DIY Picture frame molding accent wall with chair rail

I’ve been so excited to start on my mom’s living room accent wall. It’s a big blank space. In my mom’s home, I installed traditional picture frame molding with chair rail. This blog post will take you through how to measure, design and install your panel molding to give any room in your home a contemporary and timeless look.

old living room that needs a makeover

My mom wants a Studio McGee inspired living room. There are 10 design elements you can incorporate into your living room to give it a transitional modern feeling. Check out my Studio McGee Living Room Tips blog post to read all about those. I will be incorporating a new fireplace as the focal of the room, and adding panel molding with chair rail to this living room.

Tools and Materials

  • Measuring tape
  • Level
  • Laser level
  • Pencil
  • Panel molding
  • Chair rail
  • Miter saw 
  • Cordless Brad nailer 
  • Nails or finishing nails
  • Sandpaper or sander
  • Putty or wood filler
  • Paint (This room is Pure White by Sherwin-Williams)
  • Paintbrush or roller

Plan and Measure you Panel molding accent wall

Using painters tape can help you visualize your pattern. I always tape up my design before cutting my pieces so I can double check that my measurements will look good once the box molding is installed on the wall. Use a level and pencil to mark the spots where the chair rail and panel molding will be installed.

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Start by planning the layout of your accent wall. This is the most important plan ahead of time. I know it’s tempting to jump right into cutting wood, but planning the space helps SO much. Here are my favourite tips and the measurements you need. Use my worksheet to help you plan your accent wall

  • Odd number of boxes look best
  • On a long wall, make the centre box slightly wider
  • Account for wall outlets, and vent boxes. Draw those in your plan because you may have to cut the trim to work those into the design. If possible, adjust the boxes to avoid going through the middle of an outlet
  • A – Chair rail is usually 30-36” tall depending on the ceiling height
  • X – the spacer is the distance between boxes and baseboards, walls – typically 5-6”
  • Y – height of lower boxes is based on the height of the chair rail = A-2X
  • Z – height of upper boxes = Height – A – 2X
  • B & C will take a bit of mapping on the wall with tape. Start with = wall width – 4X / 3. Then adjust the centre box to be slightly larger.

Here is the downloadable worksheet. You can print this an use this to help you plan your own panel molding accent wall with chair rail

how to measure picture frame molding accent wall with chair rail

Part 1 – Create the picture frame molding

To create this accent wall, there are 2 elements. For me, it’s easier to install the large boxes first as you can ensure the spacing is correct. However, you can start with the chair rail as well (which is below)

Step 1: Cut the trim to make the picture frame molding (the large boxes)

There are 2 keys to success for panel molding:
1 – Set your saw to 45 mitre cut. All your cuts must be set to 45 so that the design on the trim lines up. You will end up base arm to both the left and right for each cut. It will be a trapezoid.
2 – Always measure the long edge of the trim. Each piece will be cut into the shape of a trapezoid, so make sure the length you measure and cut is always the long edge of the wood

how to set your saw for picture frame molding accent wall with chair rail

Use your cut list from the planning worksheet to cut all your pieces. I also find it helpful to lay the boxes on the ground as I cut my pieces. Be precise when marking the wood where you will cut it. Even a 1/4″ difference in the top and bottom pieces of the box can make the box look wonky.

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If you’re a beginner DIYer, I would recommend making the cuts for one box of each size. Then, after you’ve attached them to the wall and the spacing is what you visualized, then make the remainder of the cuts. Keep track of all the pieces you cut by labelling the back, and checking them off your cut list.

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Step 2: Dry fit the panel molding

Before installing the panel molding, I painted my wall Pure White by Sherwin-Williams. I love this bright white that has almost no undertones. It’s easy to paint the walls before attaching the molding, then quickly painting the trim after installation with a brush.

I used a pencil to mark the spacing from the baseboards, ceiling and edge of the wall. Set up your laser level and grab your small hand held level. Tape the trim into box shapes on the wall with painters tape. This takes 10-15 minutes extra, but it helps so much to make sure all the corners are tight and measurements are spot on before you start nailing on to the wall.

