past & present

Architectural Details: Wainscoting vs. Beadboard

by Amy Azzarito


Text by Amy Azzarito. Design by Maxwell Tielman.

I don’t know about you, but when I see beadboard wainscoting, I think of a little cottage by the beach. Wainscoting can be traced back to 16th century England as a solution to counteract the damp and cold stone walls. Wainscot usually consists of three parts – a baseboard moulding, a dado rail and the panels. But you can also create wainscoting simply by painting the lower third of your wall a different color.

Beadboard was the workhorse of the Victorian house because it was made from wood scraps, it was inexpensive and could be easily installed. It was used for parts of the house hidden from public view – the kitchen, back halls, servant rooms. It was never intended to be a showcase material but during the height of beadboard popularity it was used throughout summer houses (and at the beach!). But it wasn’t only used as wainscoting. In the 1700s, it was commonly used in built-in china cupboards as a backdrop to display glasses and dishware. Today, those early examples of wainscoting are worth thousands of dollars. These days, if you like the look, you don’t even need wood. Martha Stewart has a paintable beadboard wallpaper sold through Home Depot.

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  • Our 1919 built cottage (Perth, Australia) has this, and I LOVE it! We painted it white last weekend and the top half of the wall is now black. Only one thing is you gotta be really thorough with your dusting :)