Wainscoting: Recap and Reveal

July 6, 2010

Awhile back, it was my grand idea idea to spruce up the living room walls with some traditional panel and picture frame wainscoting – in fact, it was my specific “please, oh please, honey can we please” request for Mother’s Day.  I managed to catch the Mister at a weak moment, and with a little charm and a lot of begging, he agreed to take on this project. 

We started our adventures in wainscoting back in May, and over the course of several weekends, we were finally able to finish, whew ! (dramatically swiping hand across brow)  There was some intense labor involved, some minor curse words muttered, a few panel do overs, plenty of cutting, a whole lotta caulking and spackling, and then there was all that priming and painting. 

I need to sit down, that was exhausting. 

Here’s the first peek:

wainscoting before and after

Our Step-by-Step on Panel and Picture Frame Wainscoting, A Quick Recap:

1) Measure measure measure your walls and map the entire project out with precision !

2) Turn power off, then extend all electrical sockets with spacers so that they are flush with your paneling.  It’s a good idea to consult with an electrician if you’re nervous in the slightest about working with electrical outlets – safety first !

electrical outlets and spacers

3) Cut panels to fit length of wall, 4) trim socket holes with jig saw, and adhere panels to wall with adhesive.  Reinforce with brad nails.

adhesive and nails * Many previously asked why we bothered with paneling at all, and simply painted the wall below the chair rail white.  We could have done that, however the walls are not perfectly smooth and we wanted the obvious textural difference.  Since the panels were only $12 each, and Lowes cuts them for free, we went for the smooth surface below contrasted with the textured wall above. 

Another added bonus was the panels that we talked about here were only 1/8 inch thick which meant we didn’t have to remove our baseboard – the panels set right on top !

5)  Measure and cut all chair rail and picture frames with compound miter saw, then tack to wall.

compound miter saw


6) Fill all seams with caulk and 7)  Fill all picture frame corners with spackling.   caulking plus spackling Spackle caulk caulk spackle.  Spaukle cack speckle cackle spauk. 

Say that fast ten times.

I’d like to formally thank the folks over at DAP for sending me a brand new caulking gun and a few tubes of their silicone latex paintable caulk.  It totally rocks, and they’re not paying me to say that.  Now if only someone could invent a similar product for crow’s feet, heh heh.

We used the caulk between the seams because it is flexible and won’t crack if the walls slightly shift over time.  When caulking, run a damp rag or wet finger over your bead and get it as smooth as possible because you can’t sand it once it’s dry, but you can paint it. 

Alternatively, for the gaps in the picture frames, we used spackling because it is sandable, unlike caulk, and we wanted to be able to sand the edges of the frames to remove any small flecks or imperfections before painting.  

8. Prime all panels, chair rail and picture frames.  Of course, you have the option to pre-prime your trim before you tack it to the wall, or purchase pre-primed trim from your local home improvement store.  Finish it all off with gloss white paint !  

Panels, frames and baseboard before:

panels and frames before

Caulk + Spackle + Primer + Paint = Perfect !

picture frames after

Cool, huh ?  That barely noticeable trace of the seam that remains will be hidden by the window panels, so we’re officially patting ourselves on the back for cleverly hiding the seams behind fabric. 

Window Walls:

We chose to do lower long rectangles below the windowsills, at the same height from the baseboard as the other taller picture frames.  

panel and picture frame wainscoting 2 copy


panel and picture frame wainscoting 3


We used a piece of our picture frame molding cut to 4” as our spacer all around the room to ensure even placement above the baseboard and below the chair rail.

wainscot after side view

The width of the picture frames varies around the room, but we kept it all proportionate by keeping the spacing between the frames even and at the same height around the space.


bare wall


heart wainscoting 

Pitter patter goes my heart.  

We’re pretty proud of our DIY wainscoting, and loving that we saved a bundle of cash doing it ourselves.  It took us about 20 hours spread out over several weekends to cover this 15’ x 15’ foot room.  

Total cost breakdown:

  • 8 flat panels measuring 1/8” x 4’ x 8′ at $12, cut to size (free cuts at Lowes) ($96)
  • 6 pieces 8’ chair rail at $5 each ($30)
  • 18 pieces picture frame molding at $5 each ($90)
  • Adhesive, caulk (complimentary from DAP), and spackling ($8)
  • Primer (already in supply closet)
  • Spacers ($3)
  • 1 quart ‘Swiss Coffee’ gloss white paint $12

Total cost for 15’ x 15’ room: $239 (without tax)

Yeeeeeess !

Coming soon, I’ll show you the room slightly more put together with some furnishings and accessories.  The space is far from ‘done’ but it’s looking closer and closer to my inspiration photos every day. 



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