It’s been three months since we last updated you about our wallpaper project. We’ve been on the road since late September reporting on location from historic towns on New York’s Lake Champlain to Miami Beach. But now that it’s getting cold and dark in most of the northern US, it’s the perfect time to turn our attention back to re-designing our interior spaces.
Note to self for future reference: Small, rural towns mean small rural options for specialized design contractors. Since we re-settled full-time to the Eastern Shore of Maryland earlier this year one thing we’ve learned is that we don’t live steps from big city conveniences anymore.
When we decided to wallpaper the dining room and master bedroom in our c. 1876 brick Victorian Revival Gothic cottage, both of which have all sorts of warpy walls and ceiling lines, we knew that finding a good wallpaper hanger would probably be harder on the Eastern Shore than finding a Mazerati repair shop. And at $5.00/square foot for the fabulous designer wallpaper that we chose mistakes aren’t cheap. Since the one game in town was so backed up we decided to embark on this paperhanging journey ourselves!
So our decision is a classic example of necessity becoming the mother of DIY initiative. When you have no other options you just do it yourself damned the final outcome. Don’t mistake our capabilities. We do all of the work around our historic house inside and out with the rare exception of serious plumbing, electrical, and roofing jobs. But for some reason we got it into our heads that wallpapering old walls was the soufflé equivalent of interior design—fanciful, delicate, and only appropriate for the pros.
Don’t be misled. Based on our weekend work, our dining room is starting to look like a private lounge at the Delano Miami South Beach hotel thanks to the Art Deco pattern of our paper, and the careful selection of appropriate mid-century furniture. We also painstakingly followed all of the tried-and-true wallpapering rules about wall prep, pre-pasting and booking the paper, and where to start and stop the pattern. In the process, we also learned a few critical tips that aren’t in the DIY books for the novice wallpaper-hanger that will make your next papered room look like your own boutique hotel suite.
Say It Like A Mantra—Prep, Prep, Prep
In real estate it’s location, location, location. With wallpaper it’s prep, prep, prep.
Before you even think about installing any finished wallpaper, suck it up and pull out your painting clothes, dusk mask, scrapers, spackle, and sandpaper. Your walls should be near perfectly smooth. Remove and sand down any protrusions, fill any cracks, and repair any other imperfections that will telegraph through the wallpaper. Do this 3-4 times even if you don’t think it’s necessary, and drag your fingers across every square inch of the wall to make sure you didn’t miss any little snags. Think we’re being anal? You’ll be even more dissatisfied when you have your project completed, turn on the overhead lighting, and fixate on the wallpaper that’s tenting out over a tiny spackle mark right at eye level.
We also had to deal with multiple electrical outlet openings as well as face plates that had been painted in for decades (all of which should be fully-removed as part of the prep process). We also discovered that a 12” cover plate in our wall concealed the old stovepipe connection between a wood-burning stove in the dining room and our main chimney flue. This required some out of the box thinking to seal up so that the soot from any future fire wouldn’t stain the wallpaper.
The dastardly beauty of thorough prep work is that it uncovers all of the problems that you never wanted to find which add time and cost. Embrace it. All of your renovation projects will be better in the long run when you face the music upfront.
No matter what you read the most analytical and thought-warping part of the paperhanging process is lining up the pattern. This has two major impacts: 1) Minimizing the waste of the roll, and 2) Where the pattern starts, stops, and flows on the wall. At your peril don’t underestimate the latter from a design standpoint.
The pattern for our “Bottna” wallpaper by Marimekko, which we bought from Allmodern.com repeated every 25”. In addition to lining up where the repeating pattern started we had to decide which direction the pattern would run. Our wallpaper looks like an abstract school of lilies or jellyfish moving with the ocean current so we decided to orient it vertically to pull your eye up and give our space the feel of having higher ceilings.
It was the perfect decision. But with particularly graphic wallpapers think carefully about where the most visual part of your paper design will start and stop. Even if you end up with an unpalatable amount of wallpaper waste it’s more important to make sure that you can live with your final pattern design every day. Trust us.
I should know by now that my husband can master any task around the house but I should never trust him on anything related to time, materials and prep estimating.
Expect the unexpected. Double the amount of wallpaper that you think you’ll need based on square foot coverage (to account for the waste of matching the pattern, working around windows and doors, etc.). Triple your expected prep time if your walls need some real love to get smooth. Mistakes cost time and money.
Wallpapering ironically takes no more time than painting once the prep work is done. In many ways it’s also easier. So lose your preconceptions. We did. Once our dining room is complete we’re moving on to papering our master bedroom with another Marimekko Wallaper called Joonas in a silver and white metallic finish-making us officially wild about wallpaper!
Check out our video footage for more: