before, during and after pictures of bathroom update with diy wainscoting
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Budget Half Bathroom Update – DIY Wainscoting

My husband travels A LOT. On years that he doesn’t have a deployment, we’re lucky to have him home for six months total out of the year. On deployment years… well I’m just happy to see him when I can.

I like to set goals for myself when he’s away, and those goals usually revolve around something to do with the house. I’ve found that throwing myself into a project helps time to go by faster and it feels awesome to check things off of our home to do list. Plus, if I make updates to our home while he’s gone I don’t have to ask for his input and he comes home just happy that it’s done without him being dragged into my big ideas. It works for us!

So, while he was out for an extended training, I set the goal of redoing our small downstairs half bathroom. The plan started with just some painting and, then, like most of my projects, it grew to become 100x more complicated before I was done. 

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budget bathroom update with DIY wainscoting

In my Pinterest searches for beautiful bathrooms, I kept stumbling across bathrooms with crisp, white wainscoting and I decided that I had to figure out how to do it for myself. There were lots of great tutorials for DIY wainscoting on Pinterest already and I read ALL OF THEM. I combined the best aspects of each tutorial to attempt it for myself. 

And I totally did it!!

half bathroom update before picture

It made our bathroom so much brighter and definitely upgraded it from the basic builder style. I learned new skills like caulking and fixing popped nails in the walls. And completing this project was just so satisfying because of the huge visual impact it made. Plus, my husband came home totally impressed which always makes me pat myself on the back.

Budget Half Bathroom Update

Side Note: Real quick, before I share these photos I just want to mention that they aren’t great quality. They were taken with my cell phone as I worked on this project about 3 years ago. I never imagined I’d be sharing my DIY adventures with the world! But here I am – grainy photos and all.


  • 1 quart of white trim paint
  • 1 quart of dark blue paint
  • Thin sheets of plywood/luan – I used 2-3 2×4 sheets ($5-$8 per sheet)

1. Decide height of wainscoting

To decide the height of the wainscoting, I just picked a height that I thought would look best. Some things I took into consideration were the placement of the mirror, the height of the countertop and the light switches. I then measured from the top of the baseboard to my estimated height and made sure it was an easy measurement. By easy measurement, I mean that it either landed on an exact inch or a 1/4 or 1/2 inch. This way when I cut my boards I would have a better chance of measuring and cutting correctly the first time. It’s just easier for me to measure 24 1/2 inches than it is to measure 24 5/16 inches.

2. Paint

I painted prior to installing the wood pieces because I didn’t want to have to paint around them later. I put a strip of blue painter’s tape at about center of where the top horizontal piece of wood would be. I painted the bottom half with the same paint as the existing trim and chose a darker blue for the top.

3. Cut the wainscoting

Because I am super cheap frugal, I decided to buy thin, 1/8 inch thick pieces of plywood (sometimes called luan) and cut the strips for the wainscoting myself. You can buy kits or precut wood, but they are more expensive and frugality usually wins for me. I cut the strips using my table saw. I decided to cut the vertical pieces to 1.5 inches wide, the top horizontal pieces to 3.5 inches wide and the bottom horizontal piece to 2.5 inches wide.

A tip for cutting plywood is to put a piece of painter’s tape along the line you want to cut and then cut right through the tape with the table saw. This will help to prevent splintering.

4. Install

I used a pneumatic nail gun to attach the boards to the walls. A pneumatic nail gun is a nail gun that connects to an air compressor. It was important to use a long level for this process to make sure all the boards were straight. I also double and triple checked each measurement when it came to spacing because I’ve been known to measure incorrectly, and I can tell you it’s easier to do it right the first time than to try and correct things later.

5. Fill Nail Holes

Once I got all of the wood attached to the wall, I used a hammer and a small nail set like this one to countersink the nails. To countersink the nails you take a little, needle-like, metal tool and place it on the nail head. Then you hammer into the back of the tool to push the nail in. This way you don’t have any nails visible in your final product.

After pushing all of the nails in, I filled the holes with wood filler and sanded them smooth.

6. Paint Again

Then I painted all of my wood white to match the wall. I used the same color of paint as the existing trim and the wall. I did a couple of coats. I didn’t use any primer and have not had any issues with the wood grain showing through.

7. Caulk

My last step was to caulk around every stinking piece of wood that I had attached to the wall. It took a while. There is an art to caulking in straight, smooth, even lines and I have not yet figured it out, but this was certainly good practice!

Budget Half Bathroom Update

This project was A LOT more work than I was anticipating, but I love the result! I completed it in about a week and I’m pretty proud that I was able to do it by myself.

You can also check out this half circle headboard I made for the bedroom!

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I want to hear from you!

Have you done a budget remodel on any of your bathrooms? What are your DIY bathroom tips?