Adding Wainscotting in the Dining Room

Mar 23, 2020 | Dining Room, Projects

So… is it wainscoting, wainscotting, or wainscoating? I’ve seen all three in researching this project… However it’s spelled, this project was time consuming, tyme consuming, and time consumming! (See what I did there ?! 🙂 ).

I definitely wavered in deciding to do this project. Initially we weren’t in a “let’s think about moving” mindframe so I thought that we should do this project for us, for the long haul. So it was a GO! Then we shifted gears to thinking that we might move so I just wanted to get the room “seller ready” which didn’t mean doing an in-depth, difficult project. I just needed to take off the wallpaper that was fraying, paint the room a neutral color, then call it a day. Yeah, well the wallpaper was installed over 20 years ago and was stuck tight to the drywall so I was back to thinking about wainscoting to cover the wallpaper so that I didn’t have to rip it off.

Before embarking on a project that I’ve never done before, I turn to my trusted source for all things DIY- YouTube. I have learned so much from YouTube over the years from how to blow insulation into my attic to how to perform heart surgery (there really are how to’s on heart surgery, so in an emergency, call me… just kidding, please don’t). I start with YouTube to figure out if the project is something that is doable for my skill set so my initial search is pretty superficial, then I turn to Pinterest to get specific ideas.

This is the screenshot that I took from Pinterest that was my inspiration photo.

Once I have a clear idea of what I want, I then go to YouTube again to learn specific skills. In this case it was a reorientation to my miter saw because I hadn’t used it in a while, followed by how to make specific cuts on my saw, followed by how to spackle like a pro, finished with how to paint wood so that there are no brush strokes.

I always underestimate the time it will take to do a project. Always! But this time I was way off. I thought it would take a week at the most but it took almost 4 weeks. That was mostly because I really wanted the wainscotting to look like one seamless piece and not like I slapped boards to trim pieces to quarter round. So, I had to basically skim coat (aka: apply spackle EVERYWHERE) to get rid of the seams.

But, let’s take a step back and start from the beginning… After getting my inspiration photo, I went to Home Depot and just started looking at their lumber/trim pieces to come up with my “look.” This part was fun because it was sort of like putting a puzzle together. I grabbed a bunch of pieces that I thought might work and brought them home intending to do a mock up on one wall to see what pieces would work the best.

I came up with this initial design:

But after looking at it from a bunch of different angles, I really didn’t like this one part:

I thought it stuck out from the wall too much and because it’s a small room to begin with, I didn’t want all the furniture to not lie as flat as possible against the walls. So I nixed that top part and went with this instead as my final design so that the top part didn’t stick out so much:

So, my first panel looked like this:

Wainscotting Side View

I know it’s rough looking and part of that is because I had just gotten my new nail gun and I was totally trigger happy. But I calmed down after a while… After this section was spackled, caulked, and painted, there wasn’t any evidence of my murderous tendencies!

Starting from the bottom, I used three 2 1/2 inch boards stacked on top of one another making sure that the first board was flush to the floor then adjusting the 2nd board (that was hidden behind the baseboard) to be completely level as measured by a level.

I used those same boards from the vertical pieces and also the top piece of the box (before the trim pieces). I then used a finger joint cove piece to frame out the boxes:

Then the top 2 pieces are (starting from the bottom):

And for the very top trim piece:

After everything was applied to the walls, I had this:

I then caulked all the small seams to include the corners of the window boxes and where the baseboards met the board on bottom.

Now came the tedious part… spackling so that the trim pieces around the boxes blended seamlessly into the boards all around the frames.

This is after a couple coats of spackle. Another 1 billion coats to go before it looks seamless. As least that’s what it felt like!

This part took forever because I needed to apply so many coats of spackle then wait for each coat to dry before sanding and applying more. And the dust! IT. WAS. EVERYWHERE!!! By the end, I was like screw it! I need to do an easy project in between spackling and caulking so that’s when I installed shiplap and shelves in my laundry room because it was a quick project with quick results unlike the wainscotting.

You don’t have to go spackle crazy like I did though. In fact, YoungHouseLove did a similar project and they didn’t worry about having the frames blend into the boards and their project turned out great!

Young House Love– You can see that there are distinct window frames around the boxes and it still looks great!

And after trying out a bunch of paint swatches on the wall, I ended up going with Amherst Gray on the bottom and Revere Pewter on top, both by Benjamin Moore and the end product looked great! It was worth the effort!

And after moving in furniture:

The list of tools and items you’ll need for this project (besides the wood mentioned above) are:

  • miter saw (this one is affordable with awesome reviews)
  • nail gun (I love this one!)
  • spackle
  • spackle knife
  • caulk
  • caulk gun
  • level
  • tape measurer
  • stud finder
  • sandpaper
  • paint
  • paint brush

Some tips that I learned from this project:

Start your “test” wall in an inconspicuous area. I got too eager to start and began putting the wainscotting together right where you walk into the room. Bad move! You’ll get better as you go along with cutting, nailing, caulking, spackling, and painting so start in an area maybe behind your furniture or curtains if possible.

Allow for a lot of time for this project. It WILL take longer than you think so don’t start it when you have company coming in a couple weeks. You won’t be done by then!

Decide from the beginning if you want the wainscotting to look like one seamless piece (harder) or if you’re okay with at least the window box trim looking not being seamless (so much easier). I’m a perfectionist so I wanted the seamless look and it took so much effort but next time, I don’t think I’ll be so picky.

Know that by doing this project yourself, you will be saving thousands of dollars in labor by not hiring someone, but there’s a reason for that. This project takes a long time and you need to have some skill for cutting and measuring properly as well as a lot of patience. I talked with my sister who hired a contractor to do this work for her medical office and it cost $2K for one wall that was wainscotted that was not nearly as big as my entire dining room. So, you can definitely save some serious cash doing it yourself.

Well, those are my words of wisdom… peace be with you if you attempt this project. Just know that the end result is so worth it. Sort of. But mostly.

Questions? Let me know!