Does a Chair Rail Have to Match the Baseboard Color?

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The trend in home design is to match the chair rail with the baseboard color.
The trend in home design is to match the chair rail with the baseboard color. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Install a chair rail in a room and it adds a striking architectural element that dresses up country, Arts and Crafts, Victorian and many other design styles. How you paint the chair rail greatly influences the impact it has on the space. Like many creative pursuits, interior design has guidelines, but no hard and fast rules. The typical trend is to match your chair rail and baseboard colors, but playing with this trend the right way can also make a dramatic visual statement.

Matching Baseboard, Chair Rail and Crown Molding

The important design tip to remember when painting a room with chair rail is to have at least one unifying element. The simplest way to do this is to match your chair rail to the baseboards and any other trim work, including crown molding. This holds the room's design together and allows you to be creative with your wall color. Paint the walls a uniform color, or use different hues above and below the chair rail. Use the neutral trim to frame out a textured faux finish or boldly patterned wallpaper.

Trim and Wainscoting

Unify the trim work when you add wainscoting below the chair rail. Consider matching the chair rail and baseboard to the wainscoting color. This looks particularly crisp in all white, and works well for Victorian style homes. The neutral lower wall allows for a dramatic, deep color on the upper wall. Keep the crown molding the same color as the wainscoting and trim to maintain unity. While it is possible to have the upper wall, wainscoting and trim work in three separate colors, the danger is that it can look too disjointed. Avoid sharply contrasting colors or bright shades that make your private home look more like a commercial space.

Monochromatic Design

Paint the walls and all of the trim on the wall a uniform color, preferably in a neutral tone. This works especially well with ornate trim and shadow boxes, because it keeps the focus on the texture rather than the color. The monochromatic walls also provide a perfect backdrop for antique decorative furniture, patterned draperies and Oriental rugs. The trim work is elegant enough to suit the more opulent design without distracting from your focal pieces.

Creative Alternatives

Use a little imagination and you can bend the rules about matching your trim work. Create a fun game room and bar environment in your den by maintaining the natural wood crown molding and baseboard, and adding a burgundy painted chair rail to the deep green walls. Highlight your modern black furniture and red accessories with white walls, a white baseboard and a bright red lacquer chair rail. Keep the walls and baseboard white but paint your wainscoting and chair rail in black for a striking spin on a classic look. As long as there is a balance to the design, there are many options that can be pleasing to the eye. Use accessories and fabrics in matching shades to add depth to the space and unify any unusual color choices.

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