Beadboard is a kind of decorative wood panelling that has evenly spaced grooves, known as beads, across the surface.
It is also known as wainscoting, and you can use it to add a vintage vibe to any modern space.
You will find anything from beadboard ceiling planks and beadboard ceiling, to beadboard panelling or even a beadboard bathroom.
There is also the option of a beadboard backsplash in some rooms, such as the kitchen. Beadboard walls were often found in Victorian times in order to protect and cover the lower half of the walls, but it is nowadays used to add charm and character to walls.
Image source: Elizabeth Brosnan Hourihan Interiors
You will find it in various heights, woods and finishes, and you can choose according to your desired finished appearance.
You can use beadboard just like you would traditional wainscoting. In the past centuries, it used to help insulate a room, or cover any wear and tear, or damage, and protect the homeowners from the sharp, stone walls. The bead can also help conceal the joints, and add an interesting design element to the wall.
What’s the difference between beadboard and wainscoting? Some people use it interchangeably, and it might get confusing. However, wainscoting is a kind of wood panelling that’s been used for quite some time, for everything from decorative accents, to insulation, and prevention and covering up of water damage on walls.
Image source: Christ & Associates, Architects & Planners
Originally, the boards would cover the whole wall, but later on, it was only the lower part of it. The key elements are the panel, and the frame around it.
The type of panel usually determines the name of the wainscoting, and some more common versions are raised-panel wainscoting, flat-panel wainscoting, board-and-batten, and last but not least, beadboard wainscoting. Beadboard, as mentioned above, is a row of narrow wood planks which are vertically lined up.
There is a bead between each plank, and nowadays, you can get beadboard in long, monolithic sheets, that are both easy to install, and look like narrow, vertical planks. This is done to save both money and time, and you can get it in all kinds of materials, from PVC to MDF.
Image source: deckerbullocksir
How to use a beadboard?
When you want to use beadboard, start small. Consider just a beadboard backsplash. You’ll need some basic DIY skills, but if you don’t have them, just measure and take them to your local home improvement store. Most of them will cut them for free, or for a small fee. And the fee is worth it when you don’t have to work with scary saws.
Sure, beadboard works good as a backsplash, but you can also use it with great success as a kicksplash. Again, you can cut this yourself, or have it cut for you.
However, in order to have a completely finished corner, the ends will need to be boxed in with strips of trim. 1×3 MDF works best, because it’s perfectly flat, and easy to paint. Or, you can use pine, but it won’t look that good once finished.
Image source: Fellman Brothers Builders
You can also use beadboard panelling to the back of bookshelves, for a unique look. For this, go for unfinished 1.5” sheets, versus the 2” finished ones. A little sanding and two coats of semi-gloss paint can do the finishing, and you’ll save up a bit in price.
Beadboard walls aren’t really new, but you can opt for 4×8 sheets, and install them horizontally. To do this at home, know that you’ll need a strip of vertical trim between each sheet for everything to look right.
Beadboard ceiling is another option, especially if you have joists that may have unsightly stippled treatments. Use furring strips and screws and go straight over the existing ceiling.
Image source: CSI Custom Homes
For starters, use sunrooms and patios, they’re a good way to begin with beadboard on the ceiling. You’ll fall in love with it between naps on your porch, and you’ll want to get it inside later on. Playing with color is also a good thing to try, as it will accentuate the smooth lines of the beadboard. Bright, high-energy colors work best here.
Last but not least, you can opt for kitchen cabinets. There are many retailers that can give you beadboard-style door fronts. And, if you aren’t really looking for new cabinets, just add beadboard to your existing door fronts. Even if you aren’t in love with it, look at it as a temporary solution, until you can afford to go all out.
Image source: Wilson Lee Interiors
A few tips when going with beadboard
- Choose your style. If you want a traditional farmhouse look, you should opt for a 2 ½” V-bead. Wider boards look less busy in a larger space. Or, you can go with custom styles, such as a casual, random-width V-bead.
- Take a look at the profile. For a convincing look, and added durability, go for panels that are a minimum of ¼” thick, and have clean, deep cuts and beads. Make sure to get some samples before you commit.
