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Weekend warrior: 7 rules of wallpaper


Bob Payne
For Steamboat Homefinder
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

For a long while, it appeared wallpaper was dead. But suddenly, thanks to easy-up, easy-down wallpaper that doesn’t require a lifelong commitment, along with possibilities brought on by the digital age, such as digitally printed wall-size murals, wallpaper is back and looking amazing. 

No question, hanging wallpaper can still be a challenge. That’s particularly true when working with fragile, woven wallpapers and traditional wallpaper paste. But it’s also true that with a little knowledge, some modern materials, and a few hours to spare, anyone can tackle simple wallpaper projects they will be justifiably proud of. 

Rule 1: Choose the right walls 

Unless you’ve had some practice, avoid walls that are horribly out of square or have odd-shaped areas, such as in a stairwell or areas complicated by a multitude of doors, windows or light switches. Uninterrupted spaces, such as a hallway, are a better place to start. Also, be aware that some interior designers say single accent or feature walls achieved with wallpaper are out of date.

Rule 2: Choose the right type of wallpaper 

While their attractiveness might make them tempting, some popular types of wallpaper, such as metallic and flocked, can be difficult to work with and are typically not appropriate for amateurs. Instead, limit yourself to types that are easy to hang, maintain and, should the time come, remove. The easiest will be some variation of vinyl, either solid or with a paper or fabric backing, hung with a pre-applied glue, either water-activated or already sticky, which is known as peel-and-stick. One shortcoming of pre-applied glue: it doesn’t adhere as well as traditional wallpaper paste although you’ll likely be ready for a fresh look long before the old wallpaper starts to peel.

Rule 3: Choose the right pattern

Patterned wallpaper has what is known as pattern repeat, which is the vertical distance before the pattern starts over. The shorter the distance the easier the wallpaper is to align and the less waste. Of the three types of pattern repeat, random match is best for beginners, because it requires no alignment and results in the least amount of waste. Straight-across match is more difficult to work with and produces more waste but applying it is within the capabilities of most do-it-yourselfers. Drop match, which involves the most complexity in aligning the pattern and produces the most waste, should be left to the experts. 

Rule 4: Buy the right amount 

To determine how much wallpaper you’ll need, use a wallpaper calculator, which can be found online for free. To account for wastage, purchase at least 10% more than you need and significantly more than that for drop match patterns. An oddity of measuring wallpaper is that in the U.S. it is almost always priced by the single roll but sold by the double (based on length), or, for high-ceilinged rooms, triple. Buy all the rolls from the same batch number, as colors may vary. 

Rule 5: Prep the space 

Prepare the walls by smoothing and cleaning them, removing any protruding nails or other wall fasteners, filling any holes or cracks and sanding them flush. Remove electrical faceplates after shutting the power off, which should remain that way throughout the project. If necessary, apply a wallpaper primer. Also remove old wallpaper, which, if it was hung using traditional wallpaper paste, can be a chore.

Rule 6: Assemble the right tools 

For measuring, you’ll need a pencil (avoid a pen, as ink can bleed through the wallpaper), a tape measure and a carpenter’s level, which allows you to draw vertical lines. For cutting, you probably already have scissors, a razor knife (keep it sharp by replacing blades frequently) and a metal straightedge. For hanging, get a sponge, a seam roller and a smoothing brush or plastic smoothing tool. A collapsible wallpaper table can be useful. For hanging paper with pre-applied, water-activated glue, add a water tray. 

Rule 7: Measure. Cut. Apply 

Although measuring, cutting and hanging pre-pasted wallpaper isn’t overly difficult, enough steps are involved that you’ll want to follow detailed instructions. Turn to online sites such as thisoldhouse.comwikihow.com or marthastewart.com, or a home-improvement book. 

These rules won’t make you a Michelangelo of wallpapering, but they will put you in a class above any do-it-yourselfer afraid to go beyond rolling on a coat of paint. 


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