Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lesson 5. Creativity Pays: Wainscoting on the Cheap

How to install wainscoting panel trim 

 A wainscotted dining room
So, as I mentioned before, I had this fantasy of putting fancy wainscot paneling in our dining room. I knew I wanted to try to do it myself so I looked online to see what it would entail. I found some really neat prefabricated kits, but they were literally around $30-$40 a foot which seemed completely unreasonable to me. So I went into creative solution mode.

                                  1st idea:
I thought to myself, what looks like the little prefabricated panels they are trying to sell me? Answer - cabinet doors. So I found a place online (Lakeside Moulding) that sells custom size doors up to 36" square for a flat price of $10.50, which would have brought the materials to about $320 including shipping. This seemed like a good deal, but after I got to thinking about it, it would be a lot of work to prime and then paint them and it was going to be pretty expensive to ship them even though they are only produced about 350 miles away. On top of that, they were 3/4" thick which would normally be ok, but I didn't want to have to remove my base board to install these so I really needed something thinner that would match the profile of the top of the baseboard when installed on the wall. Mr. Delta also expressed a preference for a raised square rather than a recessed one. 

Base cap, crown moulding, a strip of Lauan,
and a sample of Coronado chair rail
2nd idea:
After scrapping the cabinet doors idea, I decided to delve a little deeper. What if I started from scratch with a thin piece of paneling wood, some Coronado chair rail (love it! $4.99 at Lowe's) and some wider trim for the top? Once again, Howard the Handyman saves the day in my materials quest. After recommending Lauan (a thin, smooth wood underlayment that comes in 4'x8' pieces) as the wood paneling choice, Howard was kind enough to go fetch my wares from out local Lowe's. Earlier that day I popped into my beloved building materials closeout store and picked up a couple of pieces of narrow crown molding that matched the wide crown I used for the whole house. Normally you wouldn't want crown for this because it has edges that bevel in so you can put it where the wall joins the ceiling, but I figured if I added a little piece of base cap on the top and sat the bottom over the Lauan, it would work fine. So Howard had 4 sheets of Lauan ($9.97 each) cut into 29" long strips for me and brought me 16 pieces of Coronado Chair rail and about 44 feet of base cap in 12' and 8' lengths ($.85 a foot). I did a little planning and assembled my materials down stairs.

Side view of crown moulding. The angled in edges are
actually ok for this project because the bottom will sit on the Lauan and the base cap will sit on top.

Figuring out the total height of the project was easy. Wainscoting should be done in proportion to your ceiling height, and 36" is standard for standard 8-9' ceilings. Since our ceilings are 11', I decided to go with 42", which was, incidentally, exactly waist high on my very tall husband. Yay! External validation! So that's how I ended up with the 29" strips. 42" - 8" base board - 5" top moulding width = 29".

 I measured all of the wall lengths very carefully and went about deciding how big the rectangles needed to be. I knew I wanted a vertically elongated rectangle, so I started by figuring out how much space I wanted between the squares and between the edge of the Lauan. I decided on 4.5", which left me rectangles 20" in height. Figuring out the width, however, was tricky. When you're trying to do wainscoting, you ideally want to cover wall space with a certain number of basically equal size rectangles, since it would be funny to have a tiny one at the end to cover a leftover space.  This was a job for..... MATH!

(deep breath)

So i figured out a formula to represent how many squares of a certain size could go on any given length of wall. I started with an idea of 15" wide just to see how that would work. I knew I would probably have to adjust up or down to make them fit on the different walls.

wall length = certain # of (panel width 15 + space width 4.5) + one extra space width for the end 4.5
So what that means is I subtracted 4.5 from all of my wall lengths then divided by 19.5 to see what I would get. The goal was not to get a remainder at all. On the first wall, I figured out that 20.75 gave me 8 panels with no remainder. Thus 16.25" wide panels. On the next wall 19.75 gave me 6 panels with no remainder, so 15.25" panels. And on third major wall, 21.25" was the magic number, so 16.75" panels there. I filled the 3 small wall spaces the same way. Then down to the basement to make the cuts.

After laying out all of my trim I made all of the cuts for the frames and labeled them with a pencil. This took quite a long time, but it was pretty easy. Just basic 90 degree angle cuts. And because the trim was symmetrical top to bottom, you don't end up with a bunch of wasted triangles. The leftover angle from on cut makes the angle for the next cut.

Then I measured my wall width at 42" up, just to be sure, and cut the upper trim (narrow crown moulding plus the base cap) accordingly. Once everything was cut, I brought it all upstairs and started my installation.

I nailed on the Lauan first. This was pretty easy, although I learned you really need to hammer the nails in at a bit of an angle or they will pull out of the drywall. Mr. Delta offered to buy me a nailgun for this project, but I didn't really want one. They're really loud and kind of scary. And about $400 for a good cordless one. I'm sure I'll get there, but I'm just not ready to make the plunge quite yet. So I nailed everything by hand. Nailgun is actually looking appealing now. It's a lot of work to have to go back and "sink" all of the finish nails below the wood surface ( you have to hit them with a larger nail).

After I got the Lauan on the wall, I made sure there was no "wiggle" in the seams, then I filled the cracks with putty and sanded. Next, I had Mr. Delta prime the surface with 2 coats of flat white paint and a foam roller (smooth roller is very important!). Then I added on the crown moulding and base cap to the top and used painters caulk in the seams between all the connecting pieces (base cap, crown, Lauan, baseboard). Finally, I measured with a laser level and marked where the panel frames would go. Then I nailed them all on, filled the holes and cracks with caulk, and we were ready to paint. I opted for 2 coats of semi-gloss in an off-white color to match the other trim in the room.

And finally, finally, finally! I am proud to announce that as of 2 days ago we are done!

Total cost = $170

"Before" shot of dining room. Pre-crown moulding, pre-wainscotting. The only trim is the baseboard.

Close up of the finished project. See how the Lauan just sits right on top of the base board? And the base cap just sits right on the crown moulding and everything is caulked together.
Dealing with the corner and the bay window was a bit tricky. I just decided to wrap the trim around the bay window corner and bring it to meet the frame.  To do this you have to figure out what your angle is (145 degrees here) then subtract from 180 and divide by 2. So 17.5 degrees was what the cut was to make the trim wrap like this. 
This is how I dealt with the bay window. I've seen it done where the paneling is actually done below the window and brought up in between the windows, but I think it ends up looking like a Poseidon trident more often than not. So I decided just to keep it clean and showcase the window. I'm going to be making some silk panels to flank the window, so I think it will be a great effect when I get it all done.

I'm desperate for a new chandelier though (to match my new fancy walls, of course!) I love this one, (Delilah Collection from Crystorama) but the $900 price tag is a bit off-putting. Maybe I can wait for a coupon code. What do you think? Worth it?



1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is really beautiful. We have a 125-year old house in Western Sweden, and are going to try to do something in our (fairly small) family room. Wainscot panels are not really big here, so we might try to do something a little more Swedish in look (probably just tounge and groove panels) with some cool molding (I think that is what it's called in English) on top. Your tutorial is just what I needed to get motivated to do this today!