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Chair rail is one of the most versatile types of molding and adds a decorative border around the wall.

I love the look of chair rail in a room. It is used as a dramatic accent separating two colors of paint, paint and wallpaper, or wainscot and paint or wallpaper. Chair rail gives a room dimension and adds a lot of character to the design. Chair rail also comes in many widths and styles to suit any application.

molding and chair rail in kitchen breakfast nook

There is a lot of debate about the history of this popular molding? It has been proclaimed for years that chair rail began as a means to keep chairs from marring walls. It’s true, that has been one purpose of chair rail since colonial times. It is interesting to note, the Shakers had pegs in their chair rail to hang the chairs on when sweeping. I like this idea as I never know what to do with the chairs when I am vacuuming around the dining room table and I am constantly moving them out of the way.


By doing a little research, I discovered that excavations of ancient Greek and Roman ruins have shown these civilizations used wood trim to divide walls into visually pleasing proportions. So, we know something similar to chair rail dates back at least 2,000 years.

Chair railing, or a dado rail as it is sometimes called, is often used in combination with crown molding and baseboard molding for a finished look. Panel molding and corners are used to create various shapes for a wainscot look that is often capped with a chair rail.

What Is the Proper Height for Chair Rail?

A general rule of thumb is 1/3 the height of the wall, or 32-36 inches from the floor for an 8-foot ceiling. Many designers prefer a lower rail at 1/4 the height of the wall. A mistake many DIYers make is putting the rail too high according to many professional designers. Colonial homes and early 18th century designers used the height of the windowsill as the rule for placement of the chair rail. I will be adding chair rail in my living room soon as part of a room makeover and like the idea of having the chair rail at windowsill height, which is 33 inches for my project.

Installing the Chair Rail

  1. MEASURE the distance from the floor to determine the height of the rail.
  2. MARK a level line across the wall.
  3. MARK AND CUT molding pieces (You can get an inexpensive plastic miter box with angles already calculated at your local hardware store).
  4. ATTACH molding to wall with glue and nails.
  5. DETERMINE corners using either miter cuts or corner blocks.
  6. PAINT (some prefer to paint or stain before installing the rail).