Wallpaper 101

Many people are intimidated by the thought of hanging wallpaper. Don’t be. Wallcoverings are much easier to manage than they were in years past, boast terrific variety, and remain a long-lasting and economical choice.

Types of Wallpaper

Technically speaking, the term wallpaper refers to decorative paper that is pasted to a wall. But today, it is used generically to describe any and all wallcoverings, including foils, fabrics, foamed vinyl, cork, burlap, embossed paper, grasses, Mylar, and more.

Wallcoverings come either prepasted, or glue-ready. You must soak pre-pasted wallcoverings in a tray of water, and then hang them quickly before the glue dries. With glue-ready wallcoverings, you must apply the glue manually. That process is as messy as it sounds.

For most applications, your best option by far is a vinyl, prepasted wallcovering. The drawbacks are that vinyl cannot be stretched to fit into close-but-no-cigar situations and, as it cannot stick to itself, overlapping is not an option. You must lay it flush to prevent the edges from curling.

By the Numbers

Wallcoverings are sold by the roll, packaged in double-roll bolts of 20.5-in., 27-in., or 36-in. widths. Remember to note the pattern repeat measurement, as the repetition of your chosen pattern may affect different rooms in different ways. Small patterns with repeats of 6 inches can appear busy, whereas large patterns with fewer repeats are more relaxing to the eye.

Once you’ve selected your wallcovering pattern, make sure all of your rolls have the same dye lot number. While the pattern may not change from batch to batch, even slight changes to the manufacturing process can yield dramatic differences in color and shade.

How Much Do You Need?

Here’s a quick and easy method for calculating how much wallpaper you need. Measure the width and height of the walls, and multiply them. Subtract 10 ft.² for each window and doorway, and then total the square footage for all walls. Take this number to your wallcovering salesperson, and let them calculate how much paper you need. Take into account the fact that lining up repeating patterns is a bit of an art, and can create significant waste. So order a generous amount of wallcovering to prevent frustrating delays. Remember, it’s always easier to return an unopened roll of wallcovering than to reorder additional rolls mid-project.

Hanging Offenses

Avoiding these common errors can help keep your wallcovering experience a happy one.

Before hanging any pictures, shelves, or clocks onto your newly applied wallcoverings, be absolutely sure about their placement. Wallpaper is not nearly as forgiving as paint. If you create a hole that interrupts the pattern, you will invariably draw the eye to it, and your options will be to learn to live with it, attempt to minimize it, or replace the entire panel for a truly invisible repair.

When selecting your wallpaper, bear in mind that the stuff—uh…hangs around for quite a while. It’s common for families to keep wallpaper for 20 years or more, and your future goth teenager might one day take a dim view of the "Rustler’s Wild West Roundup" motif. So take that into consideration when choosing a pattern, and think hard before you cater to a momentary whim that might date your room negatively down the road.

You want to decorate to hide flaws, not point them out. Don’t use stripes on sloping walls or on windows and doors that are out of true. Old homes particularly tend to settle over time, and you may not even realize that you have crooked walls until you’ve highlighted them with your wallcovering. If you have a room with ramshackle geometry, avoid rigid patterns, and go with more random, organic motifs for best results.

Use Your Imagination

Wallpaper has more applications that its name might lead you to believe. People have been known to use it on their ceilings, doors, baseboards, shelving, moldings—even furniture. I myself mimicked the wallpaper pattern in our living room to create one-piece jumpsuits for our dogs, which allow them to blend in, and make them virtually invisible to unsuspecting prey. Bottom line: don’t be afraid to experiment. After all, if you don’t like the way it looks, you can simply peel it off. That’s what my wife did.

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Author: Robert Bundy