The Origins of Wainscoting
Wainscot originally came from medieval Poland. It was a term used to describe the high quality oak boards that were produced there at that time and exported throughout Western Europe. Although the dictionary shows that wainscot derives from the German word wagenschot (meaning wagon board) many agree that wainscot is far too valuable to be used in the making of wagons. Not that any of us are intending on making a wagon!
One thing for sure is as far back as the medieval times the term wainscot has been misspelled as many times as it’s been applied to walls throughout the world. People have used the terms wainscoting, wainscoating and even waynes coating (!) over the years. This makes perfect sense – since when applied to a wall wainscotting dresses the wall up as nicely and as beautifully as a coat. J
Making wainscot out of oak was originally done because large, slow-grown forest trees produced boards that were near perfect and knot-free, light-weight and very easy to work with. They were also dimensionally stable. As time passed by, however, the oak was replaced by softer woods like pine and spruce, but the name wainscot remained to be the term used to describe the beautiful decorative wood used to line the walls of the most fashionable houses in Europe. After awhile, when floor to ceiling covering was largely replaced by only applying paneling to the lower half of interior walls – wainscoting became the name used to describe this paneling style.
Wainscoting today is used to describe any paneling applied to the lower portion of an interior wall below the chair rail and above the baseboard. It is now traditionally constructed from tongue and groove boards, bead-board or decorative panels. Newer manufacturing techniques are making it easier than ever to make and apply wainscoting by producing large panels that have minimal seams. This allows for less caulking and can virtually eliminated contraction cracks that in the past have been a source of frustration for homeowners.
Although the original purpose of wainscoting was to help keep in the heat and help eliminate dampness in cold Poland homes back in the medieval times, it is now most often used purely as a decorative element to enhance the living spaces homes throughout the world.