Whether it be the evenly split look of half drywall, half wood, or a more traditional wainscot providing contrast to your walls, the use of multiple surfaces can add an elegant touch to any home and break the monotony of an ordinary, single-tone wall. With the use of a small amount of trim to accent the wood side and smooth the transition, and the utilization of a simple but effective carpentry technique, a picture-perfect wall plane is easy to accomplish with just a small amount of careful planning and measurement.
Choosing Your Design
Several factors may influence how much of the wall you cover with wood paneling. In hallways, stairwells and other sparsely furnished areas, as well as seating areas, such as living rooms and dining rooms, it's often preferable to apply a traditional wainscot paneling about 3 feet or less in height. This often includes a non-functioning handrail trim on top, providing a solid-looking transition into the drywall plane. A half-drywall, half-wood panel treatment tends to work better in areas where more standing is involved. It has a tendency to give an observer a feeling of "swimming" in the paneling when used in seating rooms or narrow hallways. When planning your project, contact your local building department to learn about code requirements. You probably won't need a permit for this kind of project, but you may need to cover the entire wall with drywall for fire-resistance. Also, very thin paneling materials may need the solid backing of drywall or other code-approved sheet material.
Establishing the Wall Plane
Once the wall is ready for new drywall and paneling, you must establish the plane you wish to arrive at. The drywall will most likely be 1/2 inch, but the wood paneling is likely going to be thinner. In most cases, the standard thickness of wood veneer paneling for walls is around 1/8 inch to 3/16 inch. After measuring your chosen material to be certain, subtract the difference from the thickness of your drywall. This will be the amount you will need to build out, or "fur," where the paneling will be installed.
Furring Out the Wall Behind the Thinner Panel
The easiest and most consistent to accomplish the furring out of a wall to meet the drywall plane is the use of butt shims. These are cardboard-like composite strips sold at home improvement stores by the bundle. Each 3-foot strip is 1/8-inch thick and can be applied directly to a stud with staples or small-headed nails. The strips can also be stacked on top of each other to make up for a larger deficit.
Truing Up Framing Inconsistencies
Some framing inconsistencies may become exaggerated, and telegraph through the drywall and paneling if it is applied over uneven studs. With the wall still open and the framing exposed, stretch a string line or a long level across the studs to see if there are any other discrepancies you need to fine tune prior to attaching the panel. Butt shims are designed so that you can peel off layers along the shim to create a tapered fur-out wherever necessary. With careful shimming, even the most uneven framing can be brought back to a flat plane prior to closing up the wall.
Adding the Finishing Touch
In the case of a half-wall panel, a small T-molding that matches your wood paneling will offer a seamless transition and hide the gap from wood to drywall. Much more elaborate trim options come into play with some wainscot designs, but the same basic T-molding can be utilized if you're after a more modern and simplistic look. With the two panels at the same plane, your trim options are basically limitless.