Renovation & Design

Dividing and conquering colour one stroke at a time

Chair rail serves as perfect separation point

Photos by Marc LaBossiere / Winnipeg Free Press

The chair rail, painted glossy white, separates the chocolate brown with the lighter coloured upper wall perfectly.

The recliner in the corner, behind the staircase banister, is a perfect reading spot.

Choosing a colour palette for the interior surfaces of your home can be a daunting task. To play it safe many people avoid the process altogether and paint everything the same colour throughout, which can provide a nice flow and consistency within a home.

This is definitely not, however, the direction we went when painting our home.

If you were to count the number of individual colours on the walls and ceilings on the main floor alone you would safely surpass a dozen. The kitchen has three colours, each of two adjacent walls and the ceiling. The front foyer has three, the hallway two. The newly added step-down dining room boasts two colours.

It is the living room, however, that leads the pack and created the greatest colour-blending challenge. The ceiling is a muted yellow and the perimeter is decorated with a glossy white crown moulding. The far corner walls are a mid-brown, while the adjacent walls are painted in a peanut butter hue. A short feature wall is terracotta, partially hidden by a large desk. The tall wall which leads to the second floor remained unpainted for a while. Although my plan was to paint it a dark chocolate brown, which blends well with the mid-brown next to it, would this colour work as it leads you to the second floor?

As you reach the top of the stairs, there is an awkwardly wide hallway-like space that allows access to the two bedrooms, the upstairs bathroom, and the recording studio. Through the years, it has become a reading room with a recliner set at the far end next to the staircase bannister, and a long decorative futon sits below an accent mirror on the wall that partitions the bedrooms. The palette in this space required a light and calming colour, suited for soothing the mind while immersing into a good read. As such, it seemed to me the dark chocolate brown along the staircase wall just would not work on that wall from the reading-room point of view.

Should I then re-think the staircase colour? But what colour would also work against the mid-brown of the main floor? As it turns out, I would not have to make that decision, thanks to the chair rail trim.

By introducing a hip-high wall trim, set to a height that caters to the existing staircase bannister height, I could enjoy both colour choices best suited to each respective space. The chair rail essentially splits the upper room into two horizontal sections. This then allowed me to paint the staircase wall a dark chocolate brown that blends so nicely with the mid-brown of the main floor living room, which also flows throughout the lower third of the upstairs reading room. Above the chair rail, the intended reading room colour, a muted yellow, is painted throughout. Bordered by crown moulding along the perimeter of the space, the ceiling is painted a lighter tone of soft yellow, which nearly mimics the main floor living room.

Once the furniture was positioned, and the decor and multiple photos were introduced, the reading room quickly became one of my favourite rooms in the house — all because of a simple hip-high wall trim that naturally split the room horizontally. No wainscoting was required, just a bold colour differential that truly sets this room apart from the rest. With very little effort, this awkward little space doesn’t seem so awkward anymore. And in keeping with its namesake, the chair rail also offers a tiny buffer between the backs of the furniture and the wall to prevent scuffs and scratches.

The feel of the reading room would have been drastically altered had the staircase wall been painted the dark chocolate brown from the floor on the first level to the ceiling of the second. Although it was the obvious choice to continue the main floor living room colour palette, the dark tone would have destroyed the flow of the second-floor space.

Luckily, simple solutions often render the best result. I cannot for the life of me recall if someone had suggested the chair rail to me, or I simply stumbled upon a photo of a room with a chair rail. Either way, this application produced results that are undeniable.


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