Alternative Wainscoting is not a commonly used term. When it is used, people are usually thinking that wainscoting describes a particular kind of paneling, when in fact the term refers to any wooden paneling that extends from the floor to about three feet up the wall. Usually, it is topped by a chair rail.
Bead-board is another term that you may hear. That term has its roots in an old British word for a superior grade of oak that was frequently used to produce the paneling.
Although it is primarily used for decorative purposes today, it was originally used as a protective measure. The lower half of a wall was particularly prone to dampness. The dampness could eventually ruin the wall.
The paneling helped prevent the damage from dampness and extend the life of the wall. In addition, it added some amount of warmth to the room.
There are other spellings that are sometimes used for the paneling, including wainscoat, wainscoting and waynescoating. When you see any of these similar terms in a home improvement store, it usually refers to the cut of the paneling.
Wall paneling typically comes in heights designed to fit from floor to ceiling without a seam. Wainscot paneling would be cut to a height of 3-4 feet and might already have a chair rail attached.
The term alternative wainscoting might also be used to refer to paneling that is of a similar height, but specifically created for use in the bathroom, powder room or lavatory. The paneling may be composed of a plasticized polymer or treated with waterproofing.
Paneling for the bath is sometimes designed to resemble ceramic tile. It is less expensive than real tile, but helps to create the look that many people are after and is a long-lasting choice.
Another indoor wall finishing technique that might be referred to as alternative wainscoting is to use full length paneling and cut it to a height of 5-6 feet. Textured panels that resemble bricks or stones are often cut at this height in southwestern interior decorating. The wall above the paneling might be painted in an earthy tone.
Because interior decorating is a personal choice, you should feel free to use wall paneling in any way that seems right to you. Pick a pattern that seems to fit your personality; something that you can live with.