What To Know About Beadboard Walls

Updated: Mar. 13, 2024

Explore the versatile world of beadboard! Learn about its history, installation, painting tips and uses in wainscoting and backsplashes.

I remember when my brother, a novice do-it-yourselfer, bought his first fixer-upper — a quaint little house in the suburbs with lots of charm and even more potential. The house had a lot of interesting architectural features, but the one that stood out to me was the beadboard wainscoting.

The woodwork detail added a certain rustic charm to the house, one of the reasons why beadboard has had such a resurgence in popularity lately. It’s versatile, relatively easy to install and brings a timeless, cozy aesthetic to any space.

If you’re curious about this versatile wall treatment, you’re in the right place. Here’s what to know about beadboard.

What Is Beadboard?

Beadboard is a type of wood paneling characterized by vertical rows of wood strips, with a little indentation, or ‘bead,’ between each plank.

Originating in the 1800s, it offered a practical and decorative way to protect walls from damage, especially in high-traffic areas. Beadboard can also be made from medium-density fiberboard (MDF), PVC or vinyl. Sheets are typically available in lengths of eight to 16 feet. A 48-inch width and 1/2-inch thickness are standard.

In different regions, beadboard might be called tongue-and-groove paneling or wainscoting. It’s often confused with board and batten, another type of wall paneling. They might look similar, but look closely at the panels. Board and batten features wide panels separated by thin strips (or battens). That’s the difference. Wood paneling for walls adds an element of classic style to your home, and it’s easier to install than you think.

How To Install Beadboard

Beadboard installation shares some steps with other wall coverings, but it has some unique aspects.

For a basic installation, you’ll need beadboard panels, adhesive, finish nails, a level, a hammer or nail gun, and a saw for cutting the panels to fit your space. Here’s how to proceed:

  1. Start by measuring your wall and cutting your beadboard panels accordingly.
  2. Apply adhesive to the back of the beadboard panel.
  3. Place the panel on the wall, making sure it’s level.
  4. Secure the panel with finish nails.
  5. Repeat until the whole area is covered, ensuring the beads line up from panel to panel.

How To Paint Beadboard

It’s similar to painting other surfaces, but requires more attention to detail.

First, it needs to be properly cleaned and primed. Due to the texture and grooves in beadboard, choosing a high-quality primer is essential. It helps the paint adhere better and last longer.

When painting woodwork, a semi-gloss or gloss finish is often best, since they’re durable and easier to clean — a crucial factor given beadboard’s surface area and grooves. A brush is typically used to ensure paint gets into the grooves, but you can also go with a sprayer for a smoother finish.

Beadboard Ceilings

Beadboard is indeed a fantastic choice for ceilings. It gives the room a cozy, cottage feel. Installing a beadboard ceiling is similar to walls, but gravity makes it a little trickier — it’s often a two-person job.

When installing, locate the ceiling joists and attach the beadboard panels to them for secure fitting. Potential issues can include difficulty aligning the beads if the ceiling isn’t level, or dealing with obstacles like light fixtures or ceiling fans.

Beadboard Backsplash

A beadboard backsplash can be a stylish and budget-friendly alternative to tile in a kitchen or bathroom. Its vertical lines and texture add depth, enhancing traditional and country-style decors.

Install beadboard like a wall application, but be sure to cut spaces for outlets and switches. To ensure it withstands frequent cleaning, high humidity and temperature changes, apply a kitchen-grade semi-gloss or gloss paint. Concentrate on the grooves, as adequate coverage prevents water infiltration.

For added protection, apply a clear waterproof sealant safe for food-prep areas over the paint.

Be mindful. Beadboard might not be the best choice for areas exposed to extreme heat or consistent wetness, like behind a stove or sink. In these situations, opt for tile, PVC or vinyl that work better in moist areas, but all may buckle with exposure to heat.

Beadboard Wainscoting

Wainscoting refers to a decorative treatment where a different material is applied to the lower part of an interior wall, generally about waist-high. It’s often topped off with a piece of molding, like chair rail or picture ledge.

Beadboard is a traditional choice for wainscoting due to its durability and visually interesting texture. It’s especially popular in country, cottage or farmhouse-style homes, but its classic and versatile look can also work in other settings. The raised ‘bead’ detail provides an extra layer of protection against chair and door scuffs, while adding a touch of timeless elegance.