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What are Dado Rails and How to Use Them in the Hallway


What is dado railing? Learn more about this common molding and how to use modern dado rail ideas for the hallway.

Howdy! Welcome back to the New Year New Room Refresh challenge hosted by my good friend Casa Watkins Living. Today marks week 3 of this one-month room makeover and I’m excited to share how I added more architectural detail to our hallways with dado rails and crown molding.

New Year New Room Refresh: Modern Dado Rail Ideas for the Hallway

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New Year New Room Challenge
A two toned hallway with blue and green and dado railing.  Matching rug runners in the same hues.
Modern Dado Railing in the Hallway with Two-toned Walls

Make sure to scroll to the bottom of this post to see the other talented participants’ progress in this fun challenge and come back next week for more progress and two more weeks for our final reveals!

Week 1: Colorful Art Gallery Hallway Makeover Plans and Before Pictures

Week 2: Beautiful Blue Hallway Runner and Gold Light and Hardware Ideas

Week 3: What are Dado Railings and How do You Install them

Week 4: Two-Toned Walls with Chair Molding

Week 5: Art Gallery Hallway Makeover Reveal

What are dado rail mouldings?

It’s the architectural name for a chair rail. In architecture, the dado is the lower part of the wall above the skirting (or baseboards).

The dado rail goes just above this and traditionally sits between 24-36 inches above the skirting or about a third of the wall. Alternatively, the dado area can also be called a surbase.

Subsequently, the area between the skirt and dado rail is often used for wainscotting but can be used for paint, wallpaper, or other decorative molding.

A wall with bird wallpaper below chair railing and pink upper walls.  A closet door is to the right. A modern dado rail idea.
Chair Molding with Wallpaper in a Bedroom

How to use decorative molding in a hallway in a modern way

Crown molding in the hallways can really help elongate the area. Adding extra trim pieces is a cheap way to make a standard piece look big and more expensive.

I did this in our living room by adding screen trim 3 1/2 inches below the 2 1/2 inch crown molding. I repeated the same thing in our hallways that had no molding.

An update on how to install crown moulding and dado railing or chair rail in a hallway.
Dado Rails with Extra Trim in the Hallways
Matching the crown moulding to the rest of the house but with a green wall and white wall.  Some art is seen.
Matching the Crown Moulding to the Living Room Moulding

Another fun trick is to use decorative corner pieces for inside and outside corners and then you only have to make straight cuts and it adds even more interest. Check out my post on how to install cove moulding with corner pieces in a square room and how to use chair moulding in a bedroom with wallpaper.

A pretty brass flush light fixture on a white ceiling with white crown moulding and green walls.
Corner Embellishment to Make Installation Easier

Modern Dado Rail Ideas for the Hallway

I did something similar with the dado rail moldings or chair rail in the hallway. I decided to install it at 36 inches to help define the upper portion of the wall that will feature art. That way there is a nice horizontal area to anchor the pieces.

Two-toned walls in mint blue and green with a chair rail and brass ceiling light in the bedroom hallway.
Two-Toned Walls with Chair Railing

The lower portion under the dado rail could be defined with paint, wallpaper, picture molding, wainscoting, bead-board, and so on. To keep costs down and the job easier, I picked out a decorative 1 inch trim to add 3 1/2 inches below the chair rail. I love the way it turned out!

How to Install Dado or Chair Moulding

Don’t worry, this DIY is easier than you think especially if you are using MDF or other light/smaller materials and have a helper.

  1. Decide on how high you want the railing.
  2. Use a tape measure and mark along all walls every few feet.
  3. Use a level and pencil and draw a horizantal line.
  4. Measure wall lengths and have moulding cut to size with a saw. Use two 45 degree cuts for inside and outside corners if you aren’t using a decorative piece.
  5. Have a helper hold the moulding under the line and nail every few feet with a 2 inch nail and nail gun. If you are installing a large or heavier piece of moulding, make sure to screw or nail into a few studs to make sure it’s really secure.
  6. Finally, caulk the top and bottom edges and little nail holes before painting.

How to add a small decorative trim underneath

  1. Cut a scrap piece of wood the distance you want the extra trim. Mine was 3 1/2 inches. Use it as a guide!
  2. Cut and install the small trim with the nail gun. Use a thin strip of gorilla glue on the back if the wood starts to split at all (the screen trim is much softer) and secure with painter’s tape or small finishing nails with a hammer every few feet.
  3. End cuts should be the same as the chair/dado railing.
  4. Caulk and fill holes the same way you would the dado railing.

Painting Ideas for a Hallway with Moulding

Using traditional molding ideas with fresh paint in trending or current colors is a great way to modernize the classic styles.

Upper Color and Lower White

An easy option would be to just paint the upper portion of the wall a color and keep the moulding and lower portion of the wall white like the picture I shared last week.

Grey and white two toned walls in a picture by Kylie M. Interiors e-design.
Kylie M. Interiors Featuring Beautiful Dado Rails

Lower Wall and All Trim a Color with White Upper Walls and Ceiling

I also love the look of painting the dado rail and wall all one color and even carrying to the baseboard and door trim and doors while keeping the upper portion white.

CWB Architects picture of a hallway with grey moulding and white walls.  Photo by Francis Dzikowski.
Francis Dzikowski / OTTO

Tone on Tone with Two Colors

I’ve decided to go with a more bold option which is to paint the wall above the chair rail one color, the dado railings, and below the same color family in a lighter tint and keep the crown molding (with extra trim) and baseboard whites. That way I get a tone-on-tone look like this beautiful picture.

Of course, keeping all of the molding white and the walls in two different tones is another beautiful-traditional option like this picture from Country Living.

Here are what my two hallways look like now with the dado and crown molding and extra decorative trim.

A close up of two-toned walls with a chair rail.  Mint blue on the bottom and green on top.
Dado Railing with Extra Trim

Join me on Instagram for behind-the-scenes, DIYs, decorating tips, room tours, and home inspiration. I’ll see you over there!

New Year New Room Refresh Progress:

As of today, I’m still waiting on the final options for rugs but all of the hardware is on the way.

  • Sand the walls and repair any cracks
  • Install crown molding and extra trim 
  • Install chair rail and extra trim
  • Caulk, fill holes
  • Paint doors and molding white
  • Touch up ceiling paint
  • Paint upper walls green
  • Paint lower walls a lighter tint of green/blue
  • Install new light fixture
  • Install new door hardware
  • Hang art
  • Place rugs
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New Year New Room Refresh Participants

Casa Watkins Living // Delineate Your Dwelling // Domicile 37 // House by Hoff // Iris Nacole // JZ Holmes // Live Pretty On A Penny // Love Your Abode // My Eclectic Nest // Our Fifth House // This Is Our Bliss // Up To Date Interiors

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  1. Hello, can you tell me what color paint is used in the picture of the hallway with a blue/gray paint on top and white from the dado rail down to the floor? Thank you!

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