Wainscoting vs. Chair Rail Moulding: What’s the Difference?

February 14, 2022

By: The Finished Space

Many designers, homeowners, and even developers get wainscoting and chair rail moulding confused. They’re often used in conjunction, so it makes a bit of sense. However, in reality, they serve two completely different purposes.

If you’re curious about the differences between these two different but essential home design elements, you’re in luck! Here we’ll define and discuss the differences, similarities, and various uses for wainscoting and chair rail moulding.

What is Wainscoting?

Wainscoting is paneling that covers the lower portion of the wall. Many believe that wainscoting was first used in ancient times to insulate stone buildings. During that time, it was created with oak, a wood species that was highly available.

Now, the paneling is made of all kinds of wood species, MDF, and sometimes PVC board. It is typically installed below chair rail moulding and can be used in various ways to elevate the overall design of a room.

How is Wainscoting Used?

There are three primary purposes for wainscoting in modern design and home development. First, much like in ancient days, wainscoting is used to increase insulation. This is especially prevalent in homes that experience extreme weather conditions.

Second, it protects the lower part of the walls from scuffs and bumps from moving furniture. Finally, it’s an excellent way to add a decorative flair to any room. 

Wainscoting allows you to create color blocking and breaks up the monotony of a single-colored wall.

What is Chair Rail Moulding?

Stock chair rail closeup

Chair rail moulding is a strip or piece of moulding installed horizontally around the perimeter of a room, typically installed at chair height. The name comes from a time when people would place wooden pegs on the walls to hang their chairs while cleaning.

Some believe that chair rail moulding was used for the first time in ancient days to create an aesthetically pleasing separation in walls. It has since evolved, and has become a standard part of modern home design.

How is Chair Rail Moulding Used?

Chair rail moulding has two primary functions. The first is a practical function that explains the reason chair rails were invented in the first place. It’s installed along the entire perimeter of the wall at chair height to protect from scuffs and bumps.

The second function is entirely aesthetic. Much like wainscoting, chair rail moulding adds a decorative flair to a room and breaks up the monotony of single-colored walls. It essentially allows you to split the wall into multiple sections that are pleasing to the eye.

It’s often installed in breakfast nooks, living rooms, dining rooms, and foyers—basically, anywhere you might have a chair. The added elegance and diversity of selection make chair rail moulding and wainscoting an ideal pair.

What’s the Difference Between Wainscoting and Chair Rail Moulding?


There are huge differences between wainscoting and chair rail moulding. In fact, they’re two very different things. Wainscoting is paneling installed below chair rail moulding and covers the entirety of the lower portion of the wall.

Chair rail moulding is a strip of moulding typically installed above wainscoting or by itself to protect walls from constantly shifting furniture (i.e., the backs of chairs). Both can be used to complement each other or by themselves.

They are similar because they are used as decorative elements that protect your walls from bumps and scuffs, but the similarities end there. The most effective way to understand the differences between wainscoting and chair rail moulding is to look at pictures of both.

3 Beautiful Ways to Use Wainscoting and Chair Rail Moulding Together

When you understand the difference between wainscoting and chair rail moulding, it’s easy to understand why they’re such vital elements of modern design. Here are three perfect examples of wainscoting and chair rail moulding used together to create a unique style:

1. Add Intrigue to Your Home Office

Metrie Complete - Board & Batten Accent Wall - Light Blue

You don’t want a boring home office, but you also don’t want to be distracted while you’re working. Moulding paired with wainscoting is the perfect way to add elegance without drawing too much attention. Keep your design minimal and beautiful, like the designer of this home office.

2. Elevate Your Dining Room

Diagonal Wainscotting Staircase.jpeg

The designer of this gorgeous dining room understood the necessity of pairing dark walls with light chair rail moulding and elegantly paneled wainscoting. Even if your chairs never go near your walls, the addition of these two elements will elevate your dining room to new heights.

3. Pair Moulding and Wainscoting with Vibrant Wallpaper

For Blog Only - Emily Henderson - Blue Chair Rail with Wainscotting

Emily Henderson

Don’t think for a second that chair rail moulding and wainscoting only works well with mono-colored walls. The designer of this opulent dining area understood that pairing minimal modern design elements with vibrant wallpaper would create a motif that almost screams for attention. As a result, this room is an absolute showstopper without being overwhelming.

Looking for Moulding and Wainscoting for Your Next Design Project?

If you’re searching for wainscoting or moulding for your next design project, look no further! At Metrie, we have an extensive catalog of premier moulding and trim products for all your design needs.

If you aren’t sure what moulding type is right for you, check out Option {M} today. It’s a nifty tool that pairs popular design trends with moulding types, so you never have to worry about choosing the wrong style for your home!