Wainscoting is old-school armor for your walls. It's also a contemporary fashion statement dividing the wall. There is no code for wainscoting, but there are standard heights that carpenters rely on for continuity.

Wainscoting 101

Wainscoting can be a solid row of planks, beadboard, plywood, tile, plaster or simply molding above wallpaper or paint. It can be used as a protective barrier in narrow hallways, staircases or bathrooms or to display fine china or keepsakes. Installed in a dining room, wainscoting prevents chairs from marring or denting walls. The cap on wainscoting can be wide enough to support drinks in recreation rooms.

  • One-Third Rule: The general rule of thumb for height is to place the top of wainscoting at one-third the height of the wall. For example, the average wall is 96 inches. So the height of the wainscoting should be at 32 inches, including the cap or molding.
  • Two-Thirds Rule: Taller wainscoting applications are typically placed at two-thirds the height of the wall. For example, if your walls are 9 feet tall, cap the wainscoting at 6 feet, with the thickness of a plate rail figured in, if needed.

Low vs. High

If you decide to change the standard heights from rule of thumb, err on the side of too low rather than too high. Installing wainscot too high diminishes the appearance of a room, making it feel squat and out of proportion.

The Question of Width

Width is also important. If you're using panels, they should all be the same width. Avoid cutting the last panel to fit into a corner or doorway. Take some measurements, and divide the panels into equal widths before installing them for the best balance. If you're installing stile and rail trim over the paneling, space them equally for balance.

Under the Window

Avoid obvious seams and joints under windows. The panels should be the same width as the window for the best balance. Measure the width of the window, and cut the panel the same size. Use the measurement to cut the remainder of the panels on both sides of the window, if possible.