How We Made Our DIY Wainscoting Wall In The Bathroom
Our main floor bathroom is an average bathroom size, 5′ x 7′. All of the plumbing fixtures are on one wall, and the wall directly across from that is a long empty wall. We wanted to spice it up with some easy diy wainscoting.
Since the plumbing wall wasn’t seeing any changes we decided to leave it alone and only do one wall of wainscoting. The bathroom is broken up with a full shower enclosure on the short wall, and the doorway on the opposite wall so it worked out for us.
We didn’t want to spend a fortune on beadboard, paneling, and proper wainscoting so we took a look in our leftover trim pile and sourced a few pieces to get started.
Here’s how you can build your own fake wainscoting. So with this easy method, instead of installing full panels onto the walls, you are going to fake it by leaving exposed wall space between some vertical trims and painting it all to match. Then they will look like full paneling was built onto your walls.
1×3 Flat MDF Baseboard Trim
1×1 MDF Trim
1×4 MDF Trim
Paintable Bathroom Caulking
Saw or Trim Saw Kit
220 Grit Sandpaper
Angled Paint Brush
Small Paint Roller & Tray
Step 1: Determine Sizes
You are going to want to decide how tall your wainscoting will be. Ours is 2/3 the height of the bathroom wall. I like to work in 1/3 proportions when designing and building since it’s an appealing measurement for the human sense of balance. Make a mark with your pencil at the height you want the wainscoting to be. This way your cuts and measurements can be consistent.
Make sure you take your baseboard height into consideration too! Once we knew how high the wainscoting wall would be the next step was installing the bottom trim for the baseboard.
Step 2: Nail On Baseboard
A length of 1×4 flat trim was used along the bottom of the wall for the wainscoting baseboard. The baseboard was going to go from the raw corner by the shower and butt up to the trim of the doorframe.
After measuring twice, the 1×4 trim was cut to size. Then an air nailer was used to tack it in place.
After the baseboard is on it’s time to do the top rail.
Step 3: Tack On The Top Rail
Measure the width of the wall where the flat trim at the top of your wainscoting (top rail) is going to go. Don’t use your baseboard measurement because I guarantee your walls are not even. This measurement for your top rail is going to be slightly different, and that 1/8″ can make a big difference.
After measuring carefully, cut your top rail to size. Place it 1/2″ below the height mark for your wainscoting and nail into place. You will want to use a level to make sure its’ at an even height all the way across your wall. A laser level can help with this too. Or at the least, a second person who can hold the top rail in place as you nail it on.
Now you may be wondering why I said to place the top rail 1/2′ below your height mark. That’s so you can add a 1×1 trim at the top to give it a finished look. Place the 1×1 trim on its side so that the finished edge is facing outwards towards you. Then nail it in place tight against your top rail.
Step 4: Add Vertical Trim
Now that you have your horizontal pieces in place, it’s easy to measure and cut the vertical pieces. We had to buy 3 1×3 trim boards that were 12’long, and at the store we got them cut down to 6′ so they could be transported home. Based on the height of our wainscoting, the verticals should have been under 5′ so the 6′ length allowed a bit of extra room for cuts. Which worked out perfectly.
Start with your 2 corner pieces. Measure their heights individually though as, once again, your floor may be slightly unlevel from one end of the room to the other. Once those are cut and nailed into place look at the overall wall and decided how large of panels you want to determine how many vertical pieces are needed.
Mark the center of the wall between the two end verticals. Ideally, you would have a vertical board here too But if the spacing doesn’t work out right for a vertical to be there, then make sure its the center of the panel opening. It’s a good idea to mark with a pencil where your other verticals are going too and stay consistent.
And now is a good time to remind you once again to measure each vertical trim length separately before cutting. It’s an important step and I don’t want you to gloss over it and cut corners! I’m looking out for your best interest.
After all that, your wall should look something like this:
Step 5: Wood Fill The Wainscoting
Since you’re putting all the work into building a beautiful wainscoting wall, please take the time to do the finishing work. Use wood filler on the gaps between the trim boards and to cover your nailheads. This will give a clean and professional work. It’s worth the time and effort.
Once the wood filler is dry, sand it all down smooth. Use a 220 grit sandpaper for a nice smooth finish.
Step 6: Caulk The Edges
Another step to get a clean and professional look is to caulk the gaps between the trim boards and the wall. Do this on both sides of the vertical trims, the top and bottom of the top rail, and the top of the baseboard.
Please make sure you use paintable caulking. This way when you paint in the next step, you can go right over the caulking and blend it all together. This is such a clean and finished look.
Step 7: Paint Everything
Use a low-VOC paint like Benjamin Moore’s Aura in a small space like the bathroom to lower to paint emissions that you are breathing in. Plus this paint goes on so smoothly.
Use a combination of brushes and small rollers to paint your trim. The smaller roller sizes are great for covering the flat trims without dripping extra paint all over the place.
Start with the angled paintbrush and paint all of the tight corners and edges. This is called cutting in and makes filling in with a roller easy and cleaner.
After your edges are all painted, use the small roller to paint the flat trims and wall spaces. Now your fake wainscoting should really start to look like a full panel. I recommend doing a second coat once the first is dry.
How does your finished wainscoting look? Did you like this method? Here is how mine turned out.
I am so happy with how it looks! It adds the right amount of detail to this wall so it doesn’t feel long and empty. It makes the ceiling feel taller. And the light color opens up the room.
This bathroom and the easy DIY wainscoting wall we built is my project as a guest participant in the One Room Challenge sponsored by Better Homes and Gardens. You can see how we’ve been progressing by checking out my related posts here:
And click on the ORC below to find more amazing designers and their ORC projects!
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