The History and Evolution of Dado Rails

When it comes to interior design, every detail counts. From wall colors to furniture selection, every element of a room should be carefully considered to create the desired atmosphere. One such element that many interior designers overlook is the dado rail. Often seen as a remnant of Victorian-era décor, dado rails can serve a variety of functions in modern design. In this article, we’ll explore the versatility of dado railin interior design and how they can add both visual interest and practicality to a room.

Defining Dado Rails

First and foremost, let’s clarify what dado rails are. A dado rail is a wooden or plastic molding that is installed horizontally along the walls of a room, often at chair-rail height (around 36 inches from the floor). It typically ranges from a few inches to a foot in width, and can be as simple or decorative as desired. Traditionally, dado rails were used to protect the walls from chairs scraping against them, but they can be used for many more practical and decorative purposes in modern interior design.

Accenting a Room

One popular design trend in recent years has been the use of dado rails as an accent feature. By painting the wall above and below the rail different colors, you can create a unique and visually striking effect. This approach works well in rooms with high ceilings, as the dado rail breaks up the expanse of wall that might otherwise feel overwhelming. A dado rail can also be used as a border around wallpaper or a mural, adding a sophisticated touch to the overall design.

Creating Room Divisions

In addition to being an accent feature, dado rails can also serve a practical purpose by dividing a room into different zones. For example, in an open-plan living space, a dado rail can be used to differentiate the dining area from the seating area. Alternatively, a dado rail can be used to divide a large bedroom into separate sleeping and dressing areas. This creates a visual separation of spaces without the need for building walls or installing room dividers.

Where to Place Dado Rails

When deciding where to place a dado rail, there are a few factors to consider. First, take into account the height of the ceilings and the proportions of the room. A dado rail that is too high or too low can look awkward and out of place. Additionally, consider the purpose of the dado rail – is it primarily decorative, or does it need to be functional as well? Finally, consider the overall style of the room. A highly decorative dado rail may not fit in a minimalist space, while a plain dado rail might look out of place in a room with ornate molding and trim.

Types of Dado Rails to Consider

Finally, let’s look at some of the types of dado rails available to consider. The simplest option is a plain wooden molding that matches the baseboards and other trim in the room. For a more decorative look, consider a curved or carved dado rail, or one with a patterned design. Alternatively, you could opt for a panel molding that creates a wainscot effect below the dado rail. Another option is to use dado rails made from alternative materials, such as plastic or metal, that can offer a more modern look and feel.


Dado rails may seem like a decorative relic of a bygone era, but they can be an incredibly versatile tool in modern interior design. Whether you choose to use them as a striking accent feature or a practical room divider, dado rails can add style and functionality to a room in equal measure. When considering the design of your next project, don’t overlook the potential of dado rails to create a unique and sophisticated space.