Picture rail mouldings are not present in every period house and every room. Old houses with low ceilings would not have originally had picture rails as a picture rail requires a ceiling to be tall. The function of picture rail is to divide up and give a structure to plain walls; it also allows the hanging of paintings on these walls without the need for damage to be made to plastered wall surfaces in the form of nails or screws. In the Victorian era picture rails were often only present in downstairs reception rooms and not those utilitarian Victorian rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms where practicality was the order of the day. Many houses did not have picture rail in bedrooms where the ceilings were lower – many bedrooms in Victorian houses are built up into the eaves of the house.
How the Victorians used picture rail should not stunt your interior design ideas as a modern living means that rooms are more fluid than they used to be - if you are creating a kitchen and living space combined there’s no reason why you can’t introduce picture rails into the room. If your bedroom is a haven away from the family with a comfortable chair where you like to relax, and not just a room to sleep in, feel free to introduce picture rails if you have enough ceiling height. On the other hand, introducing picture rails into a bathroom wouldn’t be in the spirit of a traditional Victorian renovation and could look odd.
The reason picture rails exist is to hang pictures on. The picture rail profile is such that it features a lip so that a picture hook will fit and hang securely off it. You will find there more limited picture rail profiles available to buy than say dado rails because the profile has to feature a lip for the hook to hang from, which means there are less shape options. The hanging of pictures works as follows. The picture hook fits over the top of the picture rail and the hook enables paintings to be hung on string off the picture hook. Most picture frames will have a D ring or loop at each corner to enable string to be tied through them. Tie each end of a long piece of string, say between 1 and 1.5 metres long to the top two corners of your frame using the D ring or loop leaving enough in the middle to hang over your hook so that the picture hangs at eye level or slightly higher. Ensure that your knots are really firm so that the string cannot come undone and that it’s good quality tough string that cannot break. Simply choose a picture hook design you like (there won’t be a lot of choice) and a colour you like (probably chrome, brass or black), and hang the hook off your picture rail. Then hang your string over the hook and make sure that the picture hangs symmetrically.
How does using picture rail affect wall decoration?
Picture rail breaks up the wall surface and therefore needs to be taken into account when deciding on paint colours and wallpaper designs. The most usual format for wall decoration when picture rail is included is as follows
When using paint
Below Dado – Dark colour possibly on top of a relief wall paper like Lincrusta or Anaglypta
Above dado – Mid colour
Above picture rail –Light colour possibly on top of a relief wall paper freize like Lincrusta
When using wallpaper
Below Dado – Dark colour to complement wallpaper, possibly on top of a relief wall paper like Lincrusta or Anaglypta
Above dado – Coloured wallpaper
Above picture rail – Light colour taken from one of the wallpaper hues
If you really want to go to town with decoration we would recommend purchasing a Lincrusta freize relief wallpaper for above your picture rail. This can look really stunning and can not only be painted but can also be highlighted in a complementary colour. Careful you don’t use too many colours on the wall though, especially if you have very colourful paintings. Otherwise your walls might overshadow your art!
All interior woodwork in the room should be painted in the same colour ie your architrave, skirting, picture rail and dado rail. Most people would use white or off white but if you are creating a colourful room, you may find white is too much of a contrast. It is also not a colour used on interior woodwork that was used by the Victorians, so we would recommend using a colour a few shades lighter than the colour you use below the dado rail. Many people nowadays choose to use the same colour on walls and interior woodwork which is fine too although not traditional. The thing about choosing a paint colour is that this can easily and cheaply be changed at a later date if you do not like this. This is not something you would want to do with expensive wallpaper though so make sure you choose this carefully!