We've shared some of the smaller elements of our planned master bathroom design over the year or so, all in anticipation of our eventual project. From the antique clawfoot tub that has patiently awaited its restoration for the last 10 years while lurking in our basement, to the antique buffet we picked up a while back with the hopes of watching it magically transform into our vanity, our choices are like a giant jigsaw puzzle pieces waiting to be fit nearly together to reveal a grand vision.

In any bathroom renovation where one works to ensure everything from the largest to the smallest detail is accounted for, it's important to take the time necessary to research and weigh your options before making any permanent leap you might regret. Sure, the decision between a gigantic and even more enormous rain shower head is an important one, but so is the toilet we'll buy, tile we'll use, light switch we'll install, style of light we prefer, and location of the all important toilet paper dispenser.

In the end, all of the decisions, both big and small, add up to a load of options and choices that ultimately combine to become our bathroom, for better or worse.

One decision we've been considering for quite some time is a decidedly decorative but major element in what the finished bathroom become. This major design element...wainscoting.

It's no secret that Wendy and I are both fans of wainscoting. We did our own custom raised panel wainscoting up the stairs...

...and carried that look into our guest bathroom since it sits immediately adjacent to the stairs.

On Pinterest Wendy pins bathroom after bathroom with either wood or tile wainscoting, and it seems like when visiting other old houses with period detail we're always saying to each other, "Did you see the wainscoting in that room?"

Photo Credit: for the love of a house

While we love our stairway and bathroom raised panel wainscoting for the design aspects, and the fact it provides a great form of wall protection in a high traffic area, the raised panel detail is not really authentic to the Victorian period of our home. We're actually okay with this, but we don't want to keep doing raised panel in every room where we want the detail. However, we absolutely want to do wainscoting of some type in our master bathroom.

The initial debate seemed simple on the surface is "wood vs tile," but in actuality it was quite far from a simple decision. In order to make this fight between dissimilar materials fair we went ahead and made a pros and cons argument for each.

Tile Pros: Wendy and I love a good subway tile wainscoting. It's classy, classic, and clean. Subway tile is prevalent in old homes for the last 150 years and has a look that will truly never go out of style (even if the grout color you choose will). It fits with our home and aesthetic, works with the intended look of the room, and becomes rather warm and inviting in the winter, and cool and calming in the summer.

Tile Cons: Tile can be a bear to install, especially over about 33' of horizontal surface. We almost killed each other over the three days it took to do our kitchen backsplash, so the epic bathroom might just do us in for real. We want to use a handmade tile in the shower, which would need I match the rest of the room, which would mean a somewhat to very expensive purchase (33' x 4' tall = 132 sqft of tile @ ~$20 per sqft...wowza). Tile requires grout, which requires sealing, which requires extra cleaning, which results in frustration in hard to reach places.

Wood Pros: Wood wainscoting is more forgiving than tile. It's straight forward to install, deals better with wavier walls of an old house, and doesn't require a million tile spacers that just keep falling out over and over and over. Of the various profile options, many are true to the period of our home, and simple tongue and groove boards are relatively quick and easy to install. It can be painted to whatever color you choose, so it never goes out of style, and it is less likely to end in a catastrophic divorce than tile. It also tends to be cheaper than tile, but I think the avoiding divorce part plays into that aspect quite a bit.

Wood Cons: There are a whole lot of profiles to choose from, so that's a whole different ball of wax. Installing it requires nailing strips and a bunch of additional prep work. Once installed you still need to paint it. And you have the risk of expansion/contraction and movement causing unsightly cracks that require maintenance. Surprisingly to many, wood isn't necessarily all that inexpensive, especially if you're using a nice and reliable clear paint wood species like poplar.

After much deliberation, we simply couldn't get over the level of effort required to install tile. And to be honest, the cost played a supporting role in our decision. We envisioned night after night of exhausted arguing and swearing, and the risk that wavy walls would ultimately undo any hard work and effort we'd ultimately invest. For this reason, and the fact that we liked many of the wood wainscoting profiles quite a bit, we opted to go with wood and begin selecting our favorite profile.

We decided to refer to the Mad River Woodworks catalog to determine the various profiles available. Obviously this isn't an encyclopedia of all wainscoting profiles, but I know their selection is good. We want to use a full 3/4" stock so our options came down to three different profiles which amounted to either a single bead (WC 101) or double bead (WC 100) with a wider looking board, or a small looking board with a single bead (WC 102).

