‘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 shmancy home but nowadays, can just look dated in a home where the intention 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.
So, 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).
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 2 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 2 colour or 2 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 2 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 2 colours, particularly darker wood and in fact, it often looks BETTER than 1 colour would!
So, older home and/or dark wood trim? These are both situations that can entertain a 2 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 2 tone look (lighter/darker version of the same colour) or do a 2 colour look, using 2 different colours (ie: cream and navy blue)
Newer Homes and Chair Rails (1990’s and newer)
This is hit and miss. Generally speaking, if you want to make your home look more updated and modern, you’ll want to use ONLY 1 paint colour. Breaking your wall up with 2 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 to give it a bit more of a ‘wainscoting’ look, without going for 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.
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.
Newer Home vs Traditional Style
If you have a newer home, but your personal style is more traditional, you can do a 2 tone or 2 colour palette OR just 1 colour. 2 colours or tones will be a bit more of a nod towards the traditional end of things as shown in this next dining room…
Whereas 1 colour can give a slightly more updated look. If you’re thinking of resale and your target market is young and trendy, then 1 colour is usually a safer bet with a newer 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.
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!
Need help deciding what best suits YOUR home?
Check out my E-design – I’d love to help!