Architecture magazines are keen to present high-style homes and decorating—that which is fine, large, urban. But the old house you inhabit was likely built in what was then a rural area, or in an early suburb. The house may not fit into any particular “style,” or be ornate, or have high ceilings. Its rooms would not have had expensive wallpaper imported from France or England hung above a mahogany linen-fold wainscot.
Paneling and wainscots were, however, used in even the simplest homes, as they are practical as well as attractive finishes for a plaster wall. Many were made of lower-grade wood, meant to be painted. Here you’ll see a handful of historic wainscots, mostly from what were once, or are still, farmhouses.
1. Board Wainscot [above]
Original woodwork in the dining room of an 1811 Federal house in Newport, Rhode Island, includes a simple board wainscot topped by a chair rail.
2. Victorian Beadboard
A varnished wainscot of beaded boards dates to the 1896 update of this bathroom in a simple Victorian farmhouse.
3. Cottage Beadboard
Beadboard continues to be the wainscot of choice in bathrooms and kitchens; this bathroom in a new old house has a typical cottage painted wainscot.
In an 1840 country Greek Revival house, a panel and molding detail is confined to the area under windows in the dining and living rooms.
5. Early Planks
A vine stencil fancies up the Federal-era parlor in a house with a 17th-century core; the wainscot is made up of three horizontal planks.
6. Battened Wall
A wainscot with horizontal emphasis is topped by vertical boards and battens for a fully paneled wall treatment in the parlor of an 1885 summer house.