Dado: a rather funny sounding word (at least in my opinion) for a rather frequent architectural element. Although they all run together and stem from each other, “dado” can refer to three different architectural objects. Like with the spiral staircases of my previous post, it starts in Rome — well, more generally, the Classical era.
The oldest use of dado identifies a part of a column pedestal …which is different than the column base. (The column base is where it adjoins to the pedestal, which is the cuboid part at the bottom.) The dado is the main part of the pedestal, between the pedestal base (at ground-level) and the column base. So the dado makes up the bulk of the cuboid bottom part.
Etymologically, the term “dado” is derived from the Italian for cube or dice. The term originated from the Latin “datum,” meaning “something given” — a root word for words in Italian, French, Spanish, Catalan, and English. Every descendant word means either dice or a piece of data, which starts to give a associative connotation for the “something given.” How in the world that relates to the architecture piece, I personally find blurry, except that a theory suggests the Classical designers appreciated column as an anchor between them and the gods, so maybe the dado represented to them the gift of Earth from the gods?
Eventually the Greek and Roman column runs were replaced by more solid walls in common building styles, however the column effect was retained when a Classical look was in style. This created the wall dado, an effect where a dado trim piece was ran along the wall at the same height as a Classical pedestal — typically 24 inches from the ground. The height of the dado grew to protect wall hangings — where the dado added depth to the wall, it pushed the furniture typically kept against the edges of the room out away from the wall hangings, not just artwork but early wallpapers, or more accurately wall-fabrics. (It wasn’t until post 18th-century it started becoming norm to leave furniture floating in the floorspace.) Eventually, since the height was raised to about 36 inches, or the height of a chair, the dado rail become more commonly known as a chair rail.
It’s ironic we’ve descended from “something given” to “chair rail” — it can’t be denied that the post-Industrial world has a certain straight-forward approach to life.