Design Ideas for Painting on Wainscoting

Wainscoting is decorative paneling attached to an inside wall. The most common version is a wide panel along the bottom third of the wall, but the term applies to any kind of paneling or facing. Wainscoting can be a subtle texturing device or an eye-catching style statement; either way, it helps define the character of your home. As a design feature, wainscoting is inherently classic, and you can choose to maximize that effect or minimize it.

  1. Dramatic

    • In a room with dark walls and high ceilings, try installing a slender horizontal panel one-third of the way up the walls. Paint the wainscoting and the wall below in a much lighter color than the room's primary tone. A crisp white or cream around the bottom of the room, bordered by the three-dimensional detail of the wainscoting strip in the same white, will highlight the drama of the dark paint. Simultaneously, the lighter portion will lighten the room as a whole, making it a more pleasant space without detracting from the effect of the darker color.

    Clean

    • Paint the lip of the wainscoting and the panel below to match.
      Paint the lip of the wainscoting and the panel below to match.

      In a child's bedroom, a farm-style bathroom or a cramped hallway, go for the clean look of complementary two-tone walls. Paint the walls a cream, beige or pastel color; then choose a color two or three shades lighter on the same paint card for the wainscoting. The panels will add texture and variety to the walls without chopping up the space, drawing too much attention or making the room feel smaller. Alternatively, if the wainscoting is near the ceiling, paint the walls a medium-pale color. Then paint the wainscoting and the strip of wall above it to match the ceiling.

    Modern Classic

    • High-contrast wainscoting brings a contemporary lift to a room.
      High-contrast wainscoting brings a contemporary lift to a room.

      For a classic look with a slightly funky, modern twist, use contrast to make the wainscoting stand out from the walls, which will highlight the Victorian influence of the paneling without looking old-fashioned. Paint the walls a rich or vibrant color, such as a marigold yellow or a deep violet. Paint the strips and panels of the wainscoting in a pure white. The walls will leap into three dimensions, drawing the eye to the geometric design of the paneling.

    Subtle

    • Painting the walls in one color gives the wainscoting a subtle effect.
      Painting the walls in one color gives the wainscoting a subtle effect.

      To give a room an inviting complexity that feels designed but not imposing, paint the wainscoting in exactly the same color as the rest of the walls. The more detailed the paneling work, the more shaded and defined the walls will appear. Far from making the textured decoration disappear, this design tactic provides a streamlined and subtle touch. This monochrome style suits a sleek downtown loft, a classy bachelor pad or any room that needs a modern, sophisticated touch.

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