At this point we're still debating which one to choose. We have our favorite and we're in the process of obtaining an estimate, but we'd love to hear your opinion before we place the final order. So which is it for you? 

  • Wider single bead - WC 100
  • Wider double bead - WC 101
  • Narrow single bead - WC 202
  • Scrap the whole wood idea, stop being lame about how "hard" it is, and just do tile.

We'd love your input on the subject. Unlike the debate about whether or not to paint our antique doorstop, I can't say that votes will necessarily sway Wendy one way or the other (just being honest here), but we'd love your input on the matter. I mean, it is kind of a big decision.

Comments 26


8/9/2013 at 10:21 AM
We did a board and batten wainscoting in our bathroom and I love it. I want to clean it up a bit as right now it looks like some quarter rounds would make it look more finished, but otherwise I couldn't be happier with how it turned out.

(we also thought about tile but decided against it for all the reasons you mentioned!)
Before you pop in quarter round on your board and batten, check out some of the other panel moulding options. madriverwoodworks.imaginenolimits.us/catalog-page-19 PAN 102 and PAN 103 might work really well to give you an interesting look.
3/26/2016 at 4:10 AM

Where did you get the wainscoting going up the stairs and in the guest bedroom? I love it for our master remodel we are about to start.

8/9/2013 at 10:31 AM
I very much like the wider double bead. I am curious, don't you worry about using wood in a room with so much humidity? When the shower is on, does the vent truly do any difference?
We're going to take several steps to ensure the moisture won't cause any major impact on the boards. The vent fan we've installed will take care of the majority of the moisture as it's significantly oversized for the room. Beyond that we'll prime all of the wainscoting with oil based primer, protecting the boards from moisture infiltration, much like you'd do with outdoor siding. In our opinion, that should take care of it.
8/9/2013 at 10:37 AM
Ah, tough decision! If it was me, I'd probably go for either of the single bead versions...and either the narrow or wide depending on how big my room was!
Well, we see eye to eye on so many things with old homes that I wouldn't be surprised if we end up going this way.
8/9/2013 at 11:24 AM
Just reading that gave me the heeby jeebies about tile. I kept thinking "DON'T DO IT! DON'T DO IT!" Looks like you guys had the same though. I like the look of tile but the cost and the work involved don't seem to be worth it.I'm not great at picking profiles but honestly think you can't really go wrong with any of them.
Hah, that's funny that you could see us heading for the cliff.
8/9/2013 at 11:25 AM
I love the direction you're going in! Subway tile is definitely a classy and classic choice, but so is wainscoting! I don't think you can go wrong either way. I have plain old off the Home Depot shelf bead board in my bathroom and love it. And after 4 years of use (in a bathroom with humidity issues), it's held up wonderfully. It's probably just to the point now where some caulk touchups are necessary.

I like all of the profiles you all have shown here. In my opinion wider planks lends itself to a more causual, cottage look and narrow planks are a bit more dressy (like in your inspuration picture). Of course, that can all change depending on the other elements in the room, but I think a more narrow plank (regardless of number of beads) would be a better choice for your home.
Great to know you're still liking yours. That's always that concern lurking in the back of your mind. The idea that it looks good now but in a few years you'll look at it and say "What was I thinking?"
8/9/2013 at 11:45 AM
My favorite is WC 101. Why have you decided on handmade tile for the shower? We did handmade tile in our kitchen but did not in the bathrooms because of the cost. I could tell the difference between the two prior to being installed, but once installed it is much harder to notice the differences.
We did handmade tile in the guest bathroom shower, and the machine made in the kitchen. We like both quite a bit, but I like the slightly variable look of the handmade, and I feel it just looks more at home in the age of our home. You are right, once grout is installed it does look increasingly similar.
Karin K
8/9/2013 at 2:02 PM
I want your guest bath in my house. NOW. Everything you guys choose ends up being just perfect, so I'm going to sit back and eat my popcorn until the "after" pictures go up.
8/11/2013 at 10:38 AM
I'm with Karin! Also, I never saw your stairway before. . . love it!!
8/9/2013 at 2:49 PM
I vote wood. I deliberated back and forth for ages on which style of wood wainscoting we would use, and eventually I went with the single bead. (Similar to your WC 101). You can see my choice here www.storefrontlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/after4.jpg I think its classic, but I may be biased. ;)
Mike Howard
8/9/2013 at 3:24 PM
Tiles: no, no, no. They're expensive; you don't like installing them; and frankly, the end result looks like an old school toilet. Tiles say "utility", not "luxury". That's why they're used in subways and public toilets.
8/10/2013 at 12:16 AM
I asked my house what I should use for the wainscot in my gutted bathroom. It said "What is on the eaves? What is on the front porch ceiling and covering the lower walls of the screened in porch? What did great grandma (who built this house in 1924) choose to put on the walls of the main farmhouse when they added the bathroom in 1909?" The answer - beadboard! I was going to tile the walls of the shower in those spendy beadboard tiles, but then I found that Swanstone made solid surfacing routed to look like beadboard. (Still spendy, but NO GROUT!) And even though I didn't match the beadboard to the swanstone, they look fine next to each other. I did prime both sides with oil base primer and no moisture issues yet.

