Laying out wainscot paneling
Addressing common problems before layout helps ensure a trouble-free installation
Historically, most paneling in houses was wood. It was available, it was beautiful, and it was more durable than plaster. But solid wood has a pesky attribute: It moves as temperature and humidity change.
Our clever forebears figured out how to turn this limitation into an advantage. They floated panels in a railand-stile frame. The panels were beveled around the perimeter so that they were thick enough in the center not to warp, but thin enough at the edges to fit into the grooves or rabbets in the rails (horizontal pieces) and stiles (vertical pieces). Known as a raised panel, this design not only allows for wood’s natural movement but also creates attractive profiles and shadowlines. Around the turn of the 20th century, the advent of sheet goods meant that a thinner, flat, dimensionally stable panel could be used. In flat-panel construction, the rails and stiles are still grooved or rabbeted, but seasonal movement isn’t a concern. Composite paneling is a flat-panel system embellished with molding, or sticking, applied where the panel meets the rails and stiles.
History can help to guide your choice between raised and flat panel styles. Rooms that strive to achieve a colonial, French provincial, Victorian, or other period character predating the late-19th century are appropriately clothed in raised or composite paneling. Rooms that take their cues from the simpler styles of the mid-19th century on, including the Shaker, Craftsman, deco, and modern eras, will feel most at home with flat panels.
Wainscot paneling covers the wall to the height of a chair rail, typically 30 in. to 42 in. above the floor. It is a popular height for kitchens, breakfast areas, and dining rooms, where the paneling serves a protective as well as a decorative role. Taller paneling is appropriate in…