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How to Update & Paint a Room With a Chair Rail (Dado Rail)

Posted on May 20, 2021 by KylieMawdsley

‘I have a chair rail, should the walls above and below it be the same colour or different colours?’

This is a question I get a LOT, particularly with the 1990s homes and the old gals (referring to homes, not women). The chair rail was ONCE a sign of a fancy-schmancy home but nowadays, can just look dated in a home where the goal is to ‘update and modernize’. 

And you all know that I rely 100% on my E-design client’s photos to use on my blog, so while I don’t have TONS of examples, I know you’ll find the images and info that I do have helpful.

Benjamin Moore Chelsea Gray wtih chair rail, wood cabinet and home decor. Kylie M Interiors E-decor

What IS the right way to paint a room with a chair rail? Obviously, that can vary according to personal tastes, but generally speaking, the right way is one that suits the style of the home. If it doesn’t SUIT the home, it won’t look good. It’s like me trying to wear wide-leg pants. I may think I’m at the height of style, but really, I look like a tree stump.

Now, if you just read my blog for my charm and wit (I love you) then, like most things I type, you might be thinking to yourself, ‘is Kylie in the cups again, what the heck is a chair rail?’. A chair rail, also known as a dado rail, is a horizontal piece of trim that usually runs the perimeter of a room approx 36″ from the floor, but can also be awkwardly placed on a single wall (popular in the ’90s).

Sherwin Williams ARgos in dining room with formal, traditional wood furniture and chair rail. Kylie M E-design, online paint color consultant

When you have a chair rail, it can be hard to figure out whether to use the SAME paint colour on the upper and lower portion of the walls or to do two DIFFERENT colours.

AN OLD HOME WITH CHAIR RAILS (1960s & earlier) 

If you have an older home, you should be able to pull off a two-colour or two-tone palettE, whether your wood is stained or painted. Now, this doesn’t mean you HAVE to, but the age of your home will give you more flexibility. Why? Well, older homes that have rooms with chair rails often have other nice, decorative mouldings and a GREAT way to set off these mouldings is with paint. Older homes ALSO suit a two-colour palette more than a more modern home because that’s what was done when the home was originally built (often with wallpaper) – it’s authentic.

Should You Paint Your Cabinets or Leave Them Stained? – A Fun Questionnaire! 

WHAT ABOUT ROOMS WITH WOOD CHAIR RAIL/TRIM CIRCA 1970+?

If you have wood trim in a home that’s 1970s+, it’s ALL about your intentions and style.

Best paint colours with dark wood trim, Sherwin Williams Balanced Beige and Warm Stone. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint color consulting

The more MODERN you want your home to look, the less likely you’ll want a two-colour palette. Unless it’s a NEW home with purposeful modern decor, it’s usually best to keep things simple by using the same colour above and below the chair rail.

If you like a cosier vibe and aren’t as worried about an updated, modern look (common in a mid-century, country or farmhouse style home), here are some considerations…

  • the darker colour will often go on the bottom of the wall, the lighter colour will go on the top of the wall
  • when you have dark wood trim, using the dark colour on the TOP part of the wall can also weigh a room down and make it feel heavier
  • consider a two-tone (lighter/darker version of the same colour) or a two-colour palette (ie. cream and navy blue)

Tony Taupe in dining room, best neutral beige brown paint colour. Dark wood trim. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint colour and advice blog diy

HOW TO UPDATE A 1970’s or NEWER HOME WITH WHITE CHAIR RAIL

Okay, so maybe a 1970s home isn’t THAT new, but it’s definitely the new kid on the block compared to some of the old fellas! Generally speaking, if you want your home to look more updated and modern, you’ll want to use ONLY one paint colour. Breaking your wall up with two colours or tones can definitely add a more ‘classic’ touch to your home, but classic doesn’t ALWAYS equal updated.

However, there are some transitional homes that pull off a two-tone or two-colour palette QUITE well – it’s allll in the colours.

  • using the dark colour on the TOP part of the wall can make a room feel more intimate (popular in dining rooms), but can also weigh a room down and make it feel heavier if the ceiling is too low or the furniture doesn’t ground the space
  • it’s MORE common to have white, or at the most, a very SOFT off-white as one of the colours, either top or bottom (compared to having two different ‘colours’

5 Ideas to Update a 1990s Home

In this next room, notice the additional moulding added to the lower walls which helps give it a ‘wainscoting’ look, without the costs/labour of doing the full-meal deal. The white lower walls look classic and striking with the gray-blue upper walls

Sherwin Williams Network Gray, Albescent background,red cherry toned laminate flooring white wainscoting type walls. Kylie M Interiors E-design and Online Color consulting

And while it does add a slightly more traditional vibe to the space, it also adds personality and visual interest with its crisp clean contrast.

