Chair Rails and Wainscoting

Beautiful Bathroom Chair Rail and Wainscot
Doesn’t this picture look great?

Would you believe that the trim carpentry work in this picture is only a few hours worth of effort?

That’s the magic of chair rails and wainscoting; they aren’t terribly difficult, but make a huge impact!

In this post, I’ll give you some of the details you need to get started.

What is Chair Rail

The term “chair rail” is orginially derived from the latin root word “chair” which means: furniture for sitting. :-)

Chair rails have a practical use in the function of protecting the wall from being damaged by the backs of chairs as people move them about, generally getting up and down from the dinner table. That’s why they are so often seen in dining rooms.


How High?

Chair rails don’t have a specific height requirement. The most common answer I’ve seen over the years is a practical “measure up to the chairs you’re using.” If there is no other frame of reference, I would put a chair rail at around 32″ above the floor.

You notice that I don’t say whether that’s to the top, or the bottom, or center line…that’s because it is really a matter of taste. Around 30″, but whatever looks right to you is fine.

chair rail looks great

What Size?

Chair rail comes in many sizes, but it generally is around 2.5″ or 3″ wide. You rarely see large width material used in this location. Here are a few common profiles:


As you can see in the notes, I really like a flat top profile. I feel like the flat “tiny-shelf” look just feels “proper” and fitting. That said, there really is no “wrong” profile to use. Just pick out one that you like best.

What is Wainscoting?

I’ve been a builder for over 20 years and I still hate this word. As a true construction kid, I learned how to estimate and install wainscoting before I learned to spell it.

I was taught that it is pronounced “Wayne’s Coating”. So I was very chagrined when I had to provide my first written estimate that spelled out Wayne’s Cotting. I’ve often digressed to calling it “bead-board”. Whatever you call it, this is one of the ways it can look:

wainscotting or wainscot paneling looks great

There are a few basic types of wainscot paneling:

  • Sheet materials – can have a bead board, smooth, or grooved style.
  • Plank materials – can be bead board, v-joint, rustic, or ______.
  • Raised Panels – more intricate work, would be advanced for a Do-It-Yourselfer because this generally requires special tools, but you can order kits online already cut and ready to install.

more beautiful chair rail and wainscot pictures

I love the look of wainscoting that goes higher up the wall like this! I especially like the way they’ve used a wide enough cap molding on this to create a shelf for displaying pictures.

Another great idea is to install a bookcase with a beadboard back in it, like this:

Bookcases and beadboard are great together

Doesn’t that look great?

I went out and found a couple of videos for you on how to do this work if you want to tackle a project. They were both very helpful and I hope they can answer some of those lingering “How-To” questions.

The second one is a little longer, but it is done by Norm Abrams. If you’re familiar with The New Yankee Workshop television show, then you know Norm. He’s an excellent craftsman and a great teacher.

How to Install Wainscoting – Ron Hazelton

Wainscoting Installation Tips – Norm Abrams (great instructions)

Check out the previous posts in this series:

Introduction, Baseboards and Shoe Molding, How to Install Baseboard

I’ve also done a virtual room showing before and after bead-board pictures at RG: Express!

If you’re new to this blog, I want to welcome you and invite you to do two things that will help keep you encouraged and inspired as you remodel your home.

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  2. Sign-Up for your preference of our RSS subscription so you can get my posts in a reader, or choose the blog updates email subscription and each new post will come to your email in-box.  These are free resources as well.


  1. says

    Love this!
    I’ll have to get a picture someday and send it to you… but, when we did my sons room we put the bead-board on the TOP portion of the wall… Then, we painted the bottom a nice blue. The theme for his room was nautical – so we just put something like a white 1″x5″ (I think it was actually plain baseboard) just below the bead-board to separate it from the painted part. We put cool hooks along the chair railing of one wall for out little guy to hang all sorts of goodies… It turned out really nice! My dad thought that it would look top-heavy – but, since the blue paint we used on the bottom was so much darker than the white bead-board, it really worked.
    I’m sure you saw the Nester’s site when her sister did a guest post — and she put bead-board around her kitchen island… such a cool way to spice it up – and super inexpensive too!