Step 3: Install picture frame molding

I know many tutorials will advise to use glue/adhesive. I would NEVER recommend it for ANY accent wall. I’ve always used nails. If you get tried of the design or make a mistake, removing the trim will also risk ripping off the drywall, which is really hard to repair. With nails, you have a small hole to patch up. If you’re intimidated to use a nail gun, this project requires a pin nailer. It’s a cute tool, that is much smaller than a brad nailer and easier to use. You can do this!

Use a pin nailer to install delicate decorative trim. This trim is thin. Pin nails are small headless nails that are still strong enough to ensure the trim attaches to the wall. I’ve used brad nails and the wood trim has split. Plus, with a pin nailer, the nail holes are so small that you don’t need to fill any holes. They get filled up by the paint!

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picture frame molding accent wall with chair rail13

Leave any cuts around the outlets for last. My mom’s living room have this large vent. I worked around it by adjusting my design so the trim sat below it. This is why taping up your design can be so helpful.

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The laser level is a really helpful tool for this project. It’s the first time I used one and it make my boxes so much more precise

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I built the 2 outer boxes first. That way, you can adjust the centre column boxes to be in the middle of the wall if your measurements weren’t exactly accurate.

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Part 2 – Install the Chair Rail

I wanted to elevate this living room, and the chair rail definitely does that! The height of chair rail is 30-36″ high depending on the ceiling height. For a 9 foot ceiling height, I installed the chair rail at 35″ high.

Step 1: Cut your chair rail

Cutting your chair rail is a little bit more tricky than cutting the panel molding. Chair rail is cut on the bevel. The angled cut goes through the piece of trim, not just across the face of the wood. Adjust the bevel to 45 degrees on your saw so the arm of the saw swings to either side

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accent wall with chair rail1

Before cutting any pieces, make a guide for the chair rail. Set the bevel of your saw to the right and make the inside and outside cuts and the same for the left. Label the back of each piece. Now every time you make a cut, use your guide to determine how to cut up your saw.

For chair rail, I suggest cutting and installing 1 piece at a time. It is a lot easier to go slowly and see each angle that you’re going to cut.

Step 2: Install the chair rail to the wall

With a pencil, mark the top (or bottom) edge of where the chair rail will sit. Chair rail is thicker, so use a brad nailer to install it. Get a nice tight fit at the edges of the wall. Don’t rush it.

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Step 3: Fill, Finish and Paint your trim

You’ve already worked so hard, so don’t skimp out on the finishing work. Put on a movie or some good tunes and complete the details!

I caulked every single edge where the trim met the walls. That meant caulking the inside and outside the trim, plus the top and bottom of the chair rail. Run a thin bead of caulking. Then run a baby wipe along the edge to clean off the excess caulk.

I also like to use caulk on the mitre joints and bevel cuts. I find caulk is a lot easier to work into the corners of the curves of the decorative trim. Some use wood filler, but this is way easier as I don’t have to try to sand the wood filler to match the decorative curve.

I had a few holes to fill on the chair rail. I filled them with spackle. Then I sanded them smooth. Don’t overfill your holes.

To finish off the walls, use the same paint color as the wall. I painted 2 coats of paint on the trim. I love using primed boards because the finish is so much better!

My Mom’s Modern Transitional Living Room Reveal!!

Before we started, this living room looked lost. It lacked focus and it looked kind of dingy. My mom was inspired by the Studio McGee transitional style with clean lines and a cozy minimal feeling. I think I achieved that with this makeover!! This timeless design element of the box trim with the chair rail makes such a huge impact in my mom’s living room. It subtle and adds elegance. It would also pair beautifully in a dining room.

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I also removed the originally fireplace surround and built this new one that is a bigger, more modern and draws the eye into the room. It was an easier DIY then I anticipated. You can read all about it here!

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picture frame molding accent wall with chair rail4
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I’ve installed picture frame molding in many accent walls in my home and LOVE how timeless it is. Here are a few styles I’ve done.

DIY picture frame wainscoting accent wall
Box trim
Entryway Board and Batten

If you love this project, make sure to Pin It! I’d love for you to join me on Instagram where I share my daily projects.

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