Shadow Box Trim Wainscot

Earlier this year I installed shadow box trim wainscoting in the front living room of my cousin’s home, in preparation for a big family event they were planning.  Shadow box trim gives a room a more formal and elegant feel.  It creates a wainscot a little different from others I’ve done in the past, like bead board and batten board, which I blogged about here.

On this project, they had a smooth wall drywall finish already on the walls, and we left the existing baseboards, so all that had to be done was add some chair rail with some shadow boxes below, and then paint it.  (It seems like a lot of times you end up replacing the existing baseboards when you install bead board or batten board, so that’s a perk of doing shadow box trim- it seems to save on a little labor and material costs).  We decided to go with a 3″ chair rail and 2-1/4″ panel mould for the shadow box trim.

Here’s some “before” shots of the room:



I started by installing the chair rail at the desired height.  For this project, I placed it about 42″ above the floor which ends up just below the light switches.  (Always try to layout your trim to avoid running into electrical boxes if possible – it’s a cleaner look to miss them).


As I layed-out the shadow boxes under the chair rail, I found that if I left 3 inches below the boxes, then all the wall plugs in the room would land just inside the shadow boxes.  (I didn’t want to hit wall plugs).  Then I left a matching 3 inches above the shadow boxes, and in between boxes, to space everything evenly.


After the painting and some finishing touches by Design by Natalie, this living room was really transformed from start to finish.


I mitered and returned the trim back on itself where the chair rail ends, and also at the top and bottom of the panel mould at the end of the wall shown in the photo below.  This method gives it a cleaner look than simply cutting off the ends and leaving the cut end of the trim piece exposed.


There was a cold air return grill in the way of the shadow boxes on the side entry wall that I didn’t quite know what to do with at first, but decided that dying the panel mould trim right into the return grill (as shown in the photo below) would make it the least conspicuous.


Another tricky area to lay out was the front wall of the living room.  It had a window that dropped down into the desired wainscot area.  I adjusted the height of the boxes below this window maintaining the common 3″ space in between the shadow boxes and the window sill apron trim above.  I ran the chair rail right into the sides of the existing window casing, and was able to fit one full height shadow box on either side of the window as shown below.


The widths of the shadow boxes were the same along any single wall, but the width of the boxes varied a little from wall to wall.  I had to use some math and a construction calculator to figure out how many boxes to place on each wall, miss the outlets, and keep the boxes about the same width as the others in the room.  (They range from about 19″-22″ wide for this project – but you don’t visually notice the difference when it’s done).

All you’re left with is elegant, sophisticated beauty!


Shadow Box Trim Wainscot

DIY Material Cost Breakdown

  • 3″ chair rail (about $0.75/LF)
  • 2-1/4″ panel mould (about $0.50/LF)

3 Replies to Shadow Box Trim Wainscot

  1. carin says:

    Did you also paint the walls? If so, do you know what brand and color of the paint is?
    Thank you.

  2. Natalie says:

    The green paint color is Kwal “Space Station.” Sorry it took me so long to find it. Hope that helps.

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