When you have big wall decoration projects in mind aiming at making a great visual impact but the budget is small, you start thinking out of the box. So although wood panels make the ultimate wall design ideas, they are not always the best solutions.   

Is money the only issue that will keep you from installing a nice raised panel? Well, truth be told, it’s the main reason but not the only one. You might also:

Want a quick wall renovation without spending too much time planning, choosing materials, and taking measurements.

Deal with curved walls and/or many obstructions in the way, like electrical equipment, boards etc.

Need to decorate a high moisture room, like the basement or a bathroom.

So, what’s the best wall décor idea when you are up against several obstructions? In two words: faux wainscoting.

What is faux wainscoting?

In short, it’s molding without the actual wood wall panel. It involves installing the chair rail without the wainscoting. Why go for such solutions? For the exact opposite reasons provided above. Because a faux wainscoting is:

  • Cheap
  • Easy to install
  • Fast to organize the home improvement
  • Resistant to moisture
  • And you can go above or beyond electric equipment easily

With faux wainscoting installation, you manage to freshen up a room with limited moves and on budget. The basic idea is to install the molding at any desired height to split the wall into two parts and thus create the appearance of a real panel. AlexMoulding offered so many patterns that can be used for any home renovation.

The frugal way of wainscoting walls

The purpose of wainscoting panels is to decorate the walls, add some depth and texture, and create an architectural interest. These are the reasons why there are so many panels and designs. So, the main question here is how to achieve the same results just by installing molding.

Okay, we would agree that you cannot mimic the vertical planks of beadboard wainscoting panels. But if you think about it, other panel designs basically include molding adhered on the panel.

A typical, classic wainscoting would have the base at the bottom part of the wall, the chair rail at the top, and the wood panel standing in between. Now, what you can do is use molding to create this impression. You can install the baseboard and chair rail, and either leave the gap in between blank or trim it.

How to give the appearance of a real wainscoting

  • Trim, trim, trim. Think of a shaker wainscoting. It’s a simple, yet so elegant option. What you can do is install molding in boxes or line them up horizontally to meet the upper cap to create a similar impression.
  • Alternatively, you can trim the entire wall giving the impression of a floor-to-ceiling wainscoting.
  • You can use trims in double layers and place a medallion at the four corners for a splash of elegance.
  • You can install multiple deep profile trims for a more dramatic look.

Use colors to give life to the faux wainscoting

Perhaps the best way to make a faux wainscoting design look like the real thing is to play with colors. A typical wood panel is painted white, has a white chair rail, and the wall above is painted in a contrasting color. Do exactly the same with faux wainscots.

One way to do it is paint the wall in the desired color up to the point where the chair rail will be installed. Once it’s dry, you can glue or nail the chair rail and trims. So for the sake of argument, let’s say that the bottom part of the wall is black, the trim is white, and the wall above the chair rail is white. Who would see the difference?

Alternatively, you can paint both the trims and bottom part of the wall the same color but the wall over the chair rail in a contrasting shade.

Attention is needed even with faux wainscoting installation

Just like with any raised or flat panel, faux wainscoting must be planned well. It might not take a lot of time, but you must still consider the height of the room in order to determine how up the wall you should go. Since your goal is to make an impact, you cannot install the chair rail at a random height. You wouldn’t do that with wainscoting, would you?

You still have to measure how high the ceiling is. For average heights, chair rails are often installed about 30” or 36” over the floor. You can also just go ahead and place them at 1/3 up the wall. For higher ceilings, take the molding higher. For example, 12” ceilings would need the chair rail at about 38” over the floor – or even higher. You should keep equal distances between boxes and place as many needed on each wall.

Since you still place baseboards along with the chair rail, make sure their size is similar to that of the crown molding. This will give the right proportion in the room and thus balance. As an overall, it’s much easier to handle faux wainscoting installation projects, but they still need some consideration before you start nailing or gluing molding on the wall.