To Beadboard, or not to Beadboard - Patrick Ahearn Architect (2023)

Few design elements are versatile enough to offer cottage appeal or elegance depending on their placement. Beadboard, a style of decorative wall paneling (wainscoting), is just that versatile. Beadboard originated in England four centuries ago with the practical purpose of keeping heat inside the house and moisture from outside at bay. It is said that early English settlers brought the design to the U.S. to remind them of the history and architectural character of the homes they left behind. Today, beadboard is still often associated with coastal New England homes, but is admired and emulated across the country.

To Beadboard, or not to Beadboard - Patrick Ahearn Architect (1)

Beadboard was originally made of evenly spaced wooden tongue and groove planks that interlocked with ridges or “beads” between each one. In this style of wainscoting, the panels were lined up vertically on an interior wall and typically covered the lower 3 to 4 feet, the same height as most chair backs (hence nicknamed a chair rail). Over time, beadboard evolved into a decorative treatment used throughout the home. In the 1800s, kitchen cupboards often used beadboard as a backdrop for porcelain dinnerware or keepsakes displayed inside.

Today, beadboard is available in varying profiles and panel widths and can be purchased in large, carefully milled sheets. Because humidity can cause boards to shift and paint to crack, we prefer beadboard made of medium-density fiberboard (MDF), which comes in ready-to-paint sheets, generally 4 feet high by 8 feet wide. MDF takes paint very well, does not expand or contract, and is as rugged as oak.

To Beadboard, or not to Beadboard - Patrick Ahearn Architect (3)

We introduce beadboard as a design feature to add to the character and theme of a house. The way in which we use it, however, varies depending on the overall height of the space and the tone and texture of each room. For example, if we want to reinforce a cottage or seaside vernacular, we may choose to create a room with beadboard on both the walls and the ceilings, with planes subtly defined by 6” wideplanks on the ceilings and 3” wide planks on the walls.

To Beadboard, or not to Beadboard - Patrick Ahearn Architect (4)

In private spaces, like the primary bedroom suite, we often include beadboard as a classic, warm accent, covering just half or three-quarters of the wall. We may also consider introducing it as a ceiling accent, either alone or with cased or antique beams.

To Beadboard, or not to Beadboard - Patrick Ahearn Architect (5)
To Beadboard, or not to Beadboard - Patrick Ahearn Architect (6)

The versatility of beadboard is undoubtable. It can be used in lieu of plaster or sheetrock, installed at any height, and painted or stained any color. Our most typical specification is to paint beadboard Ahearn White using Benjamin Moore Advance with a Satin Interior Finish.

To Beadboard, or not to Beadboard - Patrick Ahearn Architect (7)
To Beadboard, or not to Beadboard - Patrick Ahearn Architect (8)

Beadboard is a classic architectural wall treatment with rich history that will forever be associated with New England vernacular. If this discussion of beadboard has you rethinking your walls, contact us to learn how we might approach the project. In the interim, we invite you to find inspiration in our portfolio.

Originally posted May 16, 2019.

Revised February 2, 2023.


Is beadboard wainscoting outdated? ›

Wainscoting is a decorative wall trim that's centuries old and has never gone out of style, likely due to its versatility—there's a type of panel that suits just about every design style.

Will beadboard go out of style? ›

Unlike fleeting home trends, beadboard comes from simpler times and is here to stay. It is classic and timeless. Its simple aesthetic works so well with farmhouse, transitional, and classic design styles. It can also be used in modern home design, believe it or not!

Is beadboard still popular in bathrooms? ›

Despite its traditional roots, beadboard continues to be an excellent choice for giving any bathroom a cozy and classic appeal. Bathroom beadboard is generally installed as a half wall around the sink and bathtub or laid along an entire wall to create a stunning accent wall.

Can you make beadboard look modern? ›

If you're looking for a more contemporary way to incorporate beadboard into your bathroom, juxtapose it with more modern materials, like subway tile and marble. This stunning combo is on full display in this bathroom by Arbor & Co., giving the beadboard a modern twist.

