Chair & Picture Rails: The Dado Rail in Contemporary Spaces

John Hopper at The Textile Blog recently posted an interesting history of the dado rail, a decorative wall element that enjoyed popularity in the 19th century. According to John:

"In many nineteenth century houses and a fair amount of twentieth century as well, there were usually one or two dado rails. The first would be situated just a little way below the ceiling. This served a number of purposes. The wooden dado was used either to hang framed pictures from or to place picture frames within a space made between the ceiling and the dado, rather like a small exhibition space along the top of a room..."He continues, "Another reason for the higher dado rail was to optically bring the height of the ceiling down. A number of nineteenth century houses had ceilings so high that the dimensions of the room were difficult to incorporate within a decorative scheme.

The lower dado rail was usually placed at chair height. This was a common practice in the eighteenth century when chairs, particularly in dining rooms, were not placed around a table when not in use, but placed against a wall. To stop the chairs damaging the sometimes expensive wallpaper, a wooden dado rail was used."

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Taken as it was originally intended, we find this manner of breaking up wall space somewhat overwhelming. The mixture of too many patterns has our eyes spinning, and while these might look amazing in person, or perhaps a World Of Interiors shoot, it's not really working for us.

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But as always, style depends on context. Splitting up a wall into thirds, even in to quarters creates a more linear, less intimidating environment for the eye. This can be especially useful for those with tall ceilings. Using a picture rail or molding high up, and a wider chair rail below is a solid tradition, even if combining several prints to a wall hasn't aged as well.

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We can see this working in a variety of homes, used in numerous ways. Decorator David Hicks often split up and framed walls using simple tape and ribbon, and the dado and chair rail are mainstays of the Dorothy Draper school of decorating. We think the use of alternate materials, or even just simple variant painting styles, could work beautifully in contemporary spaces.

What do you think?

Images via The Textile Blog and Our Victorian House

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