Dado rails


What is a dado rail?

A dado rail (or chair rail) is a type of interior moulding, found running horizontally along interior walls. Dado rails typically sit at a height of between 750mm and 1500mm from the floor. Wainscoting or other decorative finishes which have been applied along a wall’s lower surface might have their top edges finished with a dado rail.


Dado rail 
Dado rails can be used to protect walls from chairs.

What are dado rails for?

Dado rails originally served a couple of different purposes - one of which is more or less redundant these days. The area of a wall underneath a dado rail used to be clad with a different decorative material to the rest of the wall. This was to help mask stains and marks caused by things like rising damp. The second practical purpose of dado rails is to protect the walls from being knocked by chairs (hence the term 'chair rail').

Dado rails are most often used these days for aesthetic impact. The use of different colours and decorating materials above and below the rails can create a strong visual effect within a room.


What are dado rails made from?

Dado rails are typically made from timber. It makes sense to match them to the rest of the moulding though, to help maintain a sense of continuity and theme. For that reason you might also find dado rails made from medium density fibreboard (MDF), plaster, PVC, rubber or aluminium. A solid material that can handle a few bumps and blows is probably the best choice.


What types of dado rails are there?


Dado rails might either be thin or wide, and feature as much or as little decoration as required. The main variation between different dado rails involves their height from the floor. Rails that sit above 900mm from the floor will give a room a more dramatic appearance.

The other decision to make is whether or not to break dado railings for windows, or to design in a way that allows them to continue across a wall uninterrupted. Measuring the height of your chairs is another sensible way to decide where to place your dado rails.


Does every room need dado rails?

Rooms with heavy or rough traffic in particular will benefit from installing dado rails. These might include the dining room, kitchen, bathroom, lounge room, guest room, children’s rooms and hallways. Rooms which have wainscoting or tiling up to 1500mm from the floor might also be neatly capped with a dado rail.


Do all homes have dado rails?

Some home builders see dado rails as a little outdated, and they're becoming less common in modernist or contemporary homes. Like any decorating feature though, if they're well executed, dado rails can help to make the interior walls of your home more interesting or visually dramatic.