Gorgeous Wainscoting Ideas for Every Room

Here’s how to utilize the traditional millwork technique known as wainscoting to bring out the best in your space.

white wainscoting trim bedroom
Photo: Annie Schlechter

Whether your home is a new build or comes with 100 years of character, whether you’re looking to create a more custom feel in your home or need ideas for updating existing millwork, these wainscoting ideas for every room can help bring out the best in your space.

What Is Wainscoting?

First, let’s get down to basics. Wainscoting is a type of wood paneling that’s both decorative and functional as it can protect against foot scuffing and marks, particularly in higher-traffic areas like mudrooms, foyers, and baths. It’s traditionally applied to the lower portion of a wall but, these days, designers and homeowners alike are opting for varying heights, styles, and design elements to prevent wainscoting from feeling dated.

Wainscoting Design Ideas

Here, you’ll find wainscoting ideas to help you reimagine existing wainscoting or inspire you to add decorative wood paneling anywhere a little interest is needed. 

01 of 10

Consider Height

Bedroom with Shiplap Wainscoting

Jean Allsopp

Traditional wainscoting is typically somewhere between 32-to-42-inches high, but that's not always the case. Ceiling height must be a consideration. In this space with soaring walls, even 42-inch wainscoting would seem out of place. Opting instead for a more height-appropriate application draws the eye up and highlights the cathedral ceiling. 

02 of 10

Make It Bold

Marble sink mounted on wall in bathroom

Werner Segarra

Wainscoting is often viewed as a more traditional design detail, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. In this powder room, wainscoting takes centerstage with a coat of turquoise paint in a high-gloss finish that gives the feature extra luster. The wall-mounted sink is framed within the wall paneling for a custom look that's both fresh and timeless. 

03 of 10

Marry Function and Style

objects hanging on wooden walls corner at home

Adam Albright

Bring wainscoting down to earth with durable beadboard to suit both the functionality and style of your space. Beadboard delivers a cottage feel but it gets extra credit with the addition of pegs that are perfect for hanging miscellaneous items that need a quick drop-and-grab spot. Just above the storage pegs in this entryway, a picture ledge allows the homeowner to bring a dose of personality into the mix with art and other small decorative items. 

04 of 10

Wrap the Space in Wainscoting

study with black walls, white ceiling and natural rug, white sofa; greenish yellow chairs, polka dot ottoman

Brie Williams

If you’re looking to elevate a space, particularly a smaller, more intimate room like a study or dining room, wrapping the entire space in wainscoting delivers warmth and an undeniable style-forward aesthetic. Keeping the walls and architectural details, from the crown molding to the windows, swathed in a single hue ensures the space doesn’t feel too busy by letting the wainscoting panels and details lend a more subtle effect. If a space is in need of interest, installing wainscoting from floor to ceiling is a surefire way to add a dose of pizzazz. 

05 of 10

Elevate a Staircase

red and blue entryway staircase with gold accents

Anthony Masterson

A staircase can sometimes get away with being bare bones, but when it’s a focal point of an entryway, unassuming just won’t do. Jazzing up a stair wall with wainscoting is one way to dress up an entry, but it can quickly become overly formal. Paint wainscoting and stair risers the same color to keep the look cohesive and allow you to play with color on the wall above the millwork. 

06 of 10

Give It a Coastal Feel

Bath with marble countertops, wood paneled ceiling, and wainscoting on walls

Jean Allsopp

Wainscoting might conjure up visions of your mom’s dining room circa 1994, which—though lovely—is probably not the look you’re going for in your primary bathroom. Consider how wainscoting can be applied in a way that works with your aesthetic. For instance, consider using shiplap as wainscoting. Just as more traditional wainscoting would be out of place in this coastal bathroom, so too would a full wall of shiplap. Combining the two creates a coastal cottage feel that's just right.  

07 of 10

Create a Focal Point

Interior of bathroom with pendant light hanging over bathtub

Laura Moss

There are many ways to carve out a focal point in a space, but it’s hard to replicate the clean lines, crisp details, and understated elegance of a bathroom wrapped floor-to-ceiling in expertly crafted millwork. A row of shelves is built into this bath nook with overhead lighting to draw attention to the displays within. Overhead, a pendant light plays off the elegance of the bathroom wainscoting, providing a finishing touch that illuminates the space in all its glory.

08 of 10

Enhance Architectural Features

Round room entryway foyer with pedestal table

Tria Giovan

Sometimes architectural features need a spotlight to come out of their shell. Here, wainscoting with a more minimalistic approach highlights a half-rotunda of windows. The result is millwork that doesn’t compete with the windows for attention, instead enhancing the sun-drenched space. To keep a wainscoting design subtle, paint it the same color as your walls.

09 of 10

Bring Vintage Charm

green bathroom with wallpaper and paneling

Edmund Barr

Beadboard wainscoting will never get old, though it certainly knows how to deliver old-world charm. Consider how you can use both paint color and pattern in a space to further the vintage feel. Here, a deeper color found within the patterned wallpaper is applied to the millwork throughout the space for cottage vibes from a bygone era. 

10 of 10

Keep It Functional

Grasscloth wallpaper in mudroom with wainscoting

Nathan Schroder

Wainscoting is often thought of as a style upgrade, but it can also play a more functional role in high-traffic spaces. While grass cloth makes for a stunning wallcovering, it can be both expensive and hard to clean. Keeping the statement-maker to the top portion of the wall where it’s out of reach of foot scuffs and the littlest (and stickiest) hands is one way to play it safe. To make the most of a high-traffic space like a mudroom, use high-quality paint in a finish that is easily wipeable. It’ll set you up for success—and fewer touchups. 

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