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How To Install Picture Frame Molding (The Easiest Wainscoting Style Ever!)

I’ve made quite a bit more progress on my dining room walls!  In fact, I would have had most of the wall molding installation finished yesterday (excluding the parts around the windows that will soon be replaced) except that the Home Depot that I always go to was completely out of the molding that I’m using to create my wall frames.

Anyway, I’m so glad that I went with this style for these rooms, because this the absolute easiest wainscoting (or faux wainscoting, as the case may be) style I’ve ever installed. It takes a fraction of the time that the recessed panel wainscoting takes, and I think if I had chosen to use the recessed panel style in these rooms, I would be pulling my hair out by now.  I’d probably still be working on the entryway wall.  😀

Here’s how to install picture frame molding the absolute easiest, most foolproof way.

I started by installing my baseboard and chair rail.  These will be the guide for installing the picture frame molding, so it’s imperative that each of these is installed level.  Don’t try to eyeball it!

Install baseboard and chair rail - How to install picture frame moulding wainscoting - addicted2decorating.com

I installed those using construction adhesive (Loctite) and 2-inch 16 gauge finishing nails in my nail gun. My drywall has shiplap behind it, so no matter where I nail, those nails are going to go into solid wood.  If your drywall is installed directly on the studs, then you’ll want to use a stud finder to make sure some of your nails are going into the studs.

Then I used a scrap piece of 1″ x 4″ lumber as a guide to mark for the inside frame.  I just pushed it right up against the door casing, baseboard, chair rail, and side wall, and marked the inside edge of the board.

Use a scrap piece of 1 x 4 to mark off rectangle for mouldingl - How to install picture frame moulding wainscoting - addicted2decorating.com

I ended up with a perfectly spaced and centered rectangle for my picture frame molding.  This also makes it incredibly easy to use a tape measure to measure the exact height and width needed for the frame pieces.  This completely eliminates all guesswork (and possible miscalculations for math-challenged people like myself).

Mark off rectangle with a pencil - How to install picture frame moulding wainscoting - addicted2decorating.com

I used those measurements to cut out the pieces for the frame, and then I pre-assembled the whole frame using wood glue and 1″ 18-gauge finishing nails.

Assemble molding pieces with wood glue and finishing nailsl - How to install picture frame moulding wainscoting - addicted2decorating.com

Pre-assembling the frame before attaching it to the wall (rather than attaching it to the wall piece-by-piece using a level) eliminates the possibility of ending up with corners that are less than perfect and needing to be filled with caulk.  I’ll still caulk the corners on these, but using this method, I don’t have have to deal with slightly misaligned corners or corners with small gaps.  They’re all perfectly mitered and fitted together.

Picture frame moulding ready to be attached to wall - How to install picture frame moulding wainscoting - addicted2decorating.com

Then using the guide lines that I drew on the wall, I attached the frame using construction adhesive and 18-gauge finishing nails.

Attach frame to wall with adhesive and nailsl - How to install picture frame moulding wainscoting - addicted2decorating.com

For the upper panels, I figured how tall they all needed to be based on the height of my crown molding (and since that’s not installed yet, I actually had to do math…yikes!).  Then I used my scrap lumber spacer to just mark the bottom and the sides (about half way up).  I pre-assembled the top frames just like I did the lower frames.  And since these are bigger and flimsier, I just kept my spacer sitting right on top of the chair rail so that I could set the frame right on top while making minor adjustments.

How to install upper panels - How to install picture frame moulding wainscoting - addicted2decorating.com

I aligned the bottom corners with the pencil marks, and nailed the bottom piece to the wall.  But I didn’t strictly rely on the pencil marks for the sides of the upper panels.  Instead, once the bottom piece was aligned with the marks and nailed to the wall, I used a level on the sides before nailing them to the wall.

