Bathroom Chair Rail

Bathroom Chair Rail

I would love to see a reference that actually refers to chair/dado rail historical proportions. The works you are refering to are very specifically related to columns in classical architecture. There was a obvious emphasis on form in those elements. Yet the chair rail was born from function rather than form. The hieght of the chair was dictated by comfort and in turn the hieght of the rail was dictated by the chair. No doubt the construction methods employed for the rail superficially resembled the dedign elements of the classical column, but this was an example of apply design elements to a functional element after the fact. Even The Victorian Society(www.victoriansociety.org.uk), an English not-for-profit dedicated to the preservation of victorian and edwardian homes, states that the chair/dado rail was to serve the function of protecting wall hangings from chairs. They have been archiving and collecting info on this style of architecture for more than fifty years.
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Bathroom Chair Rail

Hi Brent, I have to disagree with you on “…letting the back of the chair set the chair rail height is like letting the size of a rug decide the size of a room…” I want my chair rail to be an easily replaceable piece of moulding that stops the back of our chairs from scuffing up our walls. You know.. their intended purpose?! Starting a chair rail low defeats the purpose, or at least my purpose. We ask our contractor about putting a chair rail into our dining room and the first thing he did was place one of the chairs against the wall and measure. An esthetically pleasing feature that isn’t functional is a waste, especially for the time, and expense. Just saying.. Lisa
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Bathroom Chair Rail

Even in colonial rooms with 10-ft. ceilings, I’ve seen chair rail set at 30 in. from the floor. There are some 18th-century pattern books that show the chair rail at 24 in. off the floor. In fact, in rooms with 9-ft. to 10-ft. ceilings, this height is actually most appropriate for chair rail, and best falls within the rules of classical architecture (see photo, right). Over the past 60 years we have forgotten a lot about those classical rules, and we’ve forgotten how chair rail functions in a room.
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Bathroom Chair Rail

Let’s back up a bit. Chair rail is a molding, right? The purpose of molding is to establish proper scale and proportion in a room. And because of its close proximity to us (chair rail is often the nearest horizontal molding we see) chair rail can do more to make a room feel right than either the baseboard or the crown. But get the chair rail wrong, and the room feels wrong—I can guarantee it.
bathroom chair rail 4

Bathroom Chair Rail

However I should interject the fact that in the 1700-1800’s, chair rails were functional more than decorative, the rail was placed according to the height of the chairs in the room to prevent the chairs from rubbing up against the wall when placed out of the way. May times chairs were pushed to the outer most portion of a room to open the room for dances or other social events. The chair rail protected the walls from scuffs and scratches. This was predominant in the Shaker community where chairs were hung on the wall after a meal, the feet of the chairs would strike the walls at the same level that the protective chair rail was placed. It wasn’t till the early 20th century that the chair rail became purely decorative over function.
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Bathroom Chair Rail

This was a really interesting article and, as some have commented already, very useful practically if you have the proportions fit for exercising this approach. If only I had. However, according to my architect mother-in-law, now almost 90 years old, a properly designed side chair of the Chippendale era, for instance would not come near to the wall owing to the back leg design that would meet the wall at the floor’s corner first, leaving the chair’s top rail no nearer than a few inches. The point of the “dado rail” was to protect expensive wall coverings from damage by chairs. “Chair rail?” Never heard it called that before. Always “dado rail” to my knowledge – here in the Home of Chippendale. And prevention is better than cure so the chair leg design is the key. Perhaps more later. Regards, Chris J
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Bathroom Chair Rail

My second problem has to do with your comment about the true, “intended purpose” of the chair rail. Historically, when this molding was created and invented they did not have chairs in rooms like we do today. They did not invent the chair rail to protect the walls, because they didn’t have dining rooms with tables and chairs. The historic name for this molding is a dado. The historic placement of this dates to the Greek and Roman period when the classical rules of building were established. Chairs were expensive and only the wealthy had them. I suspect the term chair rail, though I have not done the research to prove it, came about in the Victorian period. That is when many of the classical terms for moldings stopped being used. The architraves came to be called casings and the dado became the chair rail.
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Bathroom Chair Rail

In a roughly 800 square foot restaurant, I’ve got 10’4″ ceilings and a takeout/coffee counter at typical 36″ height. I’m proposing to the client that we do a chair rail and simple mouldings on the side walls, one of which butts into the counter. I feel like 36″ looks proportional to the space and was happy doing it in the last project I designed that was very similar, but at that project, we had an interesting time terminating the chair rail at the counter of the same height in a way that looked good. I think we managed in the end, but I want to avoid the same conflict happening here. I can’t seem to find any images online that show wainscoting lower than counter height. Would you go lower and butt the chair rail into the front of the bar somewhere under its 1.5″ thick counter surface? Or eschew classical proportions and go higher, terminating the counter surface into the side wall a few inches lower than the chair rail? (I think this would look better and more intentional.)
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How high should we install chair rail? Ask most carpenters and they’ll either say 36 in., 32 in. or they’ll measure the back of a chair and tell you to lay it out so the chair won’t scar the wall. Well, I’m sorry to say, that unless your ceilings are 16-ft. tall, 36 in. is way too high for the chair rail; and letting the back of the chair set the chair rail height is like letting the size of a rug decide the size of a room. In most cases, it just doesn’t work!
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This article on chair rails is revealing, thought-provoking, and very enlightening. I am a DIY homeowner who is in the process of trimming my new home. After reading your article I don’t know how to address my chair rail problem. I have a staircase with walls on both sides which is 48″ wide with railings scheduled for each side. We have selected two paint colors which will meet approximately at the railing heights and wanted to install a chair rail at those points. After reading this article I’m in a quandry. If I carry the top color down to approximately 24″ above the skirt board and install the chair rail where the colors meet it would be approximately 10 inches below the railings. Wouldn’t that look peculiar? Any ideas? Thank you.
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I feel Ed’s OCD pain. This is my first ever attempt to remodel and paint. I am remodeling my grandmorher’s 1968 1100 sq ft brick home. It has 7 1/2 foot ceilings and 36″ chair rail. It makes the rooms ( kitchen, hallway, living room) feel fat and disproportioned. I have been going “crazy” trying to figure out what to do with the chair rail height. Thank you for the specific advice in your reply to Ed. It as helped me tremdously to know that my gut feeling was correct about the placement of the chair rail.
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Everything I had been reading said to put the chair rail between 28″ and 41″, or to divide the height of the ceiling (9′) by 3 and put the chair rail there (36″). Thank goodness I found this website – just finished installing the chair rail at 30″ (as recommended above in this thread) and it looks sophisticated and elegant. BTW: At the new height, I was able to run it under the window which looks infinitely better than running it “into” the window. Thanks all for info!
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i have a low chair rail in my dining room which is right off the foyer. there is no wainscoting in the dining room, just a rail. i am planning to put wainscoting in the foyer. the dining room entrance is right off the foyer , so you see the chair railing in the dining room. my question is … do i put the wainscoting at the same height as the chair rail in the dining room? the ceiling in the foyer is a two story ceiling . the stair case is open and there is a huge chandelier which is beautiful. i like the look of a taller wainscoting in a foyer but would this be wrong? thank you so much for your reply.

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