Brent Hull Says, “No 36-Inch Wainscoting!” Is He Right?

Hi Everyone,

Aside from my normal 60-hour-a-week work, there is so much going on. Well, something has to give. And since I do not wish to live in a construction zone for more than a few more months, I have to focus on what needs to get done so that *I’m* not holding up the job.

 

Here’s the latest on the renovation front:

 

Yesterday and today, I ordered 100s of feet of mouldings:

Chair rail and panel mouldings.

Now, A Brown put a bee in my bonnet concerning the height of the wainscoting, quoting dear Brent Hull in a comment on the recent post about wainscoting:

 

No 36-inch wainscoting! It should never be 36 inches!

 

Brent makes a compelling argument that I don’t disagree with.

 

***You can follow along in more detail in his fantastic blog post from 13 years ago, The Misused and Confused Chair Rail.

 

I love his article. He explains things in a way that makes a lot of sense. I’d like to add something I’ve said before.

 

No matter how high the ceiling, the elements at eye level and below should relate to the human form.

 

In other words, we don’t make a dining room table higher just because the ceiling is higher. No, it is always going to be around the 30″ mark.  So, it follows that the applied wall mouldings should mirror this scale. Of course, the moulding elements can go higher but should follow the classical idiom.

 

Brent goes on to say that in ideal classical proportions, the chair rail should be 1/5th the height of the ceiling.

 

But, then, he backtracks a bit and says for a lower ceiling, 1/4  the total height is fine. He also thinks the ideal chair rail height should be  28″ – 32″.

Again, I don’t disagree.

Interestingly, according to Vignola, the pedestal height, which corresponds to the proper wainscoting height, is four widths of the doric column, comprised of 19 parts, each equal to one column width.

 

via this is carpentry - doric order dimensions 10 foot ceiling

Via This is Carpentry

 

For more on this topic of perfect architectural proportions, please check out this post.

 

So, I measured my window sill, which is in two parts. But, the lower part is at 28″, so I thought, what the hell, let’s see what this looks like on the fireplace wall elevation.

First, I drew the lines.

I was fully prepared to say I hate it.

Low wainscot rail no panel moulding

 

And, I did.

At first.

 

perspective fireplace wall moulding design with 28 high wainscot rail

However, after I added more detail, not only do I not hate it, I rather love it. Please note this view doesn’t exist as it’s only about 10 feet from the front of the mantel to the beginning of the staircase. The living room feels larger than it is because of the 13′-6″ ceiling height. The dimensions are 15′-4″ x 21′-6″, not including the bay, which adds several more feet at the mid point between the two windows.

 

This time, I put everything in perspective because it’s closer to how it will be in real life.

 

As you can see, the panels are horizontal, with far fewer of them.

Another advantage is I can save a lot of money doing a lower wainscot with fewer panels.

 

But, there’s always something to mess things up.

Yesterday, I received the unfortunate news that I had to do a rabbeted base cap over the existing baseboard minus the original 3″ base cap, which is actually a crown moulding.

 

Anderson McQuaid rabbeted base cap #1665

Anderson McQuaid rabbeted base cap #1665

We have to do a rabbeted base cap because there’s a gap that needs to be covered. We can’t build the wall out any further because of the door casing.

Could they have ripped out the baseboard?

I suppose, but it would not be easy, and then there are the baseboard heaters, which are eight inches high.

 

The thing is that this increases the height of the baseboard to 9.25″; therefore, 28″ is not going to work.

 

The baseboard is supposed to be 1/4th the height of the pedestal (wainscoting in this case). So, the baseboard shouldn’t be more than 7″. (1/4 of the entire wainscoting. Okay, we could stretch that to eight inches, but 9.5 is out of proportion.

Okay, I thought I would split the difference and make the height 32″.

 

perspective fireplace wall moulding design with 28 high wainscot rail 9 baseboard

I think, overall, this is better.

 

But, Laurel, 9.5″ is about a quarter of 36″.

 

Yes, just 1/2″ off.

However, I do like the lower height.  I like the larger panels because it’s a bit less busy.

 

ENTRY CLOSET ELEVATION 10.8.2023 - revised 1.24.2024 - 32-33 inches high

 

In addition, the panels in the entry wainscoting will return to vertical. This variation makes sense in the smaller space and provides a variation on a theme that provides interest.

 

There’s one more point. The floor in the den is a good inch higher, and the carved floral plinths vary in height by 3/4 of an inch.

 

I do want there to be enough of a difference between the chair rail and window sill to look intentional and not like a mistake. Therefore, the top of the wainscot cap (chair rail) will be around 33″.

 

door to den swinging into room

This height is also well below the Rosette/plinth block and ties more into the change in the fluting pattern.

In the end, I made one change. I did go with the P8030 moulding from Orac for the panel moulding.

The overriding reason is that with the wider boxes, I do think we’ll need a moulding that comes in the flexible version, as well as rigid.

Also, I looked at AB Kasha’s Instagram profile, and they are using some pretty substantial mouldings for their panels.

 

I have adored this image by ABKasha for probably the last decade or more! Here, you can see a wainscoting height that looks to be about 24″- 28″ and no more. We can’t even see the top of the wall panel, so this is a super high ceiling.

new wainscoting design January 2024 - 32 -33 high
My new wainscoting design January 2024 – 32 -33 high. I think this far less busy design will look much better with the X railing.

new panel moulding in progress

Above, you can see that the guys have been busy putting up plywood at the height of the new wainscoting. However, it will end up being about an inch higher than the plywood here. The blueboard shows you how high the old wainscoting was at nearly 41.”

 

Oh, dear Laurel. My wainscoting is 36″. Is that a mistake? If it is, I don’t care because I love it!

 

Strictly speaking, in Fibonacci terms, 36″ on an eight-foot-high ceiling is a superb proportion. The gold mean is 1 to 1.618. (I remember that because my son Cale’s birthday is 6-18. Anyway, 3 x 1.618 = 4.85 (or 5) 5 x 1.618 = 8. Therefore, 3 + 5 = 8 is an aesthetically pleasing proportion. However, it has nothing to do with a Doric Column.

That is the difference.

Therefore, my conclusion is that both are correct.

Of course, if one has a ceiling higher than eight feet, the formula doesn’t work.

It comes down to this. While it’s unlikely wainscoting will ever be too low, it can be too high. I’m not discussing the Arts & Crafts or Tudor-Style 3/4 of the wall panel moulding. That’s a different species of the same animal.

What I mean is a low wainscot that’s not meant to be tall but is a fair amount taller than all of the low furniture in the room.

I think it’s better to go a little too low, as that is one way to make the ceiling appear taller.

 

Okay, I promise to move on from the wainscoting!

Never mind. haha – I promise to move on– one day!

I’ve spent so much time on it because if I’m spending thousands of dollars getting this fixed, I want it to be right. Although, as we’ve seen, there is no ONE right. There’s a range of rights.

However, before we move on, one last look at the fireplace wall.

perspective fireplace wall moulding design with 28 high wainscot rail 9 baseboard
Because I ran out of room, we can’t see the entire length of the living room.

Therefore, I redid this elevation at a smaller scale and embellished it.

32 inch high wainscoting and panel moulding living room - renovation 2024

I hope you’ve enjoyed following along with this process and learned something along the way as I have.

xo,

 

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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