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

Posted on May 20, 2023 by KylieMawdsley

 ‘Should the walls above and below a chair rail be the same or different colors?’

I get this question A LOT, particularly with the 1990s homes and the old gals (referring to homes, not women). Chair rails were ONCE a sign of a fancy-schmancy home, but nowadays, look dated in a home where the goal is to update and modernize.

A chair rail (dado rail) is a horizontal trim running the perimeter of a room approximately 36″ from the floor. Alternatively, it can be awkwardly placed on a single wall (popular in the ’90s) – thanks for that, 90s peeps.

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How to TREAT a room with a chair rail (as it relates to paint colors) comes down to the age of your home and your style.

How so?

Old homes (the oldies but goodies from the mid to earlier parts of this century and older) can pull off a two-color palette easier than a home from the 70s, 80s, or 90s.


Orange hue oak flooring, Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray, greige taupe paint color on walls, south-facing dining room, chair rail. Kylie M Interiors edesign client BEFORE photo

We’ll get into that shortly.

As for homes built in the last 50 years, when updating them, the goal is to create a more modern look, one that’s more on par with what’s being currently built. Modern homes aren’t installing chair rails…evvvvver – chair rail molding is outdated. So, if your ‘newer’ home has a chair rail, the goal is to downplay it rather than accentuate it.



In general, the best approach to walls with a chair rail is the one that suits the style of the home. While personal tastes come and go, if you’re at all worried about resale, what people think, or keeping up with trends, you’ll want to listen to the ERA and style of your home and dress it accordingly. 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.

Let’s break things down into sections: older homes vs. newer homes…

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



If you have an older home, you should be able to pull off a two-color or two-tone palette, whether your wood is stained or painted. This is because older homes don’t NEED to look modern.

Now, this doesn’t mean you HAVE to, but the age of your home will give you more flexibility.

Why are old homes more flexible?

Older homes that have rooms with chair rails often have other nice, decorative moldings, and a GREAT way to set off these moldings is with paint. Older homes ALSO suit a two-color 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 and has a certain charm.

Here are some tips to help you choose the best color palette for your upper and lower walls…

  • The darker color ‘usually’ goes on the lower wall, and the lighter color on the upper wall.
  • Using the dark color on the TOP part of the wall can make a room feel more intimate (popular in dining rooms), but it 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 colors, either upper or lower (compared to having two different ‘colors.’) However, as shown below, the right home and vibe can pull off two colors quite well.

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

  • Consider a two-tone (lighter/darker version of the same color) or a two-color palette (i.e., cream and navy blue).
  • Some homes suit a darker color on the lower or upper walls with a FANTASTICALLY coordinated wallpaper as its partner!

Benjamin Moore Copley Gray painted beadboard and bird and floral wallpaper. Country farmhouse style

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

By the way, I rely 100% on my Online Color Consulting client’s photos to use on my blog. While I don’t have TONS of examples, I know you’ll find the images and info that I do have helpful. 



Notice that the previous title starts with ‘PAINTING…’ while this one starts with ‘UPDATING…’. And that’s the critical difference.

When painting an older home with chair rails, it’s often about picking colors that suit the HOME and its heritage rather than what’s ‘trendy and modern.’ Whereas in a newer home (the last 50 years), the goal is usually to UPDATE and modernize it with paint colors that suit today’s average homeowner.

Orange hue oak flooring, Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray, greige taupe paint color on walls, south-facing dining room, chair rail. Kylie M Interiors edesign client BEFORE photo

And while a 1970s home isn’t new, it’s the new kid on the block compared to some of the old fellas, and the goal is usually to make it look as MODERN as possible!

Generally speaking, to UPDATE your room, you’ll want to use ONE paint color on the upper & lower walls.

Breaking your wall up with two colors or tones can definitely add a more ‘classic’ touch to your home, but classic doesn’t ALWAYS equal updated. One color gives a more updated look. If you’re thinking of resale and your target market is young and trendy, AND your home was built after the 60s or is one of the commonly found 1990s homes trying to keep up with current trends…

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

5 Ideas to Update a 1990s Home

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.

But for the minority (wink wink)…



If you have a newer home with a chair rail, but your personal style is more traditional, you can consider a two-tone or two-color palette (OR just one color if you’re so inclined). Two colors or tones will be a polite nod towards the traditional end of things, as shown in this next dining room with wood crown molding, baseboards, and chair rail…

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

For helpful tips, refer to the previous section on older homes and chair rails.

Just remember, you’re not updating your home when you do this – and this is okay if you LOVE the look and are staying in your home! However, if resale is on your mind, you might want to consider ONE paint color (or my next idea that you’ll read about in a second).

While there’s more than just a chair rail going on in this next room, the warm beige paint color is lower contrast with the wood trim. Remember, you have to LOVE the home you live in, and these homeowners LOVE this look for their slightly Craftsman style space…

Malabar, Natural Linen ceiling 50 percent lighter, wood trim and cabinet, Sea Pearl countertop laminate, Craftsman light fixture. Kylie M Interiors



  • To blend in your chair rail (assuming it’s painted a white trim color), choose a color with a higher LRV to create a low-contrast palette. Dark colors with white trim will highlight the chair rail.
  • Stained wood chair rails can be more challenging. While darker colors will blend in more, creating a more low-contrast look, they aren’t always the best choice for the average room. In this case, you might go for a color with a more moderate depth, perhaps between 60-70 in LRV.