Use a level on the sides of the frame before attachingl - How to install picture frame moulding wainscoting - addicted2decorating.com

The long entryway wall, where I used several picture frames in a row, also required a bit of math.  I still used my spacer to mark around the side walls, chair rail, and baseboard.  But then I had to figure where the individual panels needed to stop and start.

entryway wall picture frame moulding progress 2

I knew I wanted five panels, and I knew that my spacer was 3 1/2 inches wide.  With five panels, I would have six spaces, and six spaces at 3.5 inches wide gave me a total of 21 inches needed for the spaces between the picture frames.  So I subtracted 21 inches from the total wall width (152 inches) and then divided that number by 5 to arrive at the width needed for each picture frame.

152 inches (total wall width) – 21 inches (total width needed for spacing) = 131 inches / 5 panels = 26.2 inches wide for each panel

With that measurement, I then used my spacer and level to mark the spacing for the panels.

Mark where the individual panels will be attached - How to install picture frame moulding wainscoting - addicted2decorating.com

I actually did the two outside panels on each side first, and I just measured and marked them at 26.25 inches (for the sake of simplicity).  Then I did the center panel last.  It ended up being a tiny bit smaller, but I was okay with that.

So that long wall with the multiple panels required a bit more math, but once I had all of my marks drawn, the rest of the process was exactly the same.

And that’s it!  It’s so simple! And so beautiful, in my humble opinion.  🙂

Full wall picture frame mouldingl - How to install picture frame moulding wainscoting - addicted2decorating.com

Oh, and I had a few people ask me what kind of molding I used for my picture frames.  I studied probably a hundred different pictures of picture frame molding wainscoting on Houzz and Pinterest, agonizing over the decision of what kind of molding to use.  I finally decided to use this base cap molding (one of my go-to moldings that I like to use) since I’ve already used it in other areas.  It’s what I used to dress up the panels on my fireplace, and it’s also what I used on the recessed panel wainscoting in the bathroom.

So slowly but surely, I’m getting these walls trimmed out.

entryway wall with three upper panels
Full wall picture frame moulding in progress - How to install picture frame moulding wainscoting - addicted2decorating.com

While the picture frame molding is almost all installed, I still have all of the crown molding (plus a little additional ceiling molding that I want to add) that needs to be installed.  Then I still have a ton of wood filling, sanding, caulking, and painting ahead of me.

And since I worked so dang hard to get my walls perfectly smooth, I’m also considering spraying the walls in here once I get all of the trim installed and ready for paint.  That way I won’t ruin my perfectly smooth, texture-free walls with brush strokes. But I’m not completely sure yet. I’m generally not one to take time to mess with even the basic prep things like drop cloths (as you can tell from my floors) or painters tape, so the thought of having to tape and drape everything for spraying kind of stresses me out.  But I really don’t want to mess up my walls, so the headache of taping and draping would probably be worth it.



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  1. Simply gorgeous!!! I’ve been wanting this done in my formal room for years but can’t convince my husband to tackle it for me!!

  2. I am so glad that you went with a simpler molding. It could have become too fancy otherwise. And I think taking some time to cover the floor,doors and windows and letting go with the paint sprayer is a marvelous idea! It will be a lovely smooth paint job. Soon you with be on to the fun of decorating! Another large project done! This has been a very productive year!
    Sheila F.

  3. Have been a long time reader here. The picture frame moldings look beautiful. Can’t wait to see how it all looks finished up! 🙂

  4. Kristi,
    I have the exact same faux wainscoting in my upstairs hallway and dining room and I get so many compliments on it. I love it and your walls look beautiful!! I got the idea at work in one of our court rooms. I have mine painted like you do, but they have it stained and it also looks great.

    1. I’ve decided to use crown molding. 😉 Just kidding. I’m going to use the same crown that I used in the bathroom. I considered using a bigger one, but the bigger ones are just too fancy for my house.

