What Is the Difference Between Wainscoting and Beadboard?

Linda Zukauskas

Wainscoting refers to a decorative wall treatment that covers the lower three or four feet of an interior wall. You can use almost any material to wainscot a wall, including wood, tile, plaster, marble or paint. Early English settlers brought wainscoting to the U.S.

, probably to recall the history and architectural character of homes they left behind. Beadboard is one of the many wood options that you can choose to wainscot your wall. It is a less formal option than raised or flat wood panels, yet still brings a great deal of architectural character to a room.

Characteristics of Beadboard

Modern beadboard comes in large sheets, less than 1/4 inch thick. It has an alternating pattern of bands, one thick followed by one thin, to mimic traditional tongue and groove paneling. You can use beadboard to give a “cottage” décor to your vacation home, foyer, hallway and bathrooms.

Uses of Beadboard

Beadboard is a decorative treatment and has many uses in addition to wainscoting. For example, cupboards from the 1700s used beadboard as a backdrop to the china and crystal displayed inside. Surviving examples of this carpentry can fetch thousands of dollars at auction in 2010. As wainscoting, you may find it easy to apply a sheet of beadboard to a wall with glue and nails, yet still create the strong impression of fine carpentry.

Characteristics of Wainscoting

You can create wainscoting by simply painting a different color on the lower third of your wall. A good way to finish off this type of decoration is by covering the border between the two colors with a piece of molding. This is often called a chair rail because it is where the back of a chair could touch the wall. Although more expensive and more challenging to install than paint, wood wainscoting may be a more enduring choice because it will not show scratches or dirt as easily as paint.

Uses of Wainscoting

In 2010, renovators added mahogany wainscoting to the dining room of a 108-year-old house in Cambridge, Massachusetts to bring back the original grandeur of the house. On a more practical note, tile wainscoting in a bathroom can protect the walls from splashes and make it easy to keep the room clean and sanitized.