Beadboard Vs. Wainscoting: Do You Know the Difference?

updated Jan 30, 2024
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(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

It’s one thing to paint the walls or paint the ceilings in your home, but for an added dose of charm, you might consider adding paneling or some kind of wood treatment to your walls. That’s where beadboard comes in. Not only does it add visual interest to any wall, but it’s also relatively durable, inexpensive, paintable, and can be installed at any height for a custom look. While you often see beadboard in more traditional style homes or rustic settings, beadboard doesn’t have to impart a cutesy farmhouse design feel; it can be positively sleek and cool.

Many people get beadboard confused with wainscoting, though, and that makes sense, considering they’re somewhat similar. Here, we’ll distill the differences between these two types of wall treatmens and look at some examples of beadboard so you can decide how to use it for your DIY project. 

What is Beadboard?

A type of wood paneling that can be used for walls or ceilings, “beadboard” as a term refers to a row of narrow wood planks made of tongue-and-groove panels lined up vertically on a wall. In between each wood plank is a little indentation or ridge, also known as a “bead.” The vertical boards are capped off by strips of horizontal molding — cap rails and baseboard, for the top and bottom respectively —which finish off the seams. Beadboard provides a fairly easy way to add visual charm to plain drywall, and nowadays, it’s typically sold in pre-determined widths. Depending on your wall type and the location of the studs, beadboard can either be glued or nailed to the wall.

Wainscoting vs. Beadboard

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

The term wainscoting is broader and refers to any decorative paneling used as a wall accent, either for insulation, decoration, or to prevent (and cover up) damage to walls. Wainscoting is typically is made of wood and covers the lower portion of an interior wall. The two key elements of any kind of wainscoting are the panel and the frame. This frame comprises four pieces: the top and bottom rails and the two side pieces (aka the stiles).

The type of panel used determines the style of the wainscoting, and options include raised-panel wainscoting, flat-panel wainscoting, board and batten wainscoting, overlay-panel wainscoting, and bead-panel wainscoting, or beadboard.

How to Install Beadboard

These days most modern beadboard comes in long, monolithic sheets that imitate the look of narrow vertical planks and traditional tongue and groove paneling. You can install these in larger sections, with some glue and nails, instead of placing each individual board piece by piece. And it’s no longer necessarily wood: Beadboard often comes in all kinds of more inexpensive and/or durable materials, from MDF to vinyl. It’s an easy DIY project that gives the illusion of fine carpentry.

Ways to Use Beadboard in Bathrooms

Beadboard can be used anywhere in the house — on the ceiling, as a kitchen backsplash — but it’s most often found in bathrooms. Check out these beadboard ideas to get inspired to install your own.

Green appeal

This lovely beadboard bathroom by @thebestnestdecor features wide-paneled beadboard in a green hue. I love the way it combines with the black and white in this bathroom, and how it gives a serene, peaceful vibe to the space. 

Clean and minimalist

You can really see the added texture provided by the white beadboard in this bathroom. Here, @landjdesignandrenovation used it as a type of accent wall, serving as a backdrop for two modern, circular mirrors and a dramatic light fixture. 

Clear contrast

This funky bathroom by utilizes basic white beadboard, but they’ve brought it about three-quarters high and juxtaposed it with some seriously snazzy black and white wallpaper. There’s a good chance no guest will soon forget this bathroom! 

Credit: @dallasbonds

Nothing but beadboard

This cool blue bathroom features floor-to-ceiling beadboard on all four walls! Creator @dallasbonds painted the beadboard a powder blue to serve as a calming backdrop for the industrial-chic double sink, and peppered in white accents to keep the space from appearing too busy. 

Other Rooms Using Beadboard

There’s certainly no rule that says beadboard only has a place in the bathroom. Check out some of these rooms for proof. 

Adorably youthful

This cute little kid’s room by @cozyonthehudson features white beadboard that pops against a painted blue background. For a child’s space, choose a paint in a satin finish for easy cleanup if little handprints end up making a mess. 

Modern classic

We have all the feels for this stunning bedroom by @elevatedlivingbysarah, which features hunter green beadboard combined with the classic combination of burnt orange and white. 

Beige beauty

Cream beadboard grounds a colorful gallery wall arrangement in this sunny San Francisco living room. By matching the beadboard color to the wall color, the artwork displayed can shine.

Look up

This Orange County home has serious California cool vibes crossed with a little bit of farmhouse charm. Case in point: this hutch for dishes and glassware in the kitchen, where you’ll also notice a beadboard-clad ceiling. Don’t forget to give your fifth wall a little love! Beadboard can be a great alternative to draw the eye upward in a home.