Easy, Budget Friendly DIY Faux Wainscoting Tutorial


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Today I’m sharing such an easy project with a HUGE wow factor: Faux wainscoting! It’s simple, inexpensive, and makes a statement.

This faux wainscoting post is part three in the three on how we refreshed our hallway. For the whole project, make sure to check out these posts:

  1. Updating interior doors
  2. How to hang wallpaper: Get it perfect the first time

Why faux wainscoting

Faux wainscoting wasn’t always on our radar. Originally when planning the hallway project we wanted to use authentic wainscoting. The previous owners had done a very interesting burgundy paint job to give it the look of wainscot paneling . . . without the panels apparently. However, a quick trip to Home Depot and pricing the real thing, even faux wainscoting panels, we knew a DIY using less money was the option for us. Extra work sure, but the total cost it saved us was worth the time.

Pro Tip: Hallways and stairs are great accent wall options to add some fun and life to your home! 

Issues to address before beginning

Our walls had a medium spray texture to them. We knew simply placing wood molding in the shape of wainscoting and painting the wall would show the texture. I wanted it to be smooth, giving off the impression of the real deal.

We had another issue as well. The burgundy paint job I mentioned earlier? Well, they had painted over two layers of wallpaper. While I was able to remove the wallpaper from the top of the wall with minimal trouble, it’s pretty much impossible to remove wallpaper that’s been painted over. I was not going to be spending hours upon hours chipping away at that paper. There had to be a better way. 

That was another reason we were originally going to use real wainscoting, to over up the painted wallpaper. Since that wasn’t in the cards anymore, we came up with a much easier option!

Mudding the wall to smooth it out

First we measured how far up we’d be doing the wainscoting. Traditional heights run 36-42 inches. Then, using standard wall texture mud, I mudded the wall to smooth everything out. If you have textured walls and need to smooth them out, don’t be intimidated! It truly is easy, just time consuming. 

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.

When it was mentioned to us that mudding the walls to make them smooth, mimicked the look of wainscoting, I was on board. A bucket of mud is under $10. A few hours and I’d have those walls as smooth as a baby’s butt!

Mudding and sanding

What you’ll need to mud a wall:

1. Mud. (also known as joint compound)

2.Taping knife

3.Mud pan

4.Drywall sanding sponge (or any find grade sanding paper)

Shop Mudding and Sanding Products:

Mud, or joint compound as it’s also called, is very forgiving! It doesn’t stain, washes out of clothes, and is easy to clean up. I dropped a ton all over my carpet, let it dry and vacuumed it up. 

Start by placing a generous amount of mud into your mud pan. (I mixed just a bit of water to thin it out) and apply it to the wall. Work in sections. Apply and smooth. There are many helpful Youtube videos on mudding and I encourage you to check them out. Don’t be worried about making it perfect. Sanding will help to smooth out imperfections. 

See my examples:

After a couple swipes of sand paper (once dried) was perfect and ready to paint.

It took an afternoon to mud, 24 hours to dry, and then I lightly sanded. Below is another example. It was really hard to get it smooth working between the molding and outlet.

Sanding is a miracle worker, and I didn’t end up redoing any of it.

sanding the mud after

Remember: Nothing in our home – walls, doorways, moldings, etc. are ever truly straight or flat. You’ll need more mud in some areas, less in others.

Applying the molding

We used smooth finish pine boards for the trim work, though MDF boards would work too. You could also get fancy and use crown moldings or even picture frame molding! A good DIY project is fun like that. You get to be as creative as you want.  

The horizontal pieces are 1×4’s and the uprights, or vertical pieces are 1×3’s. Again, Pinterest is an amazing resource for faux wainscoting ideas. I wanted to keep mine simple. Since we have five doorways in a fairly small hallway area and I was afraid to overwhelm the space. Keeping it simple which was exactly what I was going for. We used finishing nails, a nail gun, and an air compressor to adhere the boards to the walls. We also applied construction adhesive to the back of the boards for extra staying power. Cover the nail holes with caulk. 

Spacing the uprights

For spacing the uprights, we went with each individual area. A smaller space between two doorways? It’s a good idea to simply measure out the middle and placed a board there. For the stairs, we went with about 14″ between uprights over the entire wall at a 45-degree angle. 


If you’re painting or adding wallpaper to the above portion of the wall, do it before nailing on the molding. Measure it out so the paint or wallpaper ends under the top boarder piece. This makes a seamless transition into the wainscoting. 

Get this hallway style:

Painting the wainscoting

Wainscoting paint color can be neutral to bold! Because it’s only half way up the wall, it’s easier to go bold and not worry about the color overtaking the space. However, because this hallway was so narrow and has no natural light, I opted for white and bright! The wall color can also be bold, or neutral to contrast the wainscoting, or do like me, and use wallpaper. Just make sure you use a different color from the wainscoting. You want your hard work to stand out, not blend in. 

Our wainscoting color was Bold White by Sherwin Williams.

However, when painting, this is where you should do as I say and not as I do. Paint your board trim pieces before nailing them to the wall. I did mine after and it was not fun. The reason I ended up doing it this way though, was because Travis bought the wood on his day off, and he worked the next day. I wanted it done that day and didn’t want to paint first and end up waiting another five days for him to have time to nail it up. I used a tiny paintbrush to get next to the wallpaper and it worked, but goodness, what a pain it the neck!

Also, You will need a caulk gun to caulk all the spaces that will randomly happen between the boards and walls. I painted one coat which easily showed all the holes I needed to address. Caulking is again, easy but messy. (you will need a caulking gun and one tube of caulk.) I caulked a string along the gap, then used my finger to push it into the empty space completely and smoothed out the part that was showing with my finger and a paper towel.

Once you allow the caulking to dry go ahead and do as many coats of paint as needed. I ended up doing about four. I wanted everything completely covered. If you have to paint along the top trip, use painters tape to cover the wallpaper. Paint seems to dry so fast on wallpaper and is hard to wipe off in time. 

That’s it guys! Truly a very simple project that involved about $80 worth of wood, a gallon of $60 paint, caulking that was $2 bucks, mud that cost $8, and any supplies you don’t already have. A few days and some elbow grease and bam, a completely transformed area! And for less than a quarter of what purchasing actual wainscoting would cost! 

Not into cutting the wood trim or just don’t have the tools?

Don’t want to do cut the wood and such at home? Home Depot often cuts to size to help you out a bit, and there are some amazing options off Wayfair for help making your wainscoting project easier. Check them out here!

Have questions? Drop me a comment below or send me a message via Instagram (my favorite platform) to get it touch with me! Also make sure to follow along on Instagram for what project we’re working on in real time!

This easy project added instant curb appeal to the hallway. Depending on your space throw a long area rug into the room to tie in the colors, decorate as you desire, and enjoy! What next project should we tackle? I think the dining room would benefit from a wall treatment! It seems like a dining area should be a bit fancy, right? 

Update: This project was done last year, and still, the whole thing is holding up exceptionally well and we get compliments on it constantly. It’s easy to wipe down because of the smooth non-texture finish and it looks like real lightweight panels. The only part i’ve had to maintenance is the top of the baseboard which gets hit or kicked often and I have to touch up with paint. But truthfully, that happens to all baseboards in general. I hope this tutorial helps you to do a great job on your project. Send me a pic when it’s done! 

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  1. What a great job! My (now adult) kids and I have mudded almost everything on the planet. Floated Sheetrock and faux finished. Venetian plaster and etc. my house is stone on the exterior and looks like an English house. I want to skim my halls and install wainscoting. Yours is gorgeous

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