A Brief History of Wainscoting: How a Little ‘Wall Candy’ Goes a Long Way

Spread the love


Wainscoting doesn’t just look elegant, it simply is one of the world’s oldest
forms of custom-made decor. Before built-ins and factory grade wood, elegant
moldings, paneling, chair rails and the like were often carved out of marble.
The more elegant and rare the wainscoting, the better. Originating in 16th
century England,
wainscoting came from humble beginnings, but nowadays it is synonymous with
higher-end homes, restored bungalows, and the casual elegance that every home

The Humble Beginnings – The Band-Aid of Wall Coverings

Originally wainscoting wasn’t the status symbol it is today. In fact, it was
used as a mask to cover up unwanted dampness in the lower part of the wall by
early English homeowners. In a climate where rain is the most common forecast,
it was a problem that would often crop up. Today, homeowners have better ways
to deal with accumulation of wetness, but back then improper insulation,
plumping, and poor drainage led to the invention of wainscoting for private
residences. Since then, it has become less of a moisture-hiding band-aid and
more of an element of prestige.

Once people caught on that the look of wainscoting could completely transform a
room they began wanting the panels to stretch even higher. The average height
of full paneled wainscoting skyrocketed from 42 inches high to 72 inches high
during the 1900s. A lot of homes built during this era have dining rooms with
near floor to ceiling wainscoting. This is one way to transform a dull dining
room into something worthy of an English manor even today.

Types of Wainscoting: 3 Different Levels & Styles

In days of old, marble and cloth were the two materials of choice for
wainscoting. Depending on the room and the practicality of the materials, these
were often debated upon and chosen between. Obviously linen and cotton would be
the more inexpensive choice, so even the material of your wainscoting could be
a reflection of your status in bygone eras.

Today, however cloth and marble wainscoting are nowhere to be found. Both are
rather ridiculous material choices for wear and wallet. Instead, today you can
find yourself choosing between wooden raised panel, flat panel, and bead board.
Raised panel wainscoting is perfect for colonial style homes that prefer a
traditional look. 

For modern or mission style homes, recessed or flat panel
wainscoting works best. It offers a clean, simple look, and flat paneled
wainscoting works well for Arts & Crafts inspired styles as well. Bead board
is the choice for shabby chic decorators, cozy cottages and cabins.

Wainscoting Installation: DIY or Don’t Even Try?

Depending on the intricacy of your moldings, the measurements of your
installment, and the number of pieces to be put together, a wainscoting project
can wear on even the most handy of souls. If you choose tongue and groove
molding, or an intricate crown molding that requires a lot of fitting, cutting
and measuring it is best to leave the installation to the professionals.

While it may be a bit more costly, the finished look will be even and
streamlined. A professional job will seem like it was always meant to be
married to that wall. As a DIY job? You
may be more inclined to see your installation imperfections. No matter what
your style is, if you are looking to add an element of warmth and elegance to
your home- wainscoting has been dong that job well for centuries.