Wainscoting is a type of trim that uses large panels to cover the lower half of a wall. These panels may be used alone or sandwiched between baseboards and chair rails. Some wainscoting is topped with quarter round trim to create a simple finish with clean lines. Others are used in conjunction with ceramic tile, plaster or drywall along the upper portion of the wall.
This trim helps protect walls from damage while providing a decorative finish. Modern wainscoting made from vinyl or plastic is even used in bathrooms and kitchens to minimize water damage. As a bonus, this makes it easy to keep walls clean.
Wainscoting can be installed using a variety of materials and techniques to create a distinctive look. Raised profile panels made from wood help add texture and depth to a wall. Tongue-and-groove wooden paneling is made from individual wooden planks for a mid-century look. Simple flat panels can be painted or stained to add color, while maintaining a smooth wall surface that works with almost any décor. For an affordable alternative, homeowners can use a shadow box technique to mimic the look of wainscoting. This method uses thin units of trim to frame boxes or panels directly on the drywall or plaster wall surface. It's easy to install and affordable because no full panels are required [source: This Old House].