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Park City Home: 7 Rules of Wallpaper

If you're going to wallpaper, wallpaper responsibly

Bob Payne
To paint or to wallpaper? That is the question.

For a long while, it appeared that 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, light switches, etc. Uninterrupted spaces, such as a hallway, are a better way 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 Also, be aware that some interior designers say single accent or feature walls achieved with wallpaper are out of date.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. And they will be hung with a pre-applied glue, either water-activated or already sticky, the latter known as peel-and-stick. Keep in mind that a shortcoming of pre-applied glue is that it doesn’t adhere as well as traditional wallpaper paste. Although you are likely to 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 there will be. 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 easily be found online for free. To account for wastage, purchase at least 10 percent 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 from roll to roll. 

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, it’s best to 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 (it’s essential to 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 one of the many online sites, such as  thisoldhouse.com, wikihow.com, or marthastewart.com, or one of the many home-improvement books available online or through a local bookstore or library.

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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