What Is Chair Rail Molding?

Dainty and timeless, chair rail molding is always a wonderful addition to the home. It will not overwhelm the room; if anything, it unifies the space. Chair rails are seen in both old and new homes. In this article, we are going to cover the basics of chair rails, including their history, what they look like, and how they are used today.

How Does Chair Rail Molding Appear?

Chair rail is a trim, usually made from wood, that is horizontally attached to a wall, wrapping around the entire perimeter of a room. It can be either painted or stained and finished. Chair rail is typically 2 to 3 inches thick when measured from top to bottom, making it one of the thinner types of moldings.

The chair rail is very cleanly cut and streamlined for optimally straight proportions. Classic and sophisticated, these moldings are found in most old-fashioned, century-old homes. They are commonly seen in dining rooms, living rooms, hallways, mudrooms, and stairwells.

Today, chair rail is a decorative element, adding a lot of character and charm to a room, but in the past, its use was mainly functional.

The History Of Chair Rails

Historically, this molding was used as a protective barrier in high-traffic areas. Chair rails would protect the walls from any moving furniture and prevent it from hitting against the wall. This is where the molding got its name, since wall damage was typically caused by the back of a chair. Shakers installed pegs into chair rail molding to hang chairs so they could sweep and mop around the dining room.

The chair rail actually traces its origins to ancient Roman and Greek architecture, used solely for visual aesthetic purposes to divide the wall into pleasing proportions. A chair rail’s accompaniment, the wainscot, originated in the 16th century to keep out cold and damp weather.

Chair Rail vs. Wainscoting

Chair rail is often confused with wainscoting, but the two are actually distinct styles of trim. Wainscoting is wooden paneling that also wraps horizontally around a room to add more depth to a space. Chair rail molding is commonly paired with wainscot paneling for a unified look. Many period homes have this combination, but it has its place in modern homes as well.

What Height Should The Chair Rail Be?

Chair rail molding should be placed approximately one-third of the way up the wall. For example, in rooms with 8- to 10-foot ceilings, the molding should be placed 28 to 32 inches high. This keeps the look proportional for the room. Keep in mind that chair rails should never be at or above 36 inches in height. When in doubt, never go too high.

Chair Rail Style Ideas

There are many different ways to use chair rails to enhance the look of a space. This molding is quite subtle and breaks up a wall to create texture in a room. Here are some suggestions for using chair rail in your home.

Paired With Wainscoting

Chair rail is often paired with wainscot beneath it; paneling placed on the bottom exudes classicism.

Dual Tones

For some beautiful contrast, try painting your walls one color above the chair rail and a different color beneath the chair rail. Another pretty option is to wallpaper either above or below the molding.

Layered Effect

An elegant, attractive design is to add multiple chair rails together to produce a layering effect.

Uniform Design

Another option is to paint or wallpaper the top and bottom of the walls the same color. This seamless, one-color approach is more modern in taste. The chair rail molding can be painted to match the walls or stained to allow the natural wood to shine through.

When selecting moldings for your next project, always keep in mind that the most important factor in architectural design is symmetry and proportion. Chair rail moldings are practical, and they are not demanding in terms of cost and labor. Overall, moldings have a positive impact in terms of investment, which will lead to a higher home appraisal.