How to Install and Use a Picture Rail Hanging System
A year ago, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what a picture rail hanging system even was! Now, I’m wondering how I’ve gone so long without knowing this was a thing?!
Want to know the funny part? We had picture rail moulding all throughout our entire downstairs and I never even realized. It was installed so close to the ceiling I just thought it was a cheaper variation of crown moulding. Which… technically I wasn’t wrong.
You can absolutely use picture rail as crown moulding. Not only is it a more budget-friendly option, but it’s also easier to install than crown moulding… plus you can hang art from it 🙂
Before I get too ahead of myself, let me first fill you in on what a picture rail hanging system is and some of the images and spaces that inspired me to try it out in our vintage inspired guest bedroom!
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What is Picture Rail Moulding?
Picture rail moulding is both a decorative and functional piece of trim that sits below the ceiling. Picture moulding is designed specifically to fit hooks around and therefore function to hang art, mirrors, or other accessories on a wall.
The use of picture rail hanging systems became popular during the Victorian Era. They add an element of charm to a house and allow you to move and adjust art without putting any holes in the wall! Sounds like a win-win to me…
Where can you buy picture rail moulding?
Picture rail moulding is a specialty trim that may be a little more difficult to find depending on where you live.
I almost made the mistake of buying base cap molding, which is what I used for installing box molding and my recessed wainscoting accent wall. But if you compare the profiles of each, you can see there is definitely a difference!
I was lucky enough to find some at my local Lowes, which you can order online! You can also purchase picture rail from Amazon or House of Antique Hardware.
Picture Rail Inspiration
As I mentioned before, I didn’t know anything about what a picture rail hanging system was until recently when I noticed it in a couple of my favorite designer’s homes!
Here’s how Erin at Erin Zubot Design used it in her bedroom. I couldn’t love it more!
Cathy at The Grit and Polish also does such a great job of using these in her living room and dining room!
My last bit of inspiration came from one of my favorite shows… The Crown!
How to Install Picture Rail Moulding
What is the best height for picture rail moulding?
After doing a little research and examining other interiors, there’s really no “rule” for this, however, you do want to make sure you hang it high enough to allow your art to fall at the proper height.
Picture molding can be installed in line with the height of the windows or doors, as an example. Another option is to install it just below the crown molding.
The picture molding in our home was installed just a few inches from the ceiling. As you can see below, they painted the molding and the top of the wall white to create the look of crown molding!
Some sources recommend hanging it about 12″-20″ from the ceiling. We have 9ft ceilings and I installed our picture rail trim about 15″ down from the ceiling.
Tip: Use painter’s tape to help visualize the placement!
How to cut picture moulding
If you’re comfortable using a miter saw, cutting picture rail is really quite simple!
You can either do a bevel cut (where the saw is tilted) or you can do a miter cut (what I did) with the trim up against the fence and cut at a 45 degree angle.
If you look at the photo below you’ll see I’m holding the trim against the fence (instead of having it lay flat) just as it would sit on the wall.
You’ll rotate the miter saw back and forth as needed depending on your cut!
I found it was easiest to measure and mark from the backside of the trim since it’s flat!
How to hang picture rail moulding
Since you’re likely planning to hang things from your picture rail, it’s very important that you to nail it into the studs.
I used my brad nailer (highly recommend this tool if you don’t have it yet) with 2″ nails and nailed the picture rail into all the studs.
After installing the trim, you’ll do the usual finishing work by filling in the nail holes/seams, caulking, and sanding.
If you plan to paint yours, you’ll want to use a primer first since it’s raw wood! This is the primer I used.
How do You Hang Things from a Picture Rail?
There’s quite a few different options for how you can hang things from picture rail, but I’ll share the method I used!
Add D-rings to the frame
For starters, I had to make sure my art and mirror had the proper hardware. D-rings work perfect for this! Some of your art might already have them, but if not, they’re easy to install just using a screwdriver!
When you attach the D-rings, make sure to screw them in towards the very top of the frame. I made the mistake of installing them too low at first which made the frame lean away from the wall too much.
Just a heads up, even when you screw the D-rings in at the very top, they’re still going to lean off of the wall a little bit! That’s totally okay! Here’s how mine looked after fixing it!
Attaching the chain
To attach the chain to the D-rings, I just used these little keychain rings. You can even spray paint them gold to match the chain if you want!
Then I used this solid beautiful brass chain from House of Antique Hardware!
It was tricky to know exactly how much to order since I wasn’t entirely sure how I planned to distribute my art, but I started by ordering 15ft, and then later on went back and ordered 8ft more! Ordering a little extra might be the move here!
How much weight can a picture rail hold?
This really depends on what you’re using to hang your photos. I used chain, but they also make cords and often times the manufacturer will indicate how much weight it can hold. Also, having an additional hook could help with weight as well!
I don’t want to give an answer as far as how much weight, because it varies, but definitely be careful and do your research on the materials you’re using! Also, this is why it’s so important that the picture rail is nailed into the studs.
The chain I used has a working load limit of 11 lbs, which now that I’m writing this makes me a little nervous because of the mirror I hung with it LOL! I just weighed the mirror and it’s 13 lbs… yikes!
To be on the safe side, I just took it down and ordered a few feet of this solid brass chain because it holds 23 lbs! Phew!
Also, instead of using the D-rings I bought, I just used the hardware already installed on the back since I could tell it was more sturdy with those two screws.
Another tip: If you use chain also, make sure to get rid of any kinks before hanging otherwise it might break!
Lastly, the hooks! I found these adorable brass bird hooks (also from House of Antique Hardware- they have lots of great options!) and they couldn’t be more perfect for our guest bedroom since there’s birds in our wallpaper!
These hooks are unlacquered brass so they’ll age like fine wine 😉
At first I was a little unsure if they fit properly because they didn’t “hug” the trim like I had expected. But I think that’s normal and I just applied pressure on it to make sure it was secure and it was!
The bird actually swings over to the side to open up the hook for the chain. How cool is that?!
Aside from House of Antique Hardware, you can also find hooks on Amazon. Here’s some cute bronze ones that come in a set of 20!!
I hope that answers all of your questions on how to install and use a picture rail hanging system! It was such a life saver when styling our guest bedroom because I couldn’t make up my mind and kept moving the art around… without adding any holes!!