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The Best Way to Paint a Wall With a Chair Rail (Dado Rail)

Posted on May 20, 2019 by KylieMawdsley

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

This is a question I get a LOT, particularly with the 1990’s 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.

Older Homes with Chair Rails (ballpark 1960’s and earlier) 

If you have an older home, you should be able to pull off a two-colour or two-tone palette. Now, this doesn’t mean you HAVE to, but the age of your home will give you more flexibility. Why? Well, homes that have a chair rail OFTEN have other nice, decorative mouldings and a GREAT way to set off these mouldings is with paint. Older homes often 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).

A Room with Dark Wood Chair Rail/Trim

If you have wood trim (light or dark, really) you can DEFINITELY hit a room with two colours, particularly with darker wood, and in fact, it often looks BETTER than one colour would!

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

So, older home and/or dark wood trim? These are both situations that can entertain a two-colour palette and here are some tips to get a look that you love…

  • Usually, the darker colour will go on the bottom of the wall, the lighter colour will go on the top of the wall
  • Using the dark colour on the TOP part of the wall can make a room feel more intimate (popular in dining rooms)
  • Using the dark colour on the TOP part of the wall can also weigh a room down and make it feel heavier
  • You can do a two-tone look (lighter/darker version of the same colour) or do a two-colour look, using  two different colours (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

Newer Homes and Chair Rails (1990’s and newer)

This is hit and miss. 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.

There are exceptions (of course). In the room below, you can see how there’s a bit of additional moulding added to the lower walls which helped give it a bit more of a ‘wainscoting’ look, without the costs/labour of doing the full-meal deal. In this case, 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 Home vs Traditional Style

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. Two colours or tones will be a bit of a 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

Whereas 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 usually 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.The best gray or grey paint colors for your room. Benjamin or Sherwin. Edesign, online paint colour services Kylie M Interiors. diy home decorating ideas blogger.market

Click HERE or on the above image to see available packages

How natural light and light bulbs affect paint colour. Kylie M Interiors Edesign. Sherwin Williams Liveable Green best green paint colour

Ideas Update a Chair Rail

The BEST way to update a chair rail is to convert it into wainscoting or board and batten. While these walls weren’t ORIGINALLY chair rail alone, you can see how the horizontal moulding would act as the beginning point for a gorgeous wall installation that can be as simple or as detailed as your budget/skills allow!

But before we look at these next photos, let’s take a quick break to talk about paint samples…

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 and 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 needing for traditional paint sampling
  • If you keep the samples on their white paper, you can move them around the room

How to update a chair rail. Dining Room, wainscoting, Sherwin Williams Wall Street. Coffered ceilings. Kylie M Interiors E-design, online paint consulting. Client photo

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

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

Entryway, stairwell, reclaimed pine wood flooring, treads, white railing, white wainscoting. Benjamin Moore Cloud White and Gray Owl. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, online paint colour and decorating blog

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

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


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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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