Paint Ideas for Wainscoting

Wainscoting is a broad term referring to trim that is added to the bottom quarter of the wall. The type of material used can be wood paneling, trim or intricate molding. Interiors have used wainscoting for architectural design and visual appeal since the late 1500s. Though there is no structural purpose for wainscoting, the added feature adds contrast and design to a wall. Wainscoting is commonly painted to match existing trim in a home; however, employing different paint colors and treatments adds character and personality to a home's interior design.

  1. Stenciled Designs

    • Wainscoting often has picture-frame elements. Inside each square area, a stenciled design can be painted in flourishes or fleur de lis patterns. Other design elements can include small vignettes or mural scenes similar to those on toile fabric.


    • Adding a colorwash--a glazed decorative paint treatment--will add an antiqued look to the wainscoting. The glaze will collect in the grooves of the wood. Glaze is made by mixing 1 quart glaze with 1 gallon of paint--a 1:4 ratio. Use a darker paint color than the existing trim color, and apply the glaze to the wainscoting using rags and brushes, lightly stippling it on. Wipe off as much as you wish depending on the look you are after.


    • Painting wainscoting a rich metallic bronze or copper adds visual interest. Metallic paint should be applied on a dark primed surface. Black or dark brown tinted primer works best. Metallic paint is very translucent and may need several coats.

    Antiqued Aged Wood

    • For an extreme aged look, wainscoting can be heavily distressed. First, use nails, hammers and other materials to create dings and nicks in the wood. Paint the wood a base color. Once dry, choose a secondary color to apply over the top. An example color combination includes black as a first coat, and blue as a secondary. Using rough sandpaper, remove the first coat of paint on corners and edges to reveal the underlying coat.


    • To mimic the look of real stone, wainscoting can be plastered. Plaster such as joint compound can be applied to the wood using a putty knife or by hand. Once dry, sand down all loose pieces and points. Wipe all dust away. Paint the plaster a desired color such as beige or tan. Adding a glaze treatment over top adds depth and dimension, and will make the faux stone look more realistic.

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