Is wainscoting still in style 2023? ›

Wainscoting, which is wood panels on the bottom of a wall, and delicate wall molding are both making a comeback. I've seen them painted in a monochromatic color scheme so that they blend into the wall but still add some dimension.

Does beadboard make a room look smaller? ›

Tall beadboard in a large space or larger bathrooms can add a bit more movement and look more visually pleasing. On the other hand, with shorter beadboard, you can make your walls look taller and more spacious in a smaller space with low ceilings.

Is beadboard coming back? ›

Instead of the horizontal paneling, classic beadboard is coming back as both a kitchen backsplash material, and a wall trim idea. To make the look feel contemporary, take the beadboard 3/4 of the way up the wall, instead of the more traditional 1/2 way up.

What decorating style never goes out of style? ›

Modern Minimalist Furniture

Popularized in the middle to later half of the 20th century, minimalism is a concept that still feels ultra-modern today. By stripping furniture down to its most simple form, minimalism keeps your space simple — a hallmark of timeless design.

What era is beadboard? ›

The beginning of beadboard can be traced to the Victorian period, about 1880 or earlier. I have been recently restoring an 1862 house and, sure enough, a couple of original varieties are there. Some old slang terminology for beadboard referring to its uses may have included sheathing, paneling and ceiling.

What is the newest trend in bathrooms? ›

Lean into Luxury. “Luxury defines The New Statement Bathroom, both in materials and technology. Look for natural marbles and stone, controlled and high-quality lighting, rich finishes, steam with aromatherapy, heated floors and toilets that do everything.”

Should beadboard be painted white? ›

Many older beadboard installations feel dated, but contemporary applications in bathrooms and ceilings use fresh paint colors (typically white, though nearly any color other than natural wood hues can work) to help it feel new again.

Is beadboard hard to keep clean? ›

With all the extra grooves beadboard has, there is a lot more places for pesky dirt to hide, but don't fear! They aren't actually any harder to clean than regular cabinets. The issue with dirty cabinets is that they actually just aren't being wiped regularly.

Should I use shiplap or beadboard? ›

Although DIY-friendly beadboard kits can simplify the installation process, beadboard requires time and care to install. On top of cutting the sheets to size, it's also important to properly measure the spacing for the perfect look. Shiplap, on the other hand, self-spaces and is much more fool-proof.

What type of beadboard should be used in a bathroom? ›

Beadboard panels come in a couple different materials. There is MDF which is moisture resistant and perfect for bathrooms that may get damp, especially if it's a full bathroom with a shower where you want something that will withstand mold and mildew. MDF usually comes primed and ready to paint.

What sheen is best for beadboard? ›

As for sheen, though we love a good matte look, you're better off choosing a satin or semi-gloss here, as it makes cleaning up smudges or splashes much easier. As for the color, that's totally up to you! We chose a warm putty color called “Studio Clay” by Behr in their Scuff Defense Satin Enamel finish.

What are the current wainscoting trends? ›

10 Trendy & Timeless Wainscoting Ideas That Bring Wall-to-Wall Drama
  • Add bold paint. ...
  • Take it to the top. ...
  • Ground an awkward layout. ...
  • Go large-scale. ...
  • Camouflage unsightly features. ...
  • Decorate a large, blank wall. ...
  • Go high-contrast. ...
  • Pair it with wallpaper.
Mar 13, 2022

Is wainscoting going out of style? ›

Nowadays, wainscoting remains a popular decorative element thanks to its aesthetic appeal. For modern homes, board and batten is commonly used because of its clean lines. The paneling can be painted in different colors, such as pink, beige, black, or gray to give the wainscoting extra oomph.

When should you not use wainscoting? ›

Bedrooms are the wrong place for wainscoting because it's a little too formal. It's better to do one accent wall in a bedroom by painting it a different color or putting up wallpaper than to put wainscoting throughout the whole bedroom.”

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