kitchen wainscoting design ideas

We want to define this “dining area” with wainscoting.  But where are the start/stop points?

[This is part of Our Molding Makeover series.]

This is a conflict-resolution story of how Jennifer and I came up with a wainscoting design for our kitchen that we both really love.  Spoiler alert: she had the best idea all along!

Our kitchen/dining room has one of those open floor plans with no real start or stop points between rooms, making it a challenge to transition molding designs between rooms.

For example, our hallway starts out as a foyer, transitions through the living room, past the stairs, past the half-bath and then dumps you into the “dining area,” such as it is.

What I’ve wanted to do from the start is define the wide space in the kitchen with a tall wainscoting treatment.  But no matter what design combo I came up with, Jennifer gave my ideas a thumbs down.  She was convinced that a tall wainscoting would end up dominating the kitchen.  She also didn’t like the idea of some towering mass pressing down on us while eating at the table.

I was certain that if I just came up with the right design I could convince her to accept the tall wainscoting.  But it was no deal.  So I kept sketching designs.  Here are a few that made it to paper:

kitchen wainscoting that will be painted white

The first sketch I presented to Jennifer. We thought about it for a few days, but ultimately rejected it.

tall wainscoting for the kitchen

I was convinced Jennifer would go for this design. Nope.

Letting Go of a Favorite Design

So I had to let it go.  It’s not that my idea wouldn’t have looked good, it would have, and that’s the problem.  There are lots of molding designs you and your partner can come up with, but narrowing them down to the one that best satisfies both of you is the hard part.  The moldings are for the people, not the home, so satisfying both your needs requires some design trial and error.  And I wanted to make Jennifer happy, but I really didn’t have any alternative designs kicking around in my head.

The Problem With The Space

Between the living room and the kitchen is a small space with a lower ceiling that is flanked by a brick firewall between us and the unit next door.  It’s an awkward space.  And long.

I felt a normal height wainscoting would look too repetitive stretched along the brick wall, with or without inset panels to break it up.  I wanted a molding treatment that would somehow set the otherwise vague dining area apart.

wainscoting designs

A normal sized wainscoting with inset panels did not define the dining area.

Pilasters to the Rescue!

Next we tried thinking about a series of pilasters integrated into a plain, classical style wainscoting.  The problem, as with any design for this kitchen, is the lack of balance in the arrangement of pilasters.

pilasters in the wainscoting

But we felt we were on to something, though we knew the design still needed something else.  But what?

wainscoting on brick wall

The pilasters and pedestals allow us to define the dining area and yet continue the wainscoting along the brick wall.

We found our solution in Radical Classicism, a big coffee table book about the work of Quinlan Terry, a brilliant modern-day classical architect.  There’s nothing radical about pilasters on top of pedestals, it’s just that we didn’t think about that combination until we saw it in the book, and perhaps more importantly, we were finally open to the idea now that we had exhausted so many other options.

wainscoting ideas

Now I can let go of all the other designs and concentrate on the details of our chosen path to wainscoting happiness.

Now that I have a general idea of what to install, I can come up with the particulars of exactly which moldings and flat-stock MDF I’ll use to make this design a reality.  We’ll keep you updated with detailed inventory and step by step installation sequences.

You can see how it all turned out here at our WAINSCOTING-109 Part I post.