Installing Wainscot in a Powder Bath
By Larry Walton
You know the place. It’s the little room where your wife tells you not to use the good towels that match the decor. It’s the one that gets checked before the guests arrive. The powder room, sometimes called the guest bath or half bath, usually contains no bath at all. Located on the first floor or convenient to the living areas, it can be a good candidate for an update.
Wainscot can make a nice change to this room, transforming it into a diminutive oasis of tranquility for a momentary respite from the… You see where a little paneling can take you?
There are few areas in the house where trades can collide like in a bathroom, which can have a big build list in a small area. Trying to figure out the best sequence to schedule carpenters, plumbers, electricians, tile setters, painters and others can be a challenge for a general contractor. Often compromises must be made to get the job done.
The same project for a homeowner can be much easier to schedule, since you will wear the tool belt (or coveralls) of each of these trades. You can even mix and match partial installations typically done by different trades as the project comes together. For example, you can remove a toilet, do the work that needs to be done under and behind it, then reinstall it before the rest of the room is completed. A real plumber would want to come back to set all of the finish fixtures at once, which could leave you without a pot to… well, you get the idea.
We recently tracked a small powder room remodeling project where the work was done by general contractor and jack-of-all-trades Brian Monroe, who had the flexibility to get it done much like a homeowner project. As you will see in the wainscot project, the sequence of different tasks can be quite fluid on this type of job.
Pushing ahead to get one part done quickly can get in the way of other necessary tasks if you don’t give thought to the order of operations and how things will tie together. It might be fun to jump right into wainscot paneling, but it can leave you scratching your head on how to transition to the vanity countertop or how to install baseboard that now protrudes past the face of the casing.
Step by Step
As handy as an indoor toilet can be, it’s best to get it out of the way for a wainscot installation. Monroe shuts off and disconnects the water, flushes, removes water from the bowl, disconnects the floor bolts, cuts the caulk, loosens and lifts.
After removing the toilet, trim, outlet covers and pedestal sink, Monroe marked a level line around the room at an elevation he knew would be below the chair rail.
He used a utility knife to cut the wallpaper along the line. Notice that he did not bother to use a straight edge for this step. This is the cover-up principle in operation. Because the wainscot and chair rail will cover it up, there’s no need to waste time making a perfectly straight line on the wallpaper cut.
Before installing the panels, Monroe installed the baseboard. The sequence for this operation depends on the baseboard design and the look you want. In this case, the panels were thin enough that they could rest on the baseboard. This created a more desirable reveal (visible area) on the baseboard tops and eliminated an awkward caulk bead where the flutes of the beadboard panels meet the baseboard.
To determine the wainscot elevation, Monroe brought in the new vanity and sink and put them in position. Using the actual fixtures can help eliminate measuring mistakes. He used a short piece of chair rail to test the look compared to the vanity. Would it look best to hold it a couple of inches above the sink or below? In the end, he decided to use the chair rail much like a backsplash.
After cutting the panels to a height that would fall about the middle of the chair rail, Monroe started installing the panels on the powder room walls. There are a number of things that can dictate the sequence for installing paneling like this, including stud locations, placing joints where they are hidden, and making adjustments such as scribing on smaller pieces that are easier to handle.
With the two larger panels already in place, Monroe can easily handle this smaller piece to fit it just right into the corner. Since it’s best to sneak up on scribe adjustments by taking off a little material, testing it and taking off a little more, working with small pieces makes this process easier and quicker.