  5. It looks so good! I would think you could spray it once it is all finished and it will look smooth and clean.

    Since you have so much ship lap on your walls, I am hoping that you will utilize it in one of your rooms. I really like the look of it but know that not many people do. Just hoping… : )

    1. I doubt that I’ll use any of the original shiplap as a wall treatment. It’s all so old, very rough, has splits and knots all in it, etc. It’s way too rustic for the look I’m going for in my house. I might mimic the look somewhere, though, but I’ll use new, smooth wood (plywood) like I did on my bathroom ceiling.

  6. What beautiful work! You have done an amazing job. Your attention to detail shows through in your work. Truly awesome.

  7. Thanks for the diy instructions! By the way–have you considered using wood glue on the mitered ends to hold the corners tight together, along with the nailing? I saw this tip on Bob Villa’s Home Again show, though he was showing it done specifically on the mitered corners of window trim. My husband tried that when he installed the trim around our windows and it looks great! Even in the drier air of winter the joint hasn’t opened up. No caulking needed! I imagine it would work well with the wainscoting corners, too. Just a thought fwiw.

      1. Hi Kristi,
        I meant glue on the corners of the trim–to help hold them together before you put them up on the walls. Did you glue those together? I would think you wouldn’t have to caulk any gaps later then (because there wouldn’t be any). Just wondering if you misunderstood what I meant. Or perhaps you don’t want to glue them so that the corners can be adjusted as needed to be perfectly square and apply caulk as needed?

          1. An alternative is to use caulking instead of glue for the corners. The caulk will press out to fill any gaps, and a wet rag can wipe off the excess caulk.

      2. Nice job, Kristi. I made a plywood template for the same-size frames I installed. Then I cut all the pieces to exactly fit inside the template. The left edge of the template was the gap I needed between adjacent frames. The lower edge was the distance above my shoe mounding. I then “snapped” together a frame in the template, and place the template against the wall. A few 18-gauge brads later and I was ready to place the next picture frame.

  8. It looks beautiful!!! And … With all of the trim you have on the walls, I personally think it would be very worth the prep effort to spray paint the walls … Especially if you can get it done before the new windows come in … Then you wouldn’t even have to mask those off if you didn’t care to. 🙂

  9. Wow…glue AND nails. God Bless you if you ever want to take them down. 😉 I know from experience with a childhood home full of sheet paneling (that was glued on with big squiggles) that construction adhesive takes half the drywall with it when you rip it off. Not fun.

    They look awesome, though. Congrats!

  10. Dear Kristi,
    I am so envious of all you are doing to your home. I love doing projects like that and creating lovely things! Great job on this new idea. Looks wonderful.

  11. Wow, that looks so good!! The simplicity if that style will be a lovely backdrop for the great pieces of furniture you are planning!!

  12. Wow I can’t believe how it changes the look of a wall. I am definitely going to be doing this somewhere in my home. Thanks for the tip with using the wood as the spacer. I would not have thought about that and it does make the process look so much easier for my brain. Math, measuring and the me makes for one irritable diyer. Cheers

  13. Beautiful work! Looks so professionally done. I know this is a mundane request but can you explain to us how to wood fill and sand all those little tiny nail holes in the trim? Or better yet, what about when you have the corners that don’t quite fit? How do you fill to make them look seamless. I still haven’t yet got the hang of it.

  14. It’s beautiful. Just like everything else you’ve done. We’ve come to expect such perfection from you.

  15. I have a question. This is not snarky, I’m really curious. Why didn’t you finish the ceiling before starting on the walls? It seems like that would have been the natural progression so if there were any mishaps it wouldn’t affect what you’ve already done on the walls.

