at 5:00 p.m. I had one wall looking like this:

wainscot after 2


wainscot after side view

1.25 walls complete. 

2.75 walls to go.

So much for this being a one weekend project. 

Next weekend is my husband’s birthday. 

Do you think he’ll ask me for more adventures in wainscoting ? 

My fingers are totally crossed.   



118 Responses to “Adventures in Wainscoting”

  1. AZ says:

    I just looked at the smooth panels I think you used. They come prefinished – glossy white. It sounds as though you painted over them, right? if so did you prime first? I have a 7 ft length to do. Would you recommend only painting the picture frame pieces?

    Also, how much spacing did you give at the top and bottom for the picture frames?


  2. RebeccaMommy23 says:

    I have been lusting after this look for a while now, even went so far as to “tape” off the wall to motivate my dear hubby (needless to say that didn’t work.) So now I am on my own, but you’ve made it sound relatively manageable….one question….how did you measure off how big your window panes were going to be?

  3. Deanna says:

    I am about to tackle this same project in my daughter’s room! I know what panels you used because I looked at them for my project, but wasn’t sure how the glossy look would work out. So, my question for you, after you painted it, did it tone down the glossy-ness?

  4. Margaret says:

    Looks fabulous! We are doing a similar project in our little dining nook. Quick question – what width trim did you use to make the window panes? 1″?


  5. My dining room has been missing quarter round for years and after reading this post, I decided to finally tackle that problem plus, at the shadow box wainscoting as you did here. Thankfully, my walls did not require the panelboards and I completed the job on my own in just two days. Thanks for the inspiration!!

  6. Wild Hair! says:

    […] But wait, I can make this room even better with some shadow box wainscoting!  I found a great turorial by Centsation Girl […]

  7. Blakeley Nash says:

    I love this! You are so funny! I kind of want to try this while the hubs is out of town… you know if they sell picture frames pieces already assembled?? I think that would be the most annoying part.

  8. Dianne Everett says:

    I love the look. What a difference it makes. You did a good job explaining the steps. I’ve wanted this look in my house for quite awhile. I’m hoping this gives me the courage to do so.

  9. Jennifer says:

    Hi! I love the gray blue color of the wall! What color is that? The wainscoating looks amazing, nice job!!

  10. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Jennifer, it’s a color by Benjamin Moore Affinity that I tweaked, the formula is here:

  11. Stephanie says:

    Did this several years ago in my dining room & up my stairs but I didn’t put up panel I just painted the wall to match all my molding saved loads of money by not doing the panel yours looks great!!!!

  12. Jill says:

    Hi! I have a question that I really hope you can answer. You have used some unconventional techniques that Ive loved (craft paint on your stair rail:)) so I think I’ve come to the right place! I have walls in my basement that are brick halfway up the wall. I HATE them….. How would you suggest I tackle attaching wainscoting to them? I am determined to make it work but would appreciate any advice you could give me. Thank you.

  13. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Jill, I’m not sure how to attach wainscotting to brick without some sort of wood frame around it to adhere the wainscoting and ensure it’s applied smooth and evenly – that’s what I’d do, frame around it, but you could also paint the brick the same color as the wall, that always helps to minimize!

  14. OMG, that’s GORGEOUS! I am SO doing that someday! You made it look so easy, too! :)

  15. Katie says:

    The panels I found are pre finished with a high gloss and I have read you can’t paint them. Did you paint them and if so did you do a high gloss or something else?

  16. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Katie, you can paint them if you use the right primer, I used the Bullseye 123 by Zinsser, worked great!

  17. Dave says:

    Did you Pre-assemble the picture frames and then attach as a whole or assemble on wall one by one?

  18. CentsationalGirl says:

    One by one and piece by piece Dave!

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