When it comes to the wall space between your kitchen countertop and cabinets, you need a surface that stands up well to dirt, grease and general abuse, but you also want it to look stylish. Wainscot planks can achieve both of these goals.
Available in 1/4- x 7- x 32-in. panels, tongue-and-groove wainscot planks are easy to install and require no special tools. They’re made of medium-density fiberboard (MDF), can be glued in place using construction adhesive, and can be painted or stained to suit your decor.
Provided your kitchen walls are in good shape, you can wash them with trisodium phosphate and then apply the planks directly to the walls. We even left the old wallpaper in place, as it was so firmly adhered to the wall that removal would have damaged the drywall surface. However, if the walls have damage such as cracks, peeling paint or loose wallpaper, you’ll need to repair the problems first.
Before you begin the project, condition the panels by removing them from their packaging and placing them in the room to be paneled at least 72 hours prior to installation. Stack the panels on the floor or lean them against a wall with spacers between sheets so air can circulate around each panel.
Although traditional bead board wainscoting features base trim and a cap rail, you can forgo these trim pieces because you’ll abut the planks between the countertop and the cabinets. Though the panels come primed, don’t forget to paint them with a durable finish that’s made for kitchen environments.
1. Carefully measure the distance between the countertop and the cabinets. Use a folding rule for this type of measuring, as its extendable tip allows for very accurate measurements.
2. After cutting the planks to length, apply a generous bead of construction adhesive. Use only a latex water-base adhesive that’s intended for use with MDF and hardboard materials, as solvent-base adhesives may cause discoloration or staining.
3. Start in one corner and adhere the first panel to the wall. If necessary, use small trim nails to fasten the bead board to the wall. To achieve the best adhesion, slightly pull the panel away from the wall after positioning it; then reposition and press it firmly into place.
4. Work from the corner and across the wall. Fit the panels around any receptacles or switches. Take careful measurements around any windows or trim, as gaps will be painfully obvious.
5. Run a bead of white caulk around all seams. Remember to caulk not only where the beadboard meets the countertop but also where it abuts the cabinets and around any windows or trim.
6. For a clean, updated look, consider replacing any receptacles and switches. (We used ones from Leviton’s Decora line.)