Paint, wallpaper, and faux effects can be beautiful. But for adding classic character to a room, nothing beats wood. Learn about the different types of beaded board and paneling, plus get fresh ideas for how to use these detailed elements.


"Wood walls are the best way to warm up a house," says Atlanta-based designer Roman Hudson. But with so many choices available, how to start? Hudson offers some advice.

Q. When is beaded board appropriate?

A. Beaded board was the late-1800s version of Sheetrock, used when you couldn't afford plaster. There are several kinds. Narrow-plank beaded board (about 4-inch-wide boards with a bead every 2 inches) works best in service areas -- baths, kitchens, mudrooms, enclosed porches -- but never in formal rooms. Wide-plank beaded board (about 6 or 8 inches wide, separated by a single bead) is a little dressier and more sophisticated. It can go in service areas, too, but also in dens, libraries, powder rooms, and breakfast rooms. Both narrow- and wide-plank styles lend themselves beautifully to ceilings. Finally, there is V-groove beaded board, which actually has no bead, just a V-shape groove where the boards fit together. This is generally a rustic look -- very cottagey, very country. It's great in woodsy and beachy environments (where narrow beaded board works, too). Use it in bedrooms, entry halls, baths --anywhere you want to feel warm and cozy.

Q. Should beaded board be painted or natural? And how much does it cost?

A. In today's design schemes, beaded board is usually painted, but it looks good natural, too. It has great versatility. You can cover whole walls with it or use it as wainscoting up to chair-rail height. It's relatively inexpensive: about $2-$5 per square foot.

Q. What kind of character do wood-paneled rooms impart?

A. Paneling is for more formal, sophisticated looks. It can be used as wainscoting along a stairway and in formal powder rooms, living rooms, dining rooms, and libraries. And even though people do it, paneling should never be used in a kitchen.

Q. How about options and cost?

A. With paneling, you're basically dividing the wall into grids with square or rectangular sections that are recessed (approximately $4 per square foot) or raised (approximately $6 per square foot). These sections are usually outlined with applied decorative molding. Or you can have panels with no recessed or raised portions, just the applied molding, which is less expensive (approximately $2 per square foot). Paneling requires skilled labor, which makes it more expensive than beaded board. True early American panels were painted; staining didn't come along until the Gilded Age. But stained paneling should be strictly reserved for libraries. And with staining, you have to improve the grade of wood -- oak, cherry, walnut, mahogany -- which can triple your cost. For painted paneling, I recommend using poplar, which doesn't have knots like pine and doesn't warp or separate.

Q. Are there casual applications for paneling?

A. Not all wallboards have to run vertically. Using horizontal planks that are butt-jointed flat against each other with no applied moldings is a way to make a paneled room look relaxed. Whitewashing the planks creates a very beachlike feel. And this treatment averages $2 per square foot.

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