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Tips on incorporating wainscoting into your home decor

Wainscoting is ideal for areas that are seen a lot, like foyers, entertainment spaces and family rooms. (Scott Davis)

Architectural details such as wainscoting, coffered ceilings, crown moldings and beadboard panels, often associated with traditional homes, can be introduced to nearly any home regardless of the style. Wainscoting was originally used to insulate the bottom half of plaster walls, add durability and to protect the walls from dirt. Today, wainscoting, which traditionally covers the lower half of walls, is purely decorative.

While it’s common to see some of these details in newly built homes or in restored older ones, we asked Tom Fox, co-owner with his wife Cara Fox of the Fox Group, a design and construction firm in Salt Lake City, for advice about how to introduce wainscoting into an existing home. He replied via email.

Q: Is it difficult to add wainscoting to an existing home?

A: There are a handful of different wainscoting or paneling techniques that you can implement in a room. Some are really intricate and difficult, and thus the space must be all drywall and a blank slate. It’s difficult to do the more formal wainscoting in an existing home. When this is not an option, “plant-on” wainscoting is still amazing and can be added to an existing home. Essentially, plant-on wainscoting consists of planting a piece of molding directly over the drywall and making boxes out of it. You can even add plant-on to the crown molding. It’s a really simple way of doing it while still achieving that beautiful, timeless look.

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Q: Can wainscoting be incorporated into modern or transitional-style homes or is it only for a traditional home?

A: I would say wainscoting is probably not a great option for modern or contemporary spaces. Usually modern or contemporary spaces are characterized by clean lines and a restrained approach to textures on the walls. You can absolutely add wainscoting in a transitional style home, and we’ve seen it in those applications. More contemporary shapes like squares work well in a transitional setting. But obviously the best setting for wainscoting is in classical, timeless homes.

Q: Where and how can wainscoting be used most effectively?

A: An effective room to incorporate wainscoting would have to be the first impression room, the foyer. When choosing where to include wainscoting, it’s important to choose a room that is going to be seen a lot, whether it is frequented by guests, like the foyer or entertaining spaces, or it is the room that the homeowners spend the most time in, where they will appreciate it the most. This might be a family room or a master bedroom. If the budget isn’t big, we would recommend the plant-on application rather than raised panel, which requires a lot more labor and materials.

Q: How do homeowners avoid overdoing with wainscoting?

A: I personally don’t think there can be too much wainscoting. If I had a budget to do it in every room, I would design every room to have a different wall treatment. There can be too much of the same wainscoting, so to avoid this I like to mix it up in shape and style. Another application to avoid is treating the ceilings and the walls. Instead, pick one or the other.

Q: Can you give me an idea of the cost to add wainscoting to an existing home?

A: Raised panel wainscoting is probably double, if not triple the cost of plant-on wainscoting. The pricing encompasses more than just the wainscoting itself, but also the labor and the paint that goes on top. For a frame of reference in terms of pricing, plant-on molding in a dining room would cost somewhere around $5,000. Raised panel in a dining room would be somewhere around $10,000 or $15,000.

Q: Are there regions or home styles where you see wainscoting used more often?

A: Wainscoting is common in the Eastern Seaboard and Southern parts of the United States. Typically, the more established areas that have been around for longer have these elements. Because of this, it has historically not been done in Utah, but we’re trying to change that. The reason wainscoting is so great is because it adds a classic and timeless feel that you can instantly achieve when building a home, instead of waiting for it to age 200 years. Wainscoting brings overall character to a project or a room instantly.

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