  2. says

    I am a big fan of all of these wall finishes , I have used a few in my house , this has changed my staircase so drastically . I am just waiting to transform my bathroom and bedroom with moldings , the hard part is deciding which kind.
    Great post .

    Chris’s last blog post..Wordless Wednesday

  3. says

    I was wondering if when a room is painted even over a light color does that effect the color of the new paint. I have a lot of trouble picking color and the wall always looks different than what I think I see on the paint chip. Should a room always be painted white first then the new color? I enjoy your site and the new series you have with the nester is fun and helpful. Thanks

  4. says

    I LOVE white beadboard with blue walls in the bathroom!! That pic is my favorite! I will do that in my bathroom … someday when I have a bathroom to do. :) It looks so cool in all those rooms though, even the crazy attic one.

    Abbie’s last blog post..Katie-bug

  5. says

    The house we just bought (we close in TWO days now!!) has built in shelves with the bead board back. It looks really nice!! Everything is white right now, but I am thinking of painting the back orange to make it pop.

    Jessica’s last blog post..So Close!

  6. says

    Thanks for the in depth definition of the latin root of the word :) I agree with you…I like the top to be flat. Unfortunately, our home didn’t come with lovely mouldings. So we will have to install them ourselves. I think we’ll probably start off with the bathroom as it is the one room that is begging for some architectural detail!

    Still loving this blog RG!

    Mrs. Q’s last blog post..Struggling Economy….Strong Faith

  7. Alana @ Gray Matters says

    Thank you so much for this great information. The second picture (the dining room) is exactly what I would like for my husband to do in our dining room. He’s thinking making some sort of template would work the best – do you agree? I’ve written a couple of posts about our dining room – which is a work in progress.

    Alana @ Gray Matters’s last blog post..The Dining Room: Choosing A Chandelier

  8. says

    Hi Remodeling Guy~
    Great post! Trim work can change the look of a room so quickly. I have a few projects on my summer wish list… Check out my blog – I used a large piece of trim moulding to divide my stairway paint color from the family room. I needed color on the stairway, had to come up with a plan that could work, and it did!
    Have a great weekend…

    Misti England’s last blog post..My Surprise Revealed- Want to know what it is?

  9. says

    The main splurge in our new house (which was built for sale, but we’re now moving into) was upgraded trim. Really, it makes all the difference in the world! It took a modest home and turned it into something over the top, and I think the total trim package was $1,100. Now, I know that’s a lot of money, but that was for the whole house – and the trimwork is AMAZING.

    Pictures to come in the next couple of weeks when we’re ready to move in.

  10. says

    Yep, I prefer a chair rail with a flat top, too. And if there’s enough space to move the chairs in and out, I like to top it with a 3″ cap, laid flat like a little shelf … kind of like an old-fashioned window sill (yeah, I know the sill is actually below that flat part, but that’s what everyone calls it :o) The cap/shelf can be used as a picture rail, or to diplay doo-dads, if you’re a doo-dad kinda decorator. And it’s the perfect place to set an icy cold Corona …

    Victoria :o)

    victoria ~ auction girl vintage’s last blog post..Replacing Kitchen Countertops ~ Ceramic Tile to Marble

  11. Timothy says

    These rooms are beau-ti-ful!

    There are so many architectural elements that I simply love. The crown molding and chair rails add so much character and charm to the rooms!

    Thanks for sharing these images.


  12. Jennifer says

    Hi…I would really LOVE to add some “board and batten” type of wainscoting in my master bedroom. It is quite large and has vaulted ceilings. Have you seen this done in a room with vaulted ceilings? How do you think it would look if we took it up to about 6 feet? Would it look strange if we only did it on the wall behind the headboard? I would be interested to see what you thought. Thanks.


  13. says

    Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
    The words in your content seem to be running off the screen in
    Ie. I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know.
    The design look great though! Hope you get the problem resolved soon.


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