- Think about the application. If you have your panels in a bath, they should be formulated for moisture resistance. If you’re using them on your porch, or other outdoor area, you will need PVC, or exterior-grade fibreboard.
- Consider the reparation. MDF is tough, almost as tough as oak, but it does scratch. Small blemishes can be sanded, and larger ones can be fixed with a polyester filler, such as Bondo. It adheres pretty well, and sands smooth.
- Want an authentic look? High-quality panels tend to be pretty carefully milled, and result in crisp profiles which mimic individual boards.
- Do you want to go DIY? If you want to start from scratch, ½” panels go right onto the framing, and you therefore don’t need to build up window, or door trim, to accommodate beadboard which is installed over drywall. And, a ½” panel is easier to miter at a corner, than a ¼” for example.
Image source: dExecutive Interiors LLC
Speaking of DIY …
Making your own beadboard is quite a lot of work. You can get 8’ long pieces, and it’s best if it’s made of MDF. The baseboard and trim can be made of solid wood, and you can choose between keeping things simple, or getting fancy.
Purchasing beadboard with narrower flats is also an option, but this tends to make large rooms look a bit too busy, and are better suited for small rooms, such as bathrooms.
Image source: Atema Architecture PLLC
Keep in mind that MDF won’t shrink and swell like solid wood, but it does move. Beadboard shouldn’t be installed during the middle of winter, or summer, as the extreme temperatures will cause the wood to move a lot. Down the road, you’re avoiding gaps or material buckling. And, before installing the material, let it acclimatize.
The process of installation is pretty simple on a long wall. However, when you have corners, doors, and electrical outlets or wall switches, things are a bit more tricky. Around these areas that are challenging, take your time, and the finished result will be much better in the end.
If you have a big family dinner, or other gathering, do yourself, and your family a favour, and don’t start this the day before. Especially if you’ll be doing anything in the kitchen.
This is much easier done if you can move some of the larger furniture pieces out of the room, and you don’t have a lot of traffic through the area you’re working in. The baseboards can be removed, and the wall that will be visible above the beadboard can be repaired as well.
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The beadboard should be cut to length, and one coat of paint can be applied after you prime the lengths. The final coat is best done after you install the beadboard and trim. Applying the beadboard is first done in the visible areas, and you should work towards the areas that are less visible.
Joints that complete a wall usually finish with a partial flat, and may look a bit off. You could measure the width of your wall, see how many panels will cover it, and even out the gaps.
Image source: Whitten Architects
And, after a long run of wall, the panels may be slightly angled, and the final few joints may have to be angled, or you’ll have to cut an angle on the end piece. Regardless, the end result will be less than perfect, and you’ll be best off by putting it behind a fridge or armoire.
As far as height goes, every situation is different. There are many guidelines, and by far the most common option you’ll find is to stop beadboard at around a third of the height of the ceiling. However, you may not be aiming for that look, so make sure you choose whatever works best for your specific situation.
Image source: Mystic River Building Company
You can begin by marking level height lines on your walls. You can either mark at the height you want the beadboard to stop at, or at the top of the cap rail. You should also mark the studs near the bottom, but not too low for the baseboards to cover them up.
Image source: Marcel Page Photography
These are the lines you’ll use to secure the baseboards to the walls. You should mark high enough on the wall, so you can see the marks even when the baseboard is in place.
The baseboard goes first
One option would be to install the baseboard, then put the beadboards right on top of it, and use a small cap moulding to cover the joint. For an even simpler look, machine the baseboards, then add a small rabbet in the back edge of the baseboard, for the beadboard to go in.
Image source: Steven Dailey Construction
Therefore, the baseboard basically holds the beadboard against the wall, and the joint looks much simpler. Install the baseboard around the perimeter of the room with construction adhesive. Make sure they’re installed level.
Beadboards are next
Once you have your beadboards cut to length and painted, use a couple of lines of construction adhesive on the back, and insert it in the rabbet in the baseboard.