    I’m kind of a newbie at all this but am slowing making my way thru my house. I’ve been watching you work on your house since you moved in and have learned a lot. But there are times when I’m puzzled with the order in which you do things. I know we’re all different and do things our own way but sometimes I just want to ask why, lol

    1. That certainly would have been the natural progression. 🙂 I don’t have a good answer for you. I’m afraid the only answer I can give you is, “Because I want to.” I abhor doing drywall anyway, and doing ceilings is about 20 times worse (IMO) than doing walls. So I’m procrastinating. And procrastinating some more. 🙂

      I freely admit that I often do things in an order than makes absolutely no sense, and at times, I even make things a bit harder on myself in the long run because of my insistence on doing things in the wrong order. I do try not to ever do things so completely out of order that the things I’ve skipped over can’t be done properly, though. I can still do the ceiling even after the walls are trimmed. But now I’ll just have to take an extra step of vacuuming all of the drywall dust off of the wall trim after the ceiling is sanded. 🙂

      1. OK, that makes sense and I like how honest you always are. I already know from just watching you that I don’t want to tackle dry wall either. What a messy and hard job. And trying to work over you head is difficult. Procrastinate on, lol, it will all get done in time.

        Will you paint before doing the ceiling though?

        1. No, I won’t paint anything until ALL of the drywall is done. And I mean not only in the dining room/entryway, but the music room as well. That dust gets everywhere and coats everything, and I’d be so frustrated to have newly-painted walls get covered in drywall dust. 🙂

          1. Ah, that really makes sense so it really doesn’t matter much that you did the walls before the ceiling. Thank you for your time and patience with my questions!

    2. Kristi works in the order that inspires her. OR in the order in which she has help when it comes to the big projects.

      Which means that she’ll stop what we would say is the next logical step in a project, say…when Matt’s dad comes to town, in order to do big projects like cutting in a new doorway, installing drywall, removing lots of cabinetry, etc. By the same token, when she’s elbow deep in those mundane tasks, she sometimes NEEDS to work on something “fun” and “pretty” in order to keep herself going on those mundane items.

      So, logical progression? Probably not. But it works for her. 🙂

      1. Aaaaand, I totally should have hit refresh before I posted since I’d had this window open for hours on my computer. Whoops.

        1. I’m glad you didn’t hit refresh! I love your comment. You worded it better than I have in the past…and you totally get me! 😀 I think I’m going to copy and paste your comment into a sticky note on my computer so that I’ll have it at the ready since I get asked that question (or similar questions) pretty regularly. 😀

  16. Wow – it looks amazing!!! I have to say, of all the things I’ve seen you do, this is the one thing that stands out for me as having the greatest effect.* It takes an ordinary room and makes it into something custom and classy and finished, and the wow factor is significant. It looks like a million bucks!

    * trimming with molding

  17. You did a beautiful job! I have always wanted to do this. I have a question though. Is it possible to do this so that the molding is removable? I’m a renter and would like to do this in my apartment but I would have to take it down before I move out. Also, did you use a miter saw to cut the molding or is there some other way?

    1. Any way that I can think of to make it removable (e.g., attach the molding with removable 3M tape or strips) would leave a tiny gap between the molding and the wall that couldn’t be hidden. I did cut the molding with a miter saw, and I don’t know of any other way to do it.

    2. One way to make the frames removable is to use 1-1/4″ 18-gauge brads shot straight into the wall. Use only as many as necessary to hold the frames tight to the wall. When it comes time to move, use a thin metal scraper to gently pry the frames off the wall, and a pair of plyers to remove any of the brads that have pulled thru the frames. A bit of spackle will hide the small brad holes.

      This is where buying a small 1.5 gallon conpressor and 18-gauge nailer really pays off.

  18. What a beautiful job! I came across your blog while looking for tips on chair rail. I’m struggling to figure out my chair rail angles at this moment with a mess everywhere but seeing your picture frame molding makes me already want to think about how to do that part! You did an amazing job.

  19. Hi there,

    My husband and I are getting ready to do this in our dining room. Your guide is so helpful, thank you for posting! Quick question…did you use the 1×4″ board to space only from the chair rail and baseboard on your long wall? or did you also use it on the far left and far right to space from the corners? And then you used a slightly smaller 3.5″ width spacer between each panel it sounds like, correct? So the panels are slightly closer to each other than they are to the baseboard or chair rail? I just really like how yours looks and our wall is close in size so want to make sure I understand correctly 🙂 Thank you again!

