Wainscot panels can make a room look charmingly classic or boldly contemporary, depending on how you choose to paint them. No matter what color you already have on the walls, you have several options for wainscot colors, each of which creates a different mood or aesthetic. The style of paneling you’re using also affects your paint choices — some wainscoting invites the use of multiple colors, while other varieties only accommodate one. Whatever your personal style or the shape of your molding, use basic color theory to choose appropriate colors for the wainscoting.

Selecting a Color Scheme

Decide whether you want to use different shades of the same color, colors that are near each other on the color wheel, or colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. These three types of color scheme are called monochromatic, analogous and complementary.

Select a monochromatic color scheme if your aesthetic is clean and modern. Painting the wainscot in the same color as the walls tones down its inherent traditional feel and makes it more contemporary. Choose a color a few shades lighter or darker than the walls, or use the exact same shade to make the molding as subtle as possible.

Use an analogous color scheme to create a little more contrast without necessarily making the wainscoting the focus of the room. If the walls are dark, use a light shade for the molding; if the walls are pale, use a dark shade for the molding. For example, pair baby blue walls with moss green wainscoting; pair deep red walls with creamy salmon wainscoting.

Choose a complementary color scheme to make the wainscoting stand out dramatically, maximizing its impact. This works better with picture-frame-molding wainscot than with flat panels, because complementary schemes can be overwhelming when there is too much of the accent color. For example, paint picture-frame molding navy blue against burnt orange walls, but think carefully before applying the same color scheme to paneling that covers a whole one-third of the room.

Working with Different Styles

Paint wainscoting a crisp white or subtle cream for a classic, traditional effect. This works equally well with picture-frame molding or panel molding.

Fill the flat space inside picture-frame molding with the same color you used on the frame or with the color of the surrounding wall. Alternatively, fill the flat space with a new color that fits the scheme you chose for the wall. For example, if you chose a monochromatic scheme and the wall is lavender, you might paint the molding a deep, dusty purple and the flat space inside a soft, medium purple.

Use a single color for basic panel molding that covers the bottom one-third of the room. Paint the chair rail at the top of the wainscoting in the same color, in white or cream, or in an analogous color.