Image source: Whitten Architects
When you’re applying adhesive, run a healthy bead, around an inch away from the bottom edge, so it helps push the beadboard against the back of the rabbet, and then keep the joint as tight as possible. Every time you’re on top of a stud, secure the length to the stud. Otherwise, rub the beadboard into the wall, for the adhesive to work best.
Then come the problems
This technique should be repeated, until you run into an electrical outlet, or a light switch, or any other obstacle.
Things seem like you do the first 80% of the work area in 20% of your time, then spend the remaining 80% of the time taking care of the final 20% of the work area, which is the corner joints, and cutting things around the obstacles.
Image source: John Croft Design
There are a lot of ways to work around them, but if you aren’t an electrician, you’ll be best off by keeping the electrical-related items in place, and carefully working your way around them.
You can stop the beadboard a little further away from the obstacle, and use a solid wood frame to trim out the switch, and hide the edge of the beadboard. We’ll talk about that later.
Image source: Jett Thompson Antiques & Interiors
For now, just put the beadboard down into the rabbet, and place it to be cut against its mate. If you can’t do this, you will need a tape measure to find the cut-out locations. Mark those locations, and add a 3/8” gap, then cut out the waste.
Working the corners
When you get to a corner, you should measure how far the top and bottom of the beadboard are from the trim. If they’re off by a decent amount, angle the final few lengths to even out the differences.
Inside corners are pretty easy. The first corner piece can be ripped slightly less than the required width. You may also need to cut it at a slight angle. Once you have it in place, cover the small gap by the second corner piece. The second piece will need a more precise measuring, as well as cutting.
Image source: John Dimaio Photography LLC
Instead of applying the final few pieces one by one, put them in place so you have an idea of how wide the final piece should be, then cut it to width. Apply adhesive to all pieces, fit the side tenons, and fold them into place. If you have a gap in the corner, cover it with a small line of caulk before you add the final coat of paint.
As far as outside corners go, you can use a corner cap. This helps protect the corner, especially if it’s an area that is used pretty often, or you can mitre the ends of the outside corner pieces, then glue them together, and fit it to the mating pieces. This makes the corner look very simple, but may be tricky to do.
Image source: Camilla Bellord Interiors
The top trim
The trim covers the tops of all lengths of baseboard, and adds a finishing touch to the look. It can get as elaborate as you want it to be, and you could also go simple. You can use a 2 ½” wide x ¾” thick piece to the face, and add a top cap to the top of it. For aesthetics, you could even go as far as to cut a 15° angle into half of the face.
For the front trim, you can mill the solid wood, and make the angle on the face. You can then mill the wood for the bullnose top cap. Instead of cutting this to width, and then mill a bullnose, you can keep the stock at 3 ½” wide. Milling the bullnose on both sides is easy, just by two passes over a large, round over bit.
Image source: GIL WALSH INTERIORS
Once you have the parts cut to the final size, ease their ends where they’re supposed to meet the door and window trim, to make them look nicer. The trim pieces should be then primed and painted.
When you have the parts cut up to size, just place the front trim pieces, and make sure the top of the front trim is about half an inch higher than the beadboard’s tops. Once you have the pieces level, just nail them in place. Add a touch of adhesive.
Trimming the fixtures
Since the outlets and switches are still to be taken care of, you can make and install a simple frame. Just cut a 1” stock for enough frames.
You don’t have to make it ¾” wide, because making rabbets in that width is dangerous. Cut the rabbets in the stock, and leave a 3/16” wide lip. The depth of the rabbet should equal the thickness of the beadboard, for the lip to stop just flush on the wall.
Image source: Island Architects
Then, route a partial round over into the inner edge, in order for the users not to chip the paint easily, and so they don’t knock their fingers. Make pieces to go around each outlet, and use masking tape and glue to assemble the frames. Give it a quick sand, then prime, paint and install the frames using adhesive and a couple of pins.
Wrapping things up
The beadboard is basically a milled panel with parallel grooves. Historically, it was assembled with tongue and groove planks, but for cost effectiveness and ease of installation, you can get it now in large wood sheets, or cellular PVC.
The appearance is charming, and reminds of cottages and farmhouses. It’s commonly used on walls, ceilings, cabinets, and furniture.