Beadboard Wainscoting Design Ideas

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Beadboard wainscoting is a traditional wall treatment that uses thin, vertical wood paneling. It can be utilized as an accent or as a partial or complete wall covering. Beadboard is distinctive for its narrow, vertical grooves that look like closely spaced slats. This gives it a very structured and geometric look that can appear crisp very appealing. Wainscoting is the term applied to lining the lower half of a wall with panels, of which the beadboard style is an option.

Although beadboard has be used for many years, the potential applications for beadboard have recently taken off. In years past, beadboard was almost always applied to walls vertically, but that's not true anymore. Today, applying beadboard horizontally is becoming much more popular. It's an interesting design option, too. Applied vertically, beadboard would make a small, high ceilinged bathroom look impossibly tall and narrow. Applied horizontally, it would make that same room look spacious and better proportioned. It's an optical illusion, sure, but one that can solve a pesky design problem.

Traditional Beadboard Wainscoting Design Ideas

Beadboard wainscoting has a very distinctive look that's usually associated with cottage and farmhouse decor. It's also often applied as a partial wall covering that uses a chair rail or other trim piece. There are different types of beadboard, too:

  • Structurally it can be made of a single piece of wood with decorative grooves cut into it. Most modern beadboard is constructed this way.
  • It can also be made up of tongue and groove pieces constructed to fit together like puzzle pieces. This second option is the oldest and most traditional beadboard design. It gives us clues to its original use, too. Separate pieces of wood working together can expand and contract easily without splitting or cracking. That made beadboard an effective choice for installations that experienced weather extremes or high humidity. Using strips of wood instead of one large, expensive panel was also an economical option.
  • Although beadboard has traditionally been an all wood material, that isn't true anymore. There are now vinyl beadboard options on the market, too. Using a synthetic product has some advantages you might want to consider. It is less prone to warping, easier to clean and may be easier to install as well. The down side to vinyl beadboard is that it is currently somewhat less readily available than wood beadboard, and it is a more expensive choice.
beadboard wainscoting design ideas beadboard wainscoting design ideas

Beadboard Accent Ideas

Even though beadboard is best known as a wall covering, it can also be used as a wall accent. In fact, it’s becoming more popular as a decorative accent these days than as a whole room option. This makes good sense. Covering four walls with wood (or synthetic) paneling can get expensive. When you use it on an accent wall or in another application, you get the decorative benefit at a fraction of the cost. Here are some suggestions you might try:

  • Decorative kitchen backsplash
  • Backing for wall mounted shelves
  • A tub surround
  • Ceiling treatment between beams
  • Ceiling treatment on a porch
  • Ceiling treatment in a sunroom
  • As a decorative folding screen or other room divider
  • Vertically along a staircase
  • As an alternative to decorative tile in a bathroom (vinyl beadboard)
  • As a fireplace treatment, bar back (or front panel) or window seat treatment

The Ups and Downs Of Beadboard Wainscoting

Beadboard can look dramatic, charming, modern or traditional depending on where you put it. There may be some drawbacks to using it in certain applications, though:

  • Water damage - Wooden beadboard is as susceptible to water damage as any other wood product. If you're planning on using it on a ceiling, it may be worth spending a little more and choosing vinyl beadboard instead of wood.
  • Flexibility - Beadboard looks like -- beadboard. If you get tired of the look in a couple of years, it's harder to remove and redo than just slapping on a coat of paint. Paint effects are less expensive, too.
  • Finished - Where you may get a dramatic finished look with some wall painting techniques, nothing beats a real wall covering for a designer finish. It may even increase the value of your home.
  • DIY or not - Most how-to articles that discuss installing beadboard rate it as a relatively simple process, but you'll still have to work around the fixtures in the room like switches and wall sockets, as well as cut around vents and window openings. You will also have to know (or learn) how to use a stud finder and nail gun. There will be sawing and sanding involved as well. After the board is in place, you may still have to paint or stain it. It's definitely a DIY project, but for an experienced weekend warrior.

The Modern Face of Beadboard Wainscoting

Beadboard wainscoting is on the rise. That means if you install them today, they will still look fresh and fashionable a few years from now. That makes them a stable value with staying power. After all, beadboard has been a fixture in homes for over 200 years. Discuss the options with your designer or visit your home improvement outlet for ideas and instructions. You'll like the look.

Last Updated: May 13, 2012
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About Sara Elliot Sara Elliott is a freelance copywriter and dedicated blogger. Her popular gardening, cooking and crafting blog, The Herb Gardener, was cited by The Wall Street Journal for its fun and frugal tips. Sara has a degree in English, and you can find her health, crafting, and lifestyle pieces on sites like DiscoveryHealth.com, HowStuffWorks.com, Savvi.com and TLC.com.

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