Wallpaper unifies, making ceilings soar and spaces expand in size


March 16, 1991|By Lynn Williams

You were born with a painter's cap on your head and a roller in your hand. You can refinish an old bureau with the skill of a Homer Formby. You know your way around stencils and faux finishes. You've refinished your pine floors and still had time left over to run up some balloon shades for the windows.

Why, then, does the very notion of wallpapering send you running for the Yellow Pages?

Even staunch do-it-yourselfers tend to conjure up images out of Laurel and Hardy movies when they contemplate the job: impossibly long strips of paper peeling off the walls and entangling the hapless paperhanger, paste buckets upending at inopportune moments, air bubbles with minds of their own. That sort of thing. Plus more mundane worries that rolls of premium-priced paper can be ruined by a slip of a brush or an inexpertly wielded pair of scissors.

But isn't wallpaper worth it?

The first wallpapers were developed as popularly priced alternatives to the tapestries, murals and frescoes that adorned the walls of the rich. But in the 18th century they became an aristocratic fad themselves when Madame de Pompadour ordered papers for Versailles. They've gone in and out of fashion since then, but are especially favored these days, as decorators discover that nothing else can unify a room with such style.

Paired with coordinating colors, fabrics and borders, wallpaper can make even rooms with awkward collections of angles and architectural features look like a harmonious whole.

Depending on the patterns chosen, papers can make your ceilings soar, expand a small space or add unexpected richness; a background of trompe l'oeil lace swags and rosebuds, or tailored Regency stripes, can make even thrift shop furniture look baronial.

In addition, the paperer's job has been eased by the introduction of prepasted papers and vinyl-coated wall coverings that are tough, scrubbable and reasonably kid-proof.

There's a variety of price ranges, too, but papering can admittedly be an expensive proposition -- all the more reason to learn how to do it yourself. A professional job can multiply your costs.

Your first step will be to calculate the number of wallpaper rolls you will need to complete the project. This can be problematic, as American, English and European papers are usually manufacturered in different lengths and widths; be sure to check the dimensions of your chosen wallpaper before buying. Measure the height of the each wall, and the number of feet around the room. If you are buying from an outlet that specializes in wallcoverings, an expert should be able to help you calculate the number of rolls you should buy. It always makes sense to buy an extra roll as insurance, especially if you will be matching patterns.

The following instructions are for hanging paper that is not prepasted. The same techniques apply for prepasted papers, except that the work at the pasting table can be eliminated.

You will need (in addition to the paper and paste) a drop cloth to protect the floors, a table for pasting (a board of the appropriate length and width, lain across trestles, is good), a brush for applying the paste, a bristle brush or soft sponge for smoothing, a plumb line, a folding ruler, a pencil or carpenter's chalk, a pair of sharp scissors, an Exacto or utility knife and a stepladder. A bucket with clean water and a washcloth are helpful too; hands must be kept clean and free of paste to avoid smudging the wallpaper.

TC Some preparation is essential. It's true that wallpaper covers a multitude of sins, but a smooth, regular surface will make your job easier. Old layers of paper should be removed, rough spots sanded and holes or cracks filled and sanded smooth.

However, raw plaster walls can be a problem, because the plaster can absorb the paste, resulting in paper that will not adhere. Before adding the paper, you may have to paint the walls with a coat of sizing.

Choose a starting point. One logical choice is to start to one side of the room's largest or central window and work around the room to the other side.

Measure the length of your walls, add 2 inches to each end and cut enough lengths of wallpaper to cover the walls. Set the pieces aside. However, if you have to match patterns, it will be easier to cut as you go instead of cutting all the pieces at once. The short pieces above doors and windows should be cut just before you need them.

Subtract 1/4 inch from the width of your paper, and mark that distance on the wall from the edge of the frame. Using the plumb line, draw a straight line through the mark.

Straighten the first length of paper, set it face down on the pasting table and apply paste to the back side with a brush. Apply a brushful of paste to the center of the piece, and brush outward.

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