Design Definitions: What's the Difference Between Wainscoting and Beadboard?

An inexpensive alternative to tile, beadboard is a great choice for bathrooms because it is relatively durable, can be painted any color, and can be installed at any height. While you often see it in traditional or rustic bathrooms, bead board does not have to impart a cutesy country feel. It can be positively sleek and cool. And best of all, beadboard can add a new visual contrast to any remotely blah bathroom.

To save you money and time, contractors may install whole sheets of beadboard instead of placing each piece by piece. And beadboard now comes in all kinds of materials from MDF to PVC. And, of course, beadboard can be used elsewhere in the house: as a kitchen backsplash, on the ceiling, on cabinets or on any interior wall.

So, what exactly is beadboard?

Beadboard crops up in cabinetry and on ceilings and sometimes covers an entire wall. But you are probably most familiar with it as beadboard wainscoting in the bathroom. In other words, the beadboard comes about 1/3 up the sides of the wall, with the chair rail at the top and the baseboard at the bottom.

Many people use wainscoting and beadboard interchangeably, so the terms can be confusing. Here's the difference:

Wainscoting is a kind of wood paneling used for centuries as both decorative accents, insulation and to prevent (and cover up) water damage on walls. Originally riven oak boards would cover the entire wall, but in the 1700s panelling began to cover only the lower part of the wall.

The key elements of any kind of wainscoting are the panel and the frame around that panel. This frame comprises four pieces: the top and bottom rails and the two side pieces (aka the stiles).

Often the type of panel used determines the name of the wainscoting, such as these common versions:
raised-panel wainscoting,
flat-panel wainscoting
board-and-batten
and…
beadboard wainscoting.

Which brings us back to beadboard:
Beadboard is a row of narrow wood planks lined up vertically. In between each wood plank is a little indentation or ridge--also known as a "bead". These days most 'beadboard' comes in long, monolithic sheets that are easy to install and imitate the look of narrow vertical planks.

1 Here's a nice transitional bathroom with beadboard wainscoting. Not too country or shabby chic. John Lum Architecture on Houzz.

2Great diagram of wainscoting from Elite Trimworks http://elitetrimworks.com/wainscot-panels-trims/

3 A visual guide to different kinds of wainscoting from The Eagle's Nest.

4 A homeowner puts together his own beadboard wainscoting with MDF panels that fit easily together. DIY Network

5 Here in this San Francisco bathroom, the beadboard wainscoting goes up higher than nornmal. Hooked on Houses

Read more about wainscoting and beadboard at This Old House and eHow.

(Images: as linked above)