Chair Railing Gives Your Home a Classic Look

Family room chair railing
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  • 01 of 04

    Chair Rail: Not Just For Historic Homes

    Can you put chair rail in your house? It's tempting, as this type of trim is extremely easy to install.  But the answer lies in your type of home. Homes with some degree of grandiosity, or even a longing for grandiosity, might be able to pull off chair rail; meek little cottages need not apply.

    A Short and Mercifully Sweet History of Chair Railing

    Chair rail first came about as a buffer to keep chair backs from hitting delicate plaster walls. As plaster walls turned into wallboard, and dining rooms lost their popularity, so too did chair rail. But in the last few years, chair rail, along with other types of trim such as wainscot, tall baseboards, and crown molding, has surged back into homes as a design element.

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  • 02 of 04

    Chair Rail Height: Floor Placement or Relative Placement

    How high? In the past, when chair rail was actually used as a bumper for chair backs, the answer would have been "as high as the backs of the chairs."

    But chair rail now is used as more of a design element than a practical device for protecting walls. You can look at chair rail height from either perspective:

    1. Height from the Floor - In rooms with 8-foot high ceilings, you'll want to place chair railing at anywhere between 30 and 48 inches. In most cases, though, your chair rail will be between 32 and 36 inches on-center from floor level.
    2. Relative Placement - But not all ceilings are 8 feet high. Some ceilings are 10 or 12 feet. In this case, the room could easily accommodate chair rail that is as high as 48 inches.  But most chair rails are in the lower vertical one-third.  So, if you imagine the wall marked into three sections (vertically), chair rail would be placed around the lowest third section.
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  • 03 of 04

    Installation of Chair Rail

    The reason why chair rail is so frequently installed is that it's the ultimate DIY project. Few tools are needed, and almost anybody can do it.

    Even though chair rail is fairly pricey stuff, you won't be using a lot of it. Still, you don't want to waste any of this precious product by making mistakes with the installation.

    How to Install Chair Rail

    1. Measure between 32 and 36 inches from the floor to the area on your wall where you intend to install the chair rail.
    2. Make measurements at each end of a wall, and snap a chalk line between the two measurements.
    3. Along the chalk line, determine where the vertical wall studs fall. In most houses, they should fall 16 inches on-center. An electronic or magnetic stud finder will help you find the studs.
    4. Cut your chair rail the length of the wall. Square-cut each end (i.e., a 90-degree angle).
    5. Nail the chair rail along the chalk line, placing nails at each stud. Use 1 1/4 inch finish nails, sinking each nail (very carefully) with a nailset or a power nailer.
    6. Install chair railing at adjoining walls by coping the chair rail meeting your installed chair rail. See this video about installing crown molding which also shows how to make cope cuts.
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  • 04 of 04

    Chair Rail Paired With Wainscot Is a Popular Style

    One of the most popular chair rail designs is to use it as top finishing edge for wainscot.

    Because wainscot has a raw edge on top and needs some kind of finished edge, chair rail is perfect for this purpose.

    If the gap between the wainscot and chair rail is still ragged, just run a thin bead of painter's caulk in the gap and paint over it after it has cured.