Wainscoting originated in England in the 1500’s. It was just a wall covering, and not the high-end treatment it can be today! Wainscoting can be applied in all sorts of forms, in any height, all the way from floor to ceiling. The name always brings up images to me of elegant studies, libraries, private clubs, and dining rooms. That wainscoting was usually crafted from the best grades of various hardwoods, usually oak or mahogany, and often accompanied by elaborate cornice mouldings and coffered or paneled ceilings. It could be quite elegant, if sometimes stuffy and overpowering. The woods tended to be stained dark. Wainscoting consisted of narrow stiles framing raised panels of an even higher grade of wood, such as birds-eye or burl patterns framed by quarter sawn stiles. Today, the trend is toward lighter woods, partway up the wall a height of say, 32″ to 42″, with a chair rail on top, often constructed of less expensive poplar, and paint a light color.
Barney & Carey recently supplied trim a luxury condominium project, for which the designer specified white painted poplar wainscoting, bookcases, chair rails, and cornices. Where use of a dark hardwood may have been overpowering, the off-white color gave the rooms a very crisp, open feeling. One owner also opted for an office and a four-season porch, both paneled and trimmed solely in clear vertical grain fir tongue and groove edge and center bead boards, 4″ wide. All baseboards, casings, and cornice mouldings were also of clear fir, which has a light to medium color, although it will darken with age and exposure to sunlight. The effect is spectacular, set off by a floor of reclaimed quarter sawn white oak, which we were able to obtain for the client.
The applications are endless, including use of chair rail height wainscoting in bathrooms! Beadboard used in some wainscoting is available in 4′ x 8′ sheets, usually made of plywood or composite materials, factory painted. It is inexpensive, and certainly less expensive to install; however, I don’t recommend it, because it looks like what it is: a cheaper form of paneling. Beadboard is also now made in tongue and groove boards of waterproof composite material, excellent for ceilings on outdoor porches, etc. Barney & Carey will provide everything from components to full panels of elaborate raised panel wainscoting, in the hardwood of your choice. The sky’s the limit!