We Were Framed!

We’ve gotten lots of questions about the wainscoting in our dining room. Especially when friends realize that we put it up ourselves.  Now, you shouldn’t be that impressed, we were able to achieve a classy look with very simple frames made of wood trim.

This was our first real DIY project in casa de Whited and it proved to be super-easy. If you are patient and have two sets of hands it should be pretty simple for you. If you try it and it isn’t let us know and we’ll come help you out! 

Here is a shot of our dining room before. This picture is from the MLS listing, so it’s pretty basic right, nice plain walls to work with and no crazy corners.

Step One:  What style of wainscoting says “Whited”?

Trust us, there are tons of styles out there, and will admit that we’ve changed our minds a million times since getting ours on the wall. We’ll see a new style in a magazine and think, “look – we should have done that!”


We opted for a very classic style of wainscoting that despite our fickle-ness will probably be an asset whenever we sell the casa (already dreading that day… let’s not talk about it).  The classic style will suit almost any décor and doesn’t go so high up the wall and isn’t so intricate that it would be a pain to remove if someone wanted to (gasp!).

Step Two:  Measure, measure, and measure again.

Like any design move, the next thing we had to do was measure our space to find out what we needed to buy and how much of it. 

For starters we decided how high up the wall we wanted our wainscoting to go.  We settled on 36 inches off the top of the baseboard, or 42 inches from the floor, basically by eye-balling what looked good to us.  We then went all the way around the room measuring and marking the wall and then used a level to connect the dots with a pencil line all the way around the room.  Sorry no photos guys, this was BB.

Then of course, we measured the total lengths of those lines.  We kept our measurements broken up by segment though, because we didn’t want any seams in our chair rail. For example instead of saying we need 50 total feet for the room, we kept a list of, Wall A is 65 inches long, Wall B is 55 inches, etc.  Trim and molding is typically sold in 8 or 12 foot sections so keeping the measurements separate also helped us know what different lengths to pick up.

After measuring for your chair rail is when it gets tricky.  We had 8 wainscoting frames to make to cover our four walls. You can definitely do more than this based on your preferences and the size of your wall. We opted for one box per open space, and have a doorway or window on each wall of our dining room so essentially had 8 open spaces.

Now came the real dilemma.  How big should each of these boxes be?  This is where there was some sighing and unsure glances in the Whited household. It took some discussion to agree on the size of our boxes. Should they all be the same size even if the walls are different sizes? Should two on the same wall be the same size even if the right side of the window is longer than the left side?  

 Lots of questions and as our first project we really didn’t want to screw it up. This wainscoting was really going to affect our future in that if it had gone horribly wrong it probably would have been our first and last DIY adventure. 

 After much discussion we decided this:

  • Each wall will have two boxes on it. These two boxes should be the same size.
  • We have four walls, but it’s not important that wall A’s boxes be the same size as wall B’s.
  • We should definitely do smaller boxes under our windows that are both the same size since the windows are the same size, so make that 10 boxes to make now.

We then measured and made a massive list of all the pieces of trim that we’d have to cut and categorized them together into length of 8 or 12 feet so we could walk into the store knowing what to buy.  This is where math skills and patience are really important.

Step Three: Go shopping! 

Armed with our list of measurements, we headed to Lowe’s. We mention Lowe’s a lot on this blog, and don’t want to slight our friends at the Depot, but Lowe’s in Durham really does seem to have a better selection of trim and molding. So off we went.

We spent about $ 150 on 4 pieces of 2 inch thick trim to construct our chair rail and 8 pieces of 1.5 inch thick molding for our chair rail.  We also picked up Liquid Nails, white paneling nails, a nail driver, some fine grit sandpaper, white flat paint, caulk, and white semi-gloss trim paint (off the shelf). 

Step Four:  Mark your walls for your frames.

Using the measurements we decided on previously and a level and pencil we measured out the wall and subtracted the size of the frame in order to determine where our frames should so that they were centered on all four sides. 

Step Five: Cut and apply the framing.

Once we decided the size of our frames, we cut the 1.5 inch strips with angled ends so that the corners were evenly matched.

We then ran a bead of Liquid Nails along the back of the frame trim and applied to the wall. Liquid Nails is not exactly as it sounds, we needed two sets of hands to keep the trip level while nailing.

While I held the trim level on the wall, Chad used a simple hammer and panel nails to secure the trim to the wall. 

Step Six: Finishing touches.

To wrap everything up, we patched our nail holes with wood filler, used white door/window caulk to seal EVERY edge of our chair rail and wainscoting including the seams in the corners of the frames. The final step was to paint our walls with flat white paint and the trim with a semi-gloss.


We put up the wainscoting to help divide our living and dining rooms visually.  There is a very wide opening between the two rooms which is great for traffic flow, but also causes the two spaces to run together. The wainscoting was a fairly inexpensive and easy way to make a big impact and divide the rooms without going too crazy.

Step 1 Photos: Elite Trimworks, Inc, Country Living and Sarah’s House on HGTV

Check out our handy How-To page for more home improvement ideas and tips.

This entry was posted in Decorating Ideas, Dining Room, Easy Update, La Casa, Tips and Tricks. Bookmark the permalink.

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