Sherwin Williams Network Gray with black armoire and cherry toned red laminate flooring in south facing living room with white trim. Kylie M Interiors E-design and Online consulting - edecor

NEWER STYLE HOME WITH A TRADITIONAL VIBE

If you have a newer home, but your personal style is more traditional, you can consider a two-tone or two-colour palette (OR just one colour if you’re so inclined. Long story short, you can do what you like! Two colours or tones will be a polite nod towards the traditional end of things as shown in this next dining room…

Sherwin Williams Aesthetic White, best off white paint colour with greige Benjamin Moore Stonybrook dark wood trim, beige carpet. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint colour consultant

On the other hand, one colour gives a slightly more updated look. If you’re thinking of resale and your target market is young and trendy, then one colour is a safer bet with a newer home.

Sherwin Williams ARgos in dining room with formal, traditional wood furniture and chair rail. Kylie M E-design, online paint color consultant

Are there exceptions? HELLS yeah. There are always exceptions, but for the sake of ease and appealing to all of you crazy masses, I like to appeal to the majority.

HOW TO UPDATE A CHAIR RAIL

SHOULD YOU REMOVE IT OR ENHANCE IT?

While sometimes the best thing to do is take it off (the same thing my hubby says to me), the BEST way to update a chair rail is to convert it into wainscoting, beadboard or board and batten.

Bathroom with free standing antique tub and green floor tile with white beadboard. Kylie M INteriors Edesign. Sage green

While the above bathroom shows what’s likely an original installation, you can do the same thing by adding beadboard between your chair rail and baseboard. This often works better than board and batten if your existing trims aren’t super thick (as the battens are often thicker and would stick out farther).

This next photo is THE PERFECT example of updating chair rail, except this time it’s going up the stairs!

Best tan beige paint colour, Benjamin Moore Grant Beige, neutral color in stairwell with wood railing, white railing and wainscoting. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint colour advice blog

Benjamin Moore Cloud White & Grant Beige

There’s a very good chance that top moulding was originally a simple chair rail. By adding simple moulding underneath and painting them all the trim colour, the chair rail went from dated to DYNAMITE!

In this next room, while these mouldings were all installed at the same time, the same approach could be taken by adding vertical boards every 18 inches (on the studs) in between your baseboard and chair rail (creating a board and batten look). Again, it’s important that the vertical mouldings don’t stick out farther than the original ones!

Sliding barn doo into laundry room mud room with built in bench, white wainscoting, Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray and Sherwin High Reflective White. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, diy upate ideas.

Benjamin Moore Stonington Gray & High Reflective White

Undoubtedly, you’ll be heading out in the near future to grab paint samples – stop right there! I want you to check out SAMPLIZE. Samplize offers peel & stick paint samples that are more AFFORDABLE, EASIER and more ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY than traditional paint pots. Here are just a FEW reasons why I recommend Samplize to my clients…

  • samples arrive ON YOUR DOORSTEP in 1-3 business days, depending on location
  • at $6.99, they’re more affordable than the samples pots/rollers/foam boards that are needed for traditional paint sampling
  • if you keep the samples on their white paper, you can move them around the room

Sherwin Williams Pavestone in dining room white wainscoting, arched window and tall ceiling. Kylie M Interiors E-design and online Decorating and colour consulting

Sherwin Williams Pavestone

Sherwin Williams Network Gray with white wainscoting or lower walls and ladder shelf. Kylie M Interiors E-design and online colour consulting

The Best Blue-Gray Paint Colours – Cool & Calming

In this next bathroom, the top horizontal board could’ve EASILY been a simple chair rail at some point. By adding an affordable beadboard below it (super affordable at Home Depot), it becomes an architectural detail…

Benjamin Moore Iced Marble in a small powder room bathroom with white wainscoting and solid fir wood door. Kylie M Interiors E-design and online color consulting or e-decor

While you don’t need to get THIS carried away (below), adding decorative mouldings between your chair rail and baseboard is an awesome update…

Benjamin Moore Hale Navy, White Dove wainscoting, red toned exotic wood floor. Kylie m Interiors E-design, client photo

Benjamin Moore Hale Navy & Cloud White

RELATED POSTS

5 Ideas to Update Your 1990s Home

The Best White Paint Colours: Sherwin Williams

How to Update Your Home on a Budget

How to Update Your Kitchen on a Budget

How to Update Older Style Granite Countertops

Need help deciding what best suits YOUR home? 

Check out my E-design – I’d love to help! 

edesign, virtual paint colour consulting. Kylie M Interiors Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams color expert. marketing (1)

Chat soon,

Kylie M Interiors, decorating blog, e-design, online colour consulting expert. signature

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR YOU IN 2019, UPDATED IN 2021



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Comments

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  1. I did the “paint the lower part the same as the trim” approach — I have BM Classic Grey on the top, and all my trim is BM Decorators White, and I painted below the trip with the same semi-gloss Decorators White and painted it with a brush up and down so it looks more integrated with the trim vs. a wall. I like the end result without the expense of more integrated molding, which I’m sure would be pretty but not in the budget now.

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  2. These are all pictures from your clients!?! They’re beautiful. You have a large inventory to access! Well done.

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      Well, thank you Diana, I was worried there weren’t enough, so I appreciate that :). I don’t have any one else’s photos on my site, so I do love the ‘after’ photos as they come in SO handy!

  3. Hi Kylie,
    Can you tell me the color of the gray hallway (with the black round mirror) as well as the color of the navy dining room. Beautiful colors!

    Thanks,
    Cindy

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      Author

      Hi Cindy! It was a few years ago now, but it was definitely a cream – I believe it was BM Albescent :).

  4. Hi Kylie,
    I like a very warm look and want to paint my living room and dining room a creamy white /sand/ and the hallway possibly a sage like green. I’m looking at painting the trim either cloud white, white dove or dove wing. I can not decide on a color (something in the creamier white family I think) for the living room and dining walls. (I tried bamboo mist and didn’t like it in my dining room) My question is, in my dining room there is a chair rail (older). All the trim is stained and I’m painting a creamy white. But I’m thinking of painting the walls and the chair rail all one color because I don’t really like the chair and don’t want it to stand out. Is it ok to treat the chair rail like the wall and paint all one color? I have a center hall colonial . Looking to stay with a warm vibe but update it so not so traditional looking. Thank you! Sorry I’m all over the place…

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  5. In the picture with the Wall Street paint, do you recall where the table is from? I’m looking for one just like it. our eat in kitchen/dining room is this color with white cabinets,

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      1. If we painted our cabinets SW High Reflective White and have added some wainscoting below our chair rail, should we also paint the chair rail and bottom half of the wall / wainscoting SW High Reflective White?

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  6. Hi Kylie. I enjoy your site very much and appreciate all the information you have available. Could you please tell me the wall color of the dining with the bear at the table? Thank you!

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  7. Hi Kylie, my husband and are in the process of updating our office/sewing/craft room; anyways it’s 8 x 10, we are putting white bead board on two walls with black chair rail and black baseboard, we would like to put black “frames” under the chair rail, the opposite two walls are an ice gray with the carpet a medium gray. I’m not sure that the frames should be black but may look odd if not. I can’t seem to find where anyone has done something similar. What do you think?

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      Author

      Hi Connie! From the sounds of it, it seems very graphic. They used to do this a bit more often in previous years (decades) but the most modern approach is to have the chair rail/baseboard/beadboard all the same. However, with having beadboard, it seems like adding black frames would be way too much – usually, it’s one or the other 🙂 I hope this helps!

  8. Hi Kylie
    I have an old home (built in the ’50s). There is a thin chair rail in the dining room- that I would like to just remove, but with plaster walls, I think it will be too large of a project for now. What are your thoughts on painting the chair rail the same colors as the walls (F&B Light Blue) to try and just make it disappear? Thanks for your help!

  9. This article was so awesome I actually stopped to comment (something I dont normally do). I was struggling with what colors to choose for my craftsman style home (kitchen with chair rail), but you set me straight. I love the white lower and gray upper, but I think I’ll go gray all over now that I looked at these pictures. Thank you!

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      Author

      Hey Jenni, I’m so glad you DID comment, thank you! And I’m also glad you found the info helpful for your Craftsman (lucky bum 😉

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