Chair rails, along with crown molding and wainscoting, are classic touches that add dimension to a room. But when they are hung too high, they can make the room feel out of proportion and off-balance.
The height at which you install chair rail molding will depend on several factors, including ceiling height and the look you’re trying to achieve. A general rule of thumb is that chair rails should be positioned about one-third the distance from floor to ceiling. So, for a room with an 8-foot ceiling, that means the top of the rail should be about 32 inches from the floor.
For rooms with higher or vaulted ceilings, a wider chair rail may work better, as it can help to draw the eye upward and add visual interest. Popular moulding mill styles that can be used at this wider width include Gillette, Big Sky, Cody, Byron, Grey Bull, Spokane and Carmel.
Another factor that will affect chair rail height is the thickness of the rail itself. Thickness can be a matter of personal preference, but it is important to keep in mind that the larger the rail, the more weight it will have and the more structural support it will require. For this reason, it’s often best to keep the chair rail thickness to a minimum for the most durable finish.
In most cases, you should use a chair rail that is no more than four inches wide. This will minimize the potential for damage to the wall when chairs are pulled back from a dining table. If you have a very tall or vaulted room, however, it may be possible to use a wider rail that is up to seven inches wide.
Once you know what the recommended chair rail height is, it’s a good idea to hold a piece of molding up against the wall at this height to get a sense of how it will look. You can also experiment with the height by standing in the room and looking at the chair rail from different angles to see what looks best. If you’re installing both a chair rail and wainscoting, it can be helpful to hold pieces of each up against the wall at various heights to see what combinations look best together.
If you’re planning to paint your room before installing the chair rail, you can mark a reference line with masking tape or a pencil where you want to place the top of the rail. Then, locate the wall studs using an electronic stud finder and mark their positions with a pencil. When the time comes to install the rail, you’ll be able to follow the guideline you’ve marked and avoid having the installation go crooked. Be sure to always butt cut the chair rail at door and window casings instead of miter cutting. This will prevent the stool and apron from rubbing against each other, which can result in dents and nicks.