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Painting Dado Rails & Picture Rails

One of the distinctive elements that contribute to our love of period homes is the architectural features. The art of painting them is more than a simple task of adding colour; it's a delicate balance between preserving the historical integrity of the home and adding a contemporary touch.

Also called a chair rail, the dado rail sits just above the dado (the lower part of the wall just above the skirting board) and it often presents a problem when it comes to painting the wall. Should you match it to the wall colour below the dado rail, pick it out in white or keep the whole wall the same? I put together a few ideas that will hopefully inspire you to experiment.

white painted dado and dado rail

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"...the relative complexity of the panelled wall surface was not an excuse for the elaborate 'picking out' beloved by so many modern interior designers."

- Patrick Baty The Anatomy of Colour

Picking out the architectural features in white used to be the safe option for period homes. This is no longer the default choice and there aren't any rules for creating a well-thought-out colour scheme. There are a multitude of possibilities, all with different results, and it is well worth experimenting.

White Painted dado rail and picture rail

Historically, during the early 18th century, panelled walls, along with the dado & picture rail, were often painted in one colour. I love using the same colour on the whole wall, all the way from the skirting board to just below the cornice. When you paint everything, the skirting, the dado and picture rails in the same colour (using an eggshell in the same colour on the woodwork), it makes the room appear bigger and creates a calm, elegant atmosphere with a contemporary feel.

Dark blue wall with same colour dado rail and skirting

Dark green wall with same colour dado rail and skirting

 Setting plaster walls with picture rail in same colour

You could paint the skirting board, dado and dado rail the same colour continuing with a different colour or wallpaper above the rail. If you choose a lighter colour for the bottom half, it will help ground the room and make the room feel bigger.

White painted dado and dado rail with pink wall above

When there's a picture rail in a room, deciding how to treat the area above the picture rail can be challenging. Should you see it as an extension of the wall or as an extension of the ceiling? In other words, do you extend the ceiling colour down to the picture rail or carry the wall colour above the picture rail up to the ceiling?

Extending the wall colour above the picture rail will create the illusion of taller walls and a higher ceiling. If you take the colour over the picture rail and up to just below the cornice, your eye will be drawn upwards, maximizing the sense of height. In this colourful sitting room by Sean Symington, the wooden picture rail and frieze were painted the same colour as the walls which minimises its visual impact, but adds subtle detail without drawing the eye to it straight away.

Yellow walls with picture rail in the same colour

Dark blue wall and picture rail with white cornice details

Another option is to bring the ceiling colour down to the picture rail, either stopping just above or just below the picture rail. This will make the ceiling seem lower, and will help to create a cosier feeling and a more traditional look.

Victorian sitting room with green walls

Have you fallen in love with a bold wallpaper or colour, but you're afraid that it will be too much on all four walls? Add it to the dado (the bit of wall between the skirting and dado rail) only. It will be less overwhelming.

dark blue doors and skirting with wallpaper below dado rail

Choosing a contrasting colour for the woodwork can be very effective. In the case of a papered wall, you can create a cohesive look by picking a colour from the wallpaper for the architectural features.

wallpapered walls with contrasting picture rail and skirting

It doesn't matter what you decide, what does matter is that you think it through before you pick up a paintbrush. Whether you prefer to keep things simple or you'd rather make a statement, painting your dado rails and picture rails is an easy way to update your period home. And remember, you're not just renovating, you've made a commitment to preserve the history of your home.

Pale blue panelled walls with white woodwork

Have you painted your architectural features in an interesting way? I'd love to see what you've done and hear your thoughts on this. Let me know!

And as always, if you have any questions, please get in touch with me.

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