Add Character with a Beadboard Wainscot
If you plan and buy ahead, you can get this room-transforming project done over a weekend. A wainscot lends proportion, architectural detail, texture, and tradition to a kitchen or bath, hallway, or informal room.
A beadboard wainscot generally comes to chair-rail height. The usual mistake is to set the chair rail much too high. Classical proportions and historical precedent suggest that the chair rail (and thus wainscot height) be about 30" from the floor, taking into consideration the ceiling height—though for practical reasons a wainscot is often taller in kitchens and baths. You do not want visually to split the walls in half, or even close. Once you have settled on a height, snap a level chalk line around the room. With a stud finder, mark stud locations along the level line and the floor. Remove any existing baseboard— carefully, if you intend to reinstall it. Measure from floor to level line to get the height for cutting planks.
Working left to right, install the first tongue-and-groove plank (or panel) in a visible outside or inside corner. Apply construction adhesive to the back and smooth with a notched trowel. With the grooved side abutting a corner, nail the board in place with panel nails. Repeat for the next board, sliding its grooved end onto the tongue of the first, leaving 1 /16" space for expansion. Make sure the top of the board is flush with the level line and check for plumb. Press to bond adhesive with the wall. At studs, nail through a groove in the bead. Cut out outlet openings as needed. The last board along a wall may need to be planed to fit. Slide it into place from the top down. Move to the next wall.
Online tutorials can help with making pre-mitered outside corner pieces, notching window stool ends, etc. Install the chair rail (moulding at the top of wainscot), securing with finish nails. Miter corners. Re-attach the old baseboard or install a new one with finish nails. Check that chair rail and baseboard are parallel. Adjust baseboard if necessary; use quarter-round shoe moulding to cover a gap between floor and baseboard. Caulk the gap between chair rail and wall. Fill any visible nail holes with spackle (for a painted wainscot) or wood putty (for clear-finished wood). Paint or stain and varnish as desired.