“Is that wallpaper? It’s more like art. I had no idea wallpaper could be so beautiful.” This sentiment, uttered by a friend who had just seen our dining room wallpaper, typifies the possibilities presented by wallpaper in the 21st century. Most people just don’t know what is out there. If they did they might skip the paint and get on with wallpapering. When I was visited the High Point Market this past Spring, the showrooms wowed me with some many beautiful wallpapered walls. Wallpaper is BACK and it surely makes a grand appearance!
Wallpaper is not what it used to be. Remember the typical, old-fashioned floral patterns that covered grandma’s walls? Boring. Enter the era where designers and homeowners can throw a stunning array of patterns on their walls that would have grandma whooping and hollering with sense-tickling joy as if she was 20 again.
Wallpaper is that captivating. It can turn a drab wall into a showcase and bring in the room texture, color and natural elements. It also can add a special effect and dimension to a room like entryways and dining rooms, that paint alone can not do.
Our guest bathroom has many white accents. Being in Florida we were thinking of an ocean theme wallpaper. We happened upon a striking black wallpaper with brightly colored fish by Nina Campbell. Did that ever pop! It felt risky, almost too great a contrast, but once it was up, oh was it gorgeous.
And it is not only for walls . . . . Wallpaper can give a great facelift to a piece of furniture, drawers or shelving, like this fabulous chest of drawers by good housekeeping.
And if your are pattern shy, you can still find something so subtle that all it does is dress the space. If you don’t know where to start and it feels overwhelming I can help you. Wallpapering is one of the areas of interior design that I excel in. My years experimenting in collage art unwittingly prepared me to fall head over heels for wallpaper.
To give you a better sense of wallpapering, below I address 12 basic concerns about tackling wallpaper:
1. Can I wallpaper over painted walls?
You can, provided that the paint has been sanded properly. Many professionals additionally recommend a wallpaper adhesive such as PVA.
2. Are wallpaper samples free?
Free samples are available, with conditions. If you are working with an interior designer, most of the times she/he will provide you free samples depending on the company and the preferable sample size. Sometimes there is a shipping fee, but it depends on the particular brand that you are interested in. Many papers often come from Europe so the dealer will have to charge you shipping. Another way is to order samples from the wallpaper store. The storekeeper will be happy to order you some samples if you are serious on buying. There will probably be a limit on how many per order. Nowadays, these store are kind of rare but check the area you live in.
3. Are wallpaper borders in style?
No and