Wainscoting is my favorite architectural element in a home. Whether you are building a new home or in the market to buy an existing one, don’t discount wainscoting as an impossible, difficult or too-expensive option. On the contrary…it’s one of the most inexpensive and easiest DIY upgrades you can tackle. (We know this now after upgrading our entire builders grade home!)
DIY Wainscoting Tutorial
Does wainscoting add value? // A similar trim package through our builder would have cost well over $30K. By installing wainscoting ourselves it saved us money while significantly increasing the value of our home. We listed our house at a price well above local listings because of our finishing touches, and a bidding war ensued with an offer $10K above our asking price! (See our whole-home transformation here).
For this initial project we added wainscoting to the right and left walls in our foyer. Although our home is open concept, the connecting foyer has 8′ ceilings.
Wainscoting Placement: How High?
Wainscoting should generally be 1/3 of the overall wall height. On our 8′ foyer walls this means our wainscoting should be 32″ at it’s highest point. However, in the context of our open concept house this seemed to short – so we raised ours to 36″. Keep in mind that we kept our 3 1/4″ builders-grade baseboards which came standard with the house. Eyeing up proportions is key.
Here is another great post discussing the height of wainscoting.
Wainscot Techniques & Profiles
Before you install wainscoting it’s important to choose a profile that complements your home’s architecture. There are many varieties of wainscoting to choose from, (an entire library can be found here). Our Colonial-style home called for a more classical colonial profile. Tip! Turn your trim sideways when you’re in the lumber aisle to ensure you’re keeping with a similar profile for all trimwork. This will keep your aesthetic complementary to the rest of the wall.
Some of Our Trim Pieces Are Upside Down
On top of the chair rail is an upside down, tiny piece of trim. It just felt more finished with that extra embellishment on top. There was no exact science to how we did our project. We did a lot of “eyeing up” the trim, experimenting with different layers until we ended up with the classic wainscoting look that we wanted.
Wainscoting Cost for the Hallway
- Total Cost: Depends on your space, but our initial 2 foyer walls cost under $500.
- Time Involved: One weekend (with the right tools and a good tutorial)
Click the Pink + to purchase and reserve your trim!
(affiliate links included throughout this post to make this project simpler for you)
- Chop saw and you’ll need to learn to cut 45″ angles
- A level
- Finishing nails
- Nail gun
- A pencil to draw lines on the wall
- Caulk with wet cloth to wipe excess
- Paint of your choice. We went to Home Depot and purchased Behr Semi Gloss White Interior Paint.
Wainscoting Steps & Tips:
Once you master how to cut 45 degree angles using a mitre saw remembering which angle to cut then you’re set. Any gaps, you simply fill in with caulk and smooth it with a wet cloth. It immediately closed all the gaps and made the wainscoting look like it was part of the house for years.
Eventually we added more wainscoting up the stairs but we saved that for another day.
Apply the chair rail first! // We find it helps you visualize the rest of placement. Two hand are needed to get the longer pieces secured. We glued them first, then attached using finishing nails and a nail gun (and be sure to hit a stud). In our case, our studs were randomly placed which caused our walls to be wavy (cheap builder!) I would highly recommend using a stud finder to avoid placing multiple holes in your walls.
I filled the nicks in the wall with a nail filler and a scraper. Then I sanded and primed.
Eventually we continued installing wainscot up the stairs, and around the corner where the basement door is (on the right). Note the front door is still white in this picture, and the oak railing painting project hadn’t taken place (yet).
My trick for caulking? I use a bathroom caulk since it expands/contracts more effectively with the varying humidity inside of my home. You simply lay a bead of caulk along the gaps and corners, then use a wet cloth to push the caulk down into the gaps and create a finished seam. Then use the same rag to clean up the excess. It fills the gaps and trims out the piece beautifully.
This convinced me that I wanted the rest of the interior doors black. What do you think?
We continued installing wainscot up the stairway and loved the results. What a difference! We couldn’t stop staring at the results after the first weekend we did it!!
See all of our foyer & entryway projects:
- Our foyer paint color
- Painted stair railing
- Frieze molding we added at the ceiling
- We learned how to make our own trim
- Painted interior doors black
- Gallery wall up the stairs
- Pergo flooring upgrade (whole home)
Some ask, “don’t you think wainscoting will go out of style??” My answer? And emphatic “NO!!”
I have lived in many old brownstone apartments which were built turn of the century with not only classing wainscoting but also built-in cabinetry, arched doorways, leaded glass cabinets, old radiator steam heat. I would say this architectural style is quite possibly is here to stay.
SHARE YOUR PROJECT PHOTOS!
If you’re one of many people that tried out our tutorial, I’d love to see YOUR results. Post your images below and let us know if we can make any improvements to our tutorial. Good luck!