What Are Dado Panels?

Written by john smith
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What Are Dado Panels?
Dado panels in a modern home (Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

Dado panels, also known as wainscoting, line the lower half of an interior wall. They can be highly decorative or plain, and usually complement the paint or wallpaper above it. They are between 2 to 3 feet in height and surround the entire room. Traditionally dado panels were more ornamental than those found in modern homes today.

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Dado Panels Definition

Dado is an architectural term describing the lower portion of a wall. The word dado derives from the part of the pedestal of a column located between the base and the cornice. This was usually decorated differently from the rest of the pedestal. The dado is typically painted, wallpapered or panelled. Dado panels are bordered by a dado rail, also known as a chair rail, which separates the panels from the wall above it.

History of Paneling

The most popular form of dado panels began to appear in Europe in the 16th century and remained popular until the 18th century. These panels were highly decorative and colourful; however, by the end of the period the dado was left plain, defined solely by a dado rail.

Prior to the 16th century, panelling walls was customary in many homes and castles dating back to antiquity.

The Purpose of Dado Panels

Panelling was initially used to make stone buildings more comfortable, insulating the room from the cold. Medieval castles walls were lined with wooden panels which held the heat better than stone. The purpose behind the trend of installing dado panels in the 16th century was to hide water marks and other stains caused by dampness. Moisture would climb the walls, evaporate and leave blots not easily removed. The dado rail would also hinder the backs of chairs from hitting the wall. Protection from scratches and damage caused by moving furniture was prevented by the railing. In modern homes, dado panels are installed solely for aesthetic purposes.

Dado Panels: Then and Now

Dado panels were historically decorated differently to the upper portion of the wall, usually with bold designs. Ornate leaves and detailed patterns were popular then compared to simple designs now. Simplified Chelsea Square and various other authentic dado panels are still available today. The Chelsea Square design is a plain flat panel with a raised trim in the shape of a rectangle.

Dado panels are generally made from wood, though plastic or plaster are alternative substitutes. A more inexpensive option is adhesive wallpaper. Modern homes can be easily outfitted, as many companies offer installation services.

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