Painting Ideas for Walls With Chair Rails

Written by hannah wahlig
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Painting Ideas for Walls With Chair Rails
A chair rail divides a wall into sections, providing an opportunity for creative painting ideas. (Breakfast Room image by Stephen Orsillo from

Chair rails are simple pieces of moulding installed 24 to 36 inches up the wall from the floor. Chair rails are subtle architectural details that add charm and character to a space, but they present design challenges for homeowners interested in painting walls that have chair rails.

Light and Dark Colors

Chair rails provide an opportunity for homeowners to experiment with wall colour in an organised and defined way. Chair rails create two distinct wall spaces--one above and one below the rail. Choose different shades of one colour for each wall section to create effects that range from subtle and relaxed to bold and bright. Begin with a simple white chair rail. In the space below the chair rail, choose a dark shade of your colour: dusty purple, burgundy and mocha are adaptable options. Paint the area above the chair rail a lighter shade of the same colour: lavender, rose or cream create a matching pair. Keep the darker shade below the chair rail to avoid making the room feel small or crowded; the light colour maintains the open airiness of the room.

Complementary Colors

If basic exploration of light and dark colours is too tame for your tastes, choosing two complementary colours may offer the bolder statement you crave. Both complementary and contrasting colours create modern colour palettes to update what's traditionally considered a classic design element with the chair rail. Choose colours that oppose each other on the colour wheel for unexpected colour schemes: orange and purple, red and teal or yellow and violet. To avoid a room that's too dark, choose muted or grey-toned hues of your colour choices. Another contemporary pairing is slate grey with a neon such as yellow or lime; paint the area below the chair rail a dark to medium grey and the area above the rail a festive neon. For an added visual impact, paint the chair rail high-gloss black instead of the traditional white.


Incorporate vertical lines in a wall design to complement the horizontal lines of a chair rail. Though most people opt for patterned wallpaper for such projects, the same effects can be created with paint for a truly unique design. Choose a muted, solid colour for the area below the chair rail; light colours such as sky blue, mint green or pale yellow are best suited for such a project. On the area above the chair rail, use painter's tape to mark off vertical lines spaced anywhere from 2 inches to 1 foot apart. For the simplest application, paint the entire wall and remove the tape to reveal crisp white lines. For more complicated designs or wider stripes, space the tape so that you paint every other block and create equally sized spaces. A white chair rail is a subtle transition between the two spaces, while a chair rail in the stripe colour adds an unexpected splash of colour.

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