Wainscot or chair rail

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Wainscot and chair rail are two architectural detail terms that are often confused. We will look at the meanings of the words wainscot and chair rail, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

A wainscot is decorative paneling applied to the lower half of a wall around the perimeter of a room, also referred to as wainscoting or wainscotting.  It is thought that wainscotting was used as an insulation along stone walls. Once only constructed out of wood, usually oak, wainscotting today may also consist of PVC or plaster. The term wainscot is from the German word wagenschot, which literally translates as wagon partition. The leap in meaning from wagon partition to decorative wood paneling is unclear. Wainscot may be used as a noun or a transitive verb, which is a verb that takes an object. Related words are wainscots, wainscoted or wainscotted, wainscoting or wainscotting.

A chair rail is a strip of molding applied around the perimeter of a room as a mostly decorative element, though it may also protect the plaster walls from being marred by chairs. Traditionally, a chair rail is positioned about twenty-four inches above the floor, though the height may vary up to about thirty-six inches above the floor. There is a story that the term chair rail was coined by the Shakers, an American religious sect, though this may be apocryphal.


Though many dramatic changes were made throughout the building, much of the original trim, wainscot and flooring are still present. (The Hastings Banner)

Original features include wide-plank pine floors, horsehair plaster walls, raised panel doors and wide-board wainscoting, as well as built-in cupboards throughout. (The New York Times)

Tucked off the great room is the formal dining room with chair rail and mosaic-tile accents within the flooring. (The Dayton Daily News)