Wood wainscoting vs subway tile in master bath

crl_April 1, 2013

We are redoing a very small master bathroom. My priorities for finishes are durability and ease of cleaning. We intend to stay in this house for another twenty or thirty years, so durability is particularly important to us. I am going for a vintage vibe, but not necessarily period perfect bathroom in a French revival style house built in 1926.

Other finish choices are a grey marmoleum floor, cast iron white tub, white toilet, white vanity with soapstone top. The shower over tub area will be white subway tiles with a grey ceramic liner.

I have been debating white wood wainscoting (maybe beadboard) or continuing the white subway tiles around the room as a wainscoting.

The contractor I think we will be using (our top pick out of five estimates, just need to check one more reference to feel like we have done complete due diligence) has suggested wainscoting because it is less expensive. Cost difference is $1100. We would rather pay less, of course, but we could make the extra cost work by prioritizing other expenses--either outside of the project or by going with a less expensive vanity and less expensive countertop.

I think the pros for tile would be durability and more consistency with the vintage feel, plus in a very small bathroom perhaps minimizing the number of materials is better visually?

What would you do and why?


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I just added true pine T&G beadboard wainscoting (not mdf panels) to my primary bath in my 1880 Maine Cape. We love the beadboard. IMO it is a classic for old homes, it is warmer feeling and to the touch than tile, and is readily paintable if you want to make changes.

You can see pics on my reveal post, linked below.

Here is a link that might be useful: Beadboard bathroom

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 7:16PM
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Here is our hallbath with subway wainscoting.

This post was edited by sparklebread on Thu, Jan 16, 14 at 13:17

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 7:42PM
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pic 2- sorry I don't know how to load multiple images.

This post was edited by sparklebread on Thu, Jan 16, 14 at 13:18

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 7:44PM
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I did tile on my bathroom wainscot and used Laticrete Spectralock grout for an indestructible wall in our hard working farm house bathroom. I would say any direction would be good. Kevin MP also has a wainscot out of wood but it looks more like a painted raised panel paneling. I think it was pretty simple to do.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 9:27PM
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We did wood in our early 1900's home. Given the ease of putting fresh paint on wood vs. trying to clean grout, I'd say wood is every bit as long-term durable as tile.

That being said, I really like the look of a fully tiled room and think it looks even more 'vintage' if you're using the right tiles together. The one posted earlier is awesome.

The upstairs bath is 5 years old now, and I have an 11 year old daughter and a wife who bathes every single night. No water issues at all. I replicated the trim for the smaller 3 piece bath in the basement.

1 Like    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 9:40PM
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Oh, and as is typical in my backwards way of doing things, the large window in the upstairs bath is being ripped out along with all the other windows in the house. So it will be getting fresh casement/stool/apron trim in a few weeks.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 9:42PM
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You all aren't helping--those are all lovely!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 10:31PM
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The medicine cabinet in your last picture is gorgeous! Do you mind sharing where you purchased it?

crl--at first I was going to say tile, but have never had either tile or beadboard wainscoting, all the pics look great. But the idea of being able to paint the wood, versus having to deal with grout, would push me towards beadboard.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 2:43AM
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Except when you use the epoxy, and probably the urethane, grouts, they are impermeable and wipe clean. These grouts don't need sealing. They do not stain. This is a corner of my bathroom that I recently finished. It is grouted with Laticrete Spectralock. So again, I think it is more of a design detail. Which do you like. They all will have draw backs and advantages to maintenance as well as complications related to installation.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 7:36AM
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I love both looks. But, for that price saving, I would do the beadboard now. I wouldn't want to get less expensive vanity or counter. Those are probably there for the duration. I would do the wood beadboard now. And later you could change it to tile. Matching white subway tile should not hard if you decide to spend that money down the road.

When deciding where to spend and where to save, I always think about what I could more easily change later on if I wanted to. I think changing the beadboard to tile if you decided to do that later would not be a big deal. As opposed to ripping out vanity and/or countertop later on.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 8:37AM
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We recently helped DD2 with her master bath remodel. She has white subway in the shower and true T&G pine around the room. It's not a tiny room, but not huge either.

Here is a link that might be useful: more pictures, before and after

    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 9:02AM
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I am actually thinking the opposite on ease of replacement. Replacing a vanity is a pretty easy task, especially if you plan for it by having the wall behind it finished too so the vanity size doesn't have to be exact. I have had a handyman do that in a previous house in half a day. But ripping out beadboard and replacing it with tile down the road would be a multi-day task, and would probably involve pulling out the toilet rendering the bathroom unusable during the project. And even if the tile can be matched (white subway is sure to still be around, but shades of white, exact shape of tile, etc may prove difficult to match exactly), matching up the grout might be a bit of a challenge color wise. Different lots, etc. If we go beadboard, it would be with the intention of leaving it long term.

This is tough for me. If it was an extra $500 I'd say tile. If it was an extra $5000 I'd say beadboard. The $1100 figure is in the grey zone for me. I do like the aesthetics of both. And I think either could work functionally. I slightly prefer tile on both fronts for this particular project. Maybe I will try deferring to dh and see if he will make the decision. ;)

Thank you all!

    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 4:46PM
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raehelen, think the cabinet is from Restoration Hardware, or could be the Afina Metro

Here is a link that might be useful: medicine cabinet

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 5:08PM
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Thanks sloyd! That is one beautiful medicine cabinet. It even lights up inside when you open the door, and has a plug-in! DH said he could make one for me, (it will be deeper), this is setting the bar pretty high!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 5:31PM
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As Enduring mentioned, I went with wainscoting in a paneled style because I wanted to mimic the paneling on my staircase downstairs and the door style and side paneling on the vanity I chose. It was very inexpensive and easy for my contractor to do. He basically used 1" x 4" pre-primed wood to make boxes and then trimmed the inner part with a 1.5" ovolo moulding with mitered edges. Not hard and very cheap. Tile would have been a fortune and I didn't think that bead board wouldn't have fit with my style of house.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 9:55PM
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Thank you all for weighing and and providing such lovely examples of both options. We have decided to go with tile. We intend to stay in the house for the duration and over the course of 20 years, the extra cost of tile is less than $50 per year. At that rate it seems worthwhile to get what we both prefer, even if it is really just the better of two good options from our perspective.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 2:05AM
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The medicine cabinet is a Restoration Hardware model - polished nickle with a full mirrored interior. It's very nice, good quality, and was really one of the only options.

Here is a link that might be useful: RH Medicine Cabinet

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 9:29AM
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This is exactly what we plan to do with our bathroom. Is the recessed panel just the drywall or is it wood/luan/ or some type of plywood?


    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 1:11PM
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Beadboard and subways, they can both be period-appropriate. To me it's more of a choice between formal versus informal, with subway being more formal and more refined.

With your priorities being durability and ease of cleaning, I'd recommend subway tiles.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 1:23PM
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I had the same question, googled it, and found this page. The pictures did not help me with making a decision though, because they all look wonderful! However, if the beadboard is less expensive, I will probably choose it (since other things are costing more than expected). Thanks! We are still in the beginning stages and have no floor right now.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2013 at 1:52PM
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