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The chair rail lends a classic and even historic touch to a room. But this particular type of molding can also go wrong easily with incorrect placement, materials or installation.Dining-room interior.

In this blog, we cover the basics of chair rails for the savvy contractor.


Chair rails come in even more materials than standard moldings. To achieve a specific look, you may choose to opt for a specialty material, such as metal. However, most projects call for wood or composite moldings.

If you plan to paint the chair rail or have it painted, standard wood such as pine and oak work well. If you plan to leave the chair rail finished, but unpainted, choose a material that ages well, resists scratching and doesn’t need frequent refinishing. You will likely want to stick with a hardwood, such as oak, cherry or mahogany for a classic look and high-quality finished product.


Chair rails create the illusion of depth and height. To give the desired look, it’s important to find chair rails of the right width and length, in addition to placing the rails in the correct place.

If you are handling a renovation and the homeowner actually wants to use the chair rail to protect his or her walls, take measurements of the top of the chairs in question. The chair rail should measure, at minimum, as wide as the top bar of the chairs.

If the chair rail is for decoration or you aren’t working with a homeowner directly, choose a rail between two and four inches wide. Wider chair rails work better in rooms with higher ceilings.

Choose chair rails to complement existing millwork, especially window casings. Your chair rail should not measure more than an inch and a half larger or smaller than the window casings.

For the most sleek, professional appearance, you’ll want to work with a skilled millworker to create chair rails specifically for the room you’re working on. Have the rails cut so they reach across an entire wall in order to eliminate visible seams.


The accepted rule of thumb for chair rail placement in a room with eight foot ceilings is 32 inches from the ground. However, proper placement depends entirely on the height of the ceiling and the perceived height of the room.

If the room has a different ceiling height, try the railing at one third the height of the room and at one fourth the height of the room. Opt for the placement that makes the room lok bigger rather than the one that makes the dimensions seem shorter.


As with any other millwork, chair rails come in a variety of different styles. Choosing the right style for the room and home you’re working in can make a big difference in the end.

Here are some common styles and how they work best:

  • Ornate – Detailed carvings look beautiful in historical homes and French country décor. However, the more ornate the rail is, the bulkier it can look so be careful with proportion.
  • Simple – Plain chair rails can work in any home, but they may look narrower in particularly tall rooms. Stick with rails that have texture in a room with vaulted ceilings.
  • Wainscot – Wainscot treatments, or textured wood panels, work well to cover up imperfections in the wall beneath. Wainscot panels match cozy country homes best.

Work with you millworker to determine the best style given the home’s architecture and the room’s dimensions.

Looking for the right chair rail moldings for your project? Come to Nisbet Brower for high-quality stock molding or custom made from our in house mill.

Use the information in this blog to find and position chair rails that will wow your clients.