  20. Hi! I love this so much!! I was wondering what kind of chair rail did you use? And how tall are your walls?

    Thank you!

  21. This may be a dumb question, but I was wondering about the size of the picture frame panels. Is the size different on all the walls or is it a consistent size throughout. In other words, does the size of the wall your working with determine the size of the frame or is it the same on every wall?

  22. So inspiring! Thank you for sharing. I hope to do this to my small dining room this weekend!!! What height is your chair rail at? 32″? Also, what height are your ceilings? Am just trying to visualize in my small space. I just have 8 foot ceilings and my wall is just 12 feet on the longer back wall, and 8 feet on the side wall. The other side wall is ceiling to floor windows and the fourth “wall” is open to the living room. Thank you so much

  23. Hi- My son and I are going to tackle our Dining room and do the lower part in the picture frame molding plus a beefy chair rail with another trim piece about 4 inches below it and above the boxes (seen this in pictures- looks nice). Thanks, you make it look pretty easy. We may not do a lot of other projects because I’ve hired most everything else I want done, so am thinking of not buying a nail gun. Is that crazy? If you think we have to have one, can you recommend any easy and less expensive one? Thank you!

  24. I have had your site bookmarked for over a year and am finally ready to move ahead with my picture frame molding. I have one question: what paint finish do you use on your faux wainscoting? I am unsure whether to paint it with wall paint or trim paint. Thanks so much in advance!

    1. I painted mine satin because that’s what I use on my trim. I personally think of wainscoting as part of the trim, and think it should be the same sheen.

  25. Hi Kristi, can you tell me the profile or name of the molding you used for the picture frame.


  26. Hi Kristi,

    I have a silly question. Are you still wood filing and sanding after you put the pieces onto the wall? I get the caulking and the painting part but why do you need to sand and wood file?

    Thank you for the amazing tutorial!

    1. Yes I do both. The two serve different purposes. I use caulk on corners, and wood filler on flat areas. The reason I like both is because caulk shrinks as it dries. I find that that’s perfectly fine for corners, but for surfaces that are supposed to be perfectly smooth, it’s frustrating. If you caulk nail holes on smooth areas, then paint, you’ll probably see little divots everywhere where the caulk shrunk into the nail hole. I can’t stand how that looks, so on those areas I use wood filler, let it dry, sand it smooth, and then paint it. If done right, you can’t tell where the nail holes are at all.

      1. Thank you for the quick reply. I was actually thinking you were filing wood! I mistook filling for filing.

        Thank you!

  27. Thank you for posting this tutorial! I plan to do this in our living and dining room soon. Our walls are plaster on top of brick so not completely even, but I think the glue, nails, and a little bit of caulk can help hide any gaps behind the moulding pieces. I plan to follow your tutorial precisely!

  28. Thank you for posting this tutorial! I am finally getting around to this after putting this off for years. I am curious as to what moulding you used for the chair rail? It appears to be a bit beefier than the picture frame moulding used. Thanks in advance!

    1. It’s actually called chair rail moulding (molding), and it’s sold by the linear foot at Home Depot. The store near me has two styles, and one is much weightier and thicker than the other. I generally opt for the thicker stuff. It’s more expensive, but I think it looks nicer.

  29. Hi! Thank you for this, just what I was looking for! Is there a way to do this for a rented apt without causing any “damage”?

  30. Hi there,

    This is the best instruction I’ve seen so far and thank you so much for advising which kind of molding to get! I was lost. I have approximately the same size nook as you do. How many moldings did you get?

  31. Hi, I was wondering what is the height of your ceiling . We want to do a project like this in our living room but wondered if it would look good with 8’ ceilings