Ideas For ‘Picture Frame’ Wainscoting


When I meet with clients for color consultations, I’m often asked to give painting ideas for walls that feature chair rails or wainscoting — namely ‘picture frames,’ which are a series of ‘shadow’ boxes created with narrow strips of molding.

Ah, the joys of molding!  We love how it adds character and architectural interest to a space, but at the same time, when it’s time to paint, we are sometimes left baffled.  I don’t believe that there is a right or wrong way to paint walls that feature picture frames. Your decision really depends upon the mood you want to create.  For example, if you want a dramatic, lively space, paint the inside of the picture frames using a color that contrasts with the rest of the wall.  Picture frames naturally lend themselves to color, so it’s a great opportunity to add interest to your room.

Picture 8

Or, instead of painting, consider using a beautifully patterned wallpaper; it will turn your walls into a work of art and create an instant focal point {love this idea!}:



However, if you’re going for a clean, contemporary look, you can paint the wall and all of the molding with the same color.  The result will be a more subtle, understated space.  You’ll still have architectural interest but the picture frames now become the backdrop as opposed to the main feature.  This is a great choice if you want a serene space or if you choose to put the focus on your furnishings.




If a traditional space is what you have in mind, use a singe color on the wall and paint the picture frames a crisp white.  You can use two wall colors if you have a chair rail {one color above the chair rail and another one below it}, but make sure you’ve painted inside the picture frames using the wall color that directly surrounds them.   This is a classic look that puts the emphasis on your molding, and provides tons of architectural interest:

after dining room


Picture 3

In a traditional or cottage style, you’ll often see white wainscoting on the bottom portion of a wall, while the top half of the wall is painted a different color.  While not my favorite choice, a white wainscoting does bring a light and airy feel to a room.  Again, there really is no right or wrong way to approach picture frame wainscoting.  You don’t have to go color crazy because the molding is already a feature.  Just determine the style and mood you want to create, and go for it!

{Click on each picture to see its link.}

For more trim, molding and color scheme ideas, see Ideas For Painting Your Trim.

18 thoughts on “Ideas For ‘Picture Frame’ Wainscoting

  1. Hi,
    I love your pictures, especially the sage bedroom. I have a question. I have oak floors, base trim, doors (natural oak color). I want to install wainscot up the stairwell and in the front hall, but am having difficulty with what color to use. Would it look terribly wrong to use white chair rail and picture molding, with a fill color that is slightly darker than the cream wall above the chair rail? I am open to any suggestions as these areas of the house are pretty much a blank slate right now. Thanks for any help you might offer! :)

  2. Great work – I love the presentation. You have definitely helped me make up my mind on some redecorating work I have putting off due to a lack of ideas.

    Thanks again.

  3. personaly i like this style however i prefer to keep in it and black and which with maybe a very small splash of red.. as far as the pictures are concerned i would say that the blue color scheam is my favorite.

  4. Mother-in-law told my husband that we shouldn’t do wainscoting in our living room because it’s only for dining rooms — I immediately pulled up your site and showed him the staircase, et. al ….. fabulous!

  5. Nice work lady! I’m a “former” trompe l’oeil artist and just bought a place of my own. Not having a lot of money left over I’m trying to stretch every dollar, so I’m doing faux wainscotting, chair rail and picture frames above – making paint do the work instead of the dollar! I’ve combed the internet for good and tasteful picture examples and yours are the most delightful and inspiring.

  6. Maria,

    Thanks for visiting my blog, Color Sizzle. To answer your question: Picture framing or chair rail? The answer depends on your goals for the space.

    If your goal is to have your living room and family room appear to be one large room, then picture framing will do that by creating a continuous flow from one room to the next.

    If you’d like to create more of a visual separation between the two rooms, then choose a chair rail because then you can paint below the chair rail using one color for the living room, and another color for the family room. Even if you choose the same color for each room, you can still treat the upper portion of the wall differently in each room. For example, in the living room put up some great artwork; in the family room you can display family photos.

    If you do decide on the picture frame molding, I wouldn’t advise a strong color such as burgundy. I just think that one long wall of picture frame molding painted in with a strong color could overwhelm the space. You’d be better off using a lighter color or don’t paint inside the frames at all.

    I hope this advice was helpful. If you’re a Facebook user, consider joining the Paint Can Crew for more paint color tips. Good luck with your design project!


  7. Please tell me your opinion…. The layout of our first floor is very open, the living room flows into the family room (half wall to separate the rooms), which then flows into our kitchen. We have a long wall that the living room and family room share (with the half wall in the middle). Our wall is currently khaki and would like to keep that color. Our crown molding is white. We were thinking of doing the long rectangle picture wainescoting. Or do you think putting a chair rail and wainescoting is a better choice? The next is color. We would like the picture frame color to be white to make the crown molding. Would putting the color burgundy in the inside of the rectangle be too bold?

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