My one regret is not getting a better quality and grade of beadboard, but the contractor needed it NOW and I had to get the crappy off the shelf pine from Menards. I like 102, btw. I can email you a picture if you wish.
4/13/2014 at 11:54 AM

How are you liking the Swanstone beadboard now that you've had it for a while? Do you have to wipe it down after each use (like is done with tile)? We are thinking about using it for our tub/shower walls. Would you mind sending me a picture of your bathroom?

12/4/2016 at 1:58 PM

Yeah, I know this is old, but can you send me a pic too...and tell me how you like the swanstone headboard. Nervous about getting it and still debating tile but hate grout. Also want it for resale value.

8/10/2013 at 9:58 AM
We did the wide,single groove wainscoting in our bathroom redo two years ago. Our house was built in 1802 so we know all about wavy walls! I still love the wainscoting and am so glad we did it.
8/10/2013 at 12:47 PM
I'm glad you decided to go with wood. I think it's the easier option, and it can easily be repaired/touched-up, or changed later. It also makes it easier to install towel bars/hardware if needed (as opposed to tile, which involves heavy drilling). I prefer the single bead (101) followed by the double bead (100). I find that 102 is too busy, and might look too close to cheap MDF beadboard that "every hardware store carries".

Honestly though, I kinda thought you would be doing matching panelled wainscotting. Was that an option at all, or did you decide you wanted something a bit different for this room?

I'm kind of dreading (and looking forward to) doing my board and batten/wainscotting in the dining room. It's going to look absolutely gorgeous, but because of the way I want to do it, it's going to be a huge pain.
8/11/2013 at 7:56 AM
I was going to vote for tile. There's nothing much more classic in an old house bathroom than the pseudo-antiseptic style of a bath with lots of tile! Tiling a wall is SO much easier than a backsplash ... you're sitting on the seat of your pants on the floor while tiling a wall, not bending over the kitchen counter hitting your head on your upper cabinets like with a backsplash. It take thorough planning on your layout, but the actually tiling part goes really fast when you have two people working on it.
8/12/2013 at 3:12 PM
We're going to go against the grain and say you should use tile. Even though you'll have a ventilation fan, wood and water are never a good combination. I would be concerned about the wood warping over time. I would save the wood for a bathroom that didn't see as much shower use, or for a powder room.

You can sometimes get lucky and find subway tile at surplus building material stores. We got enough to do our second and third floor bath from Community Forklift. It was surplus, new in the box, and we paid about $200 for 250 square feet.
Roberta MM
10/2/2013 at 6:25 AM
Wood like tiles, porcelain one! They are much better than real wood because they require less maintenance and are more durable. I have these italian ones: www.coem.it/en/prodotti/signum-en
10/13/2021 at 10:05 AM

thank you so much for this info!

Since you've not signed in yet, you will need to fill in your name and email below. If you have a Facebook account, save yourself a step and use Connect to login.

Denotes a required field.

Please enter full URL, including http://

You can use Markdown syntax in your comment. And you can also use lots of Emoji!
  • Search

  • Login
  • Follow
  • Advertising

If you're looking for information on advertising and sponsorships, head on over to our sponsorships page. You can purchase site sponsorships in a few easy clicks. 

Toolbox Tuesday
Open Housing
  • We're Featured!

Old Town Home has been featured in the following places and publications:

The Washington Post
Washingtonian Magazine
Old House Journal
Apartment Therapy House Tour
Washington Post Express Feature
Home & Garden Blogs
© 2024 OldTownHome.com. - Privacy Policy
Login Below
Sign in with Facebook

Unexpected Error

Your submission caused an unexpected error. You can try your request again, but if you continue to experience problems, please contact the administrator.