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

While I LOVE this palette, it’s not a super modern approach – however, the furnishings and decor help A LOT!



I rarely #never recommend painting a chair rail the same color as the walls. Sure, it will blend in, but it will look like you’re trying to hide it – yet like my passion for Ryan Reynolds (or Gosling), white wine, and Cornuts – it’s not very well hidden.

Benjamin Moore Chelsea Gray in dining room with chair rail. White kitchen cabinets with gray bottoms. Kylie M Interiors E-design, e-decor and online or virtual colour consulting

Your chair rail should be painted the same as the rest of your trim, no matter its color (usually satin finish).

Long story short, unless it’s wood, your chair rail should almost ALWAYS be the same color as the rest of your trim, NOT your walls. 



Rooms with a chair rail often benefit from ‘enhancement,’ where you add additional moldings to your lower walls and paint them ALL the same color and sheen as your trim and existing chair rail (read more about this below). While this works for old and new homes, related to homes built in the last 50 years…

It’s a great way to make your chair rail work WITH you rather than against you – these moldings are a SUPER MODERN, coveted application!

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

Paint Color Review of Sherwin Williams Network Gray



There are a few things to consider before deciding to remove or upgrade your chair rail…

1. Do you have the skills to add additional moldings? I don’t, but I can handle a simple chair rail upgrade with my limited abilities and two left hands. There are SO many great how-to’s on Pinterest.

2. If you remove the chair rail, will there be a thick layer of paint butting up to it, leaving a ledge around your room? Are you prepared to sand THE LIVING HECK out of this horizontal line, but still possibly NEVER make it entirely go away (or end up with a super smooth area to your more orange-peel texture upper/lower walls)?

While sometimes the best thing to do is take it off (the same thing my hubby says to me), my favorite 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 is likely an original installation, you can do the same by adding a beadboard between your chair rail and baseboard. This can work better than board and batten if your existing baseboards aren’t super thick (battens are often thicker than existing baseboards).

This being said, there are easy ways to fudge it if your new vertical moldings are thicker than the old baseboard they sit on top of.

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In the decorating and design world, visuals make ALL the difference. The following rooms show chair rails that are upgraded/enhanced and wainscoting/board and batten ideas for inspiration.

Rooms with tall walls/high ceilings can look vacant and boring; adding moldings is a great way to add personality. This next dining room has WAY more charm than it would without its chair rail. The white lower walls make this space look more intimate and add character to the otherwise pretty plain-looking walls…

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

This next photo is THE PERFECT example of updating a simple 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 perfect chance that the top molding in this next dining room was originally a simple chair rail. By adding wainscoting style moldings and painting it all the trim color, the chair rail went from dated to DYNAMITE!

Benjamin Moore Collingwood warm gray paint colour in dining room with Pure White wainscoting, beige tile floor and transitional style home decor.

Benjamin Moore Collingwood Paint Color Review

The moldings in this next room are NEXT LEVEL in detail. However, it shows you a gorgeous high-contrast palette using Benjamin Moore Hale Navy and Cloud White, with cherry red, exotic wood flooring…

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

Remember, you don’t have to go overboard (#theaboveisoverkillformosthomes). This next living room is a great example of a super simple DIY. The homeowners added a narrow horizontal molding approximately six inches beneath the chair rail. They painted it ALL the trim color, which helps give it a ‘wainscoting’ look without the costs/labor of doing the full-meal deal…

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

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

You can see how the above application looks a touch traditional. But that’s not a bad thing, as it also adds personality and visual interest with its crisp, clean contrast.

All it took was one THIN piece of horizontal molding and some white paint. 

So there you have it: some great paint color/layout options, as well as one of my FAVORITE chair rail ideas. Have you done something wild and wonderful with your chair rail? Want to show it to me? I’d love to see it! In the meantime, check out these blog posts…



5 Ideas to Update Your 1990s Home

How to Update Your Home on a Budget

The Best White Paint Colors: Sherwin Williams

How to Update Your Kitchen on a Budget

How to Update Older Style Granite Countertops



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



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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!


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      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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      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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      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 😉

  10. Hello! It is such a pleasure to read through your post and to consider the pictures. I’m in the process of repairing and updating my oldest kid’s room, which has chair rail c. 1990. Sure wish I knew how to add a photo and ask for suggestions.

    Keep up the amazing work!

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  11. Wonderfully helpful article. We just moved from a modern home to one built in 1993. Eek. In the formal living room (which will become a great room when we remove a wall to the music room lol), I painted the whole thing ceiling molding, wall, chair rail and baseboard a deep indigo. It’s west facing and I love when the light bounces off the chair rail. Gives interest. Furniture is almost all ivory fabric and glass and bronze tables and light colored wood floors. It makes me much happier for now. 🙂

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