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How to wainscot a wall - A solution to the big blank wall dilemma

How to wainscot a wall - A solution to the big blank wall dilemma

Wainscot wall with gilded ballard designs mirror bari j designs

One of the most vexing decorating dilemmas is often the big blank wall. Sometimes it's a hallway and sometimes it can be a big living room wall. When we moved into our home in Charlotte, I had one such wall in our family room/tv room.

The TV hangs, by default over the fireplace (another discussion for another day), and to the left, there was a huge blank white wall. I'd wallpapered adjacent spaces, so wallpaper wasn't an option. And, with so many projects afoot in the house at the time, I ended up filling the wall with art (below). A gallery wall is certainly not a bad option. It worked for the time being. However, I always knew I wanted to do something special with that wall. A few months ago, it finally came to me after literally years of mulling it over. 

Gallery Wall

There's was quite a lot of millwork in this house already. The front hall is filled with beautiful wainscoting as is the dining room. All of the spaces have wonderful crown moldings. I decided to lean into this aesthetic in the family room. So my husband and I got to work the following weekend on wainscoting in that space as well.

entry hall with william morris wallpaper
Bari J. Mural in Dining room wainscoting

Before I go into detail on the rest of the room, I'll focus just on the main wall we added millwork to. If you want the rest of the room details, you can read on after the meat and potatoes portion of this post.

The first thing you want to understand is that the open rectangles are your drywall. The rectangles are created with 3.5" wide vertical boards. The bottom horizontal portion is your baseboard. Ours is 7.5" high. The middle portion would be considered like a chair rail. In our dining room there's chair rail molding on top of a 5.25" wide board that goes the length of the wall. Then on top before the crown molding there's another 5.25" wide board going the length of the wall (diagram below).

How to Wainscot a Wall: The Math

  1. Measure the full width of your wall
  2. Decide how many rectangles you'd like on the wall.
  3. Count how many vertical 3.5" wide boards you'll need to create the rectangles, starting and ending with a board. For instance, we did seven rectangles across our wall that meant that if we started and ended with a board, we'd have eight vertical boards total. It helps to draw this on a piece of paper.
  4. Multiply the number of boards you need by 3.5 (the width of the boards).
  5. Subtract that number by the width of your wall. That's how much space you have TOTAL for the rectangles. 
  6. Now divide that number by the number of rectangles you decided on. That is the width of each rectangle space.
  7. If this is number is a fraction, it will help round up or down and then start your rectangles in the middle of the wall, and work your way out from there. If the rectangles on the ends end up a 1/2" or so bigger than the others, it will not be noticable. There is no standard rule for the width of the rectangles, but we felt about 24" was most visually pleasing.
Wainscoting Diagram How to DIY

Once you have your measurements, you'll be able to add up all the lumber you will need for the project. Count both the baseboard if you don't have it already, middle and top boards plus chair rail if you are using it. We used both boards and picture frame molding inside those boards for an elegant, finished look. So if you are doing picture frame molding, you'll want to count that up too.

The most important part of wainscoting, like most projects, is really all in the planning. We filmed each step of cutting and hanging the millwork. You can find that in my  Instagram highlights under "wainscoting".

The details of the rest of the room:

As you can see, there were already book cases and cabinets surrounding the fireplace. We'd painted those Sage by Sherwin Williams when we moved in. I later painted all the crown molding in the space the same color. The room with all the wainscoting would also be painted Sage, I decided. 

Bari J. Built in Bookcases and wainscoting

At first we thought maybe we'd panel the big wall just to the chair rail height as is done in the dining room seen here. But when I thought about it, I decided that indeed, we needed to go to the ceiling height in this space. The point here was to fill a wall without pattern and minimal artwork because there's plenty of pattern in nearby spaces (see dining nook below). This needed to be a space that your eye can rest a bit. 

Bari J. Dining Nook with William morris wallpaper

As a sidenote, we didn't want to remove the crown molding to do the wainscoting as that would have opened a huge can of worms, so we do have a solution we will be implementing soon. It's not terribly noticeable that the top boards aren't under the crown molding. None the less, we will be adding a picture rail over the seam between the two pieces to create a transition. This is is a good solution if you have crown molding in place. Every situation will be different. Ours ended up looking just fine butted up to the crown but we decided we'd like this detail anyways.

There are, of course, other walls in this space. To be sure, we didn't leave the wall to the right of the bookcases out. This wall has a large picture window on it. Being there's limited upper space on this wall and that there's a transition to the breakfast nook with crown molding that is already capped, we decided to save ourselves massive headache cutting curves around the crown finish, and wainscot the bottom portion of this wall while painting the same color all the way to the top. Under the window are two narrow horizontal rectangles.

Picture window green wall wainscoting modern art
Sage Green Wainscoting with carved credenza pink sofa

 The next step in this project will be to add back in some more art! Likely these will be a few Bari J. framed prints flanking the mirror! Stay tuned for a post about accessorizing and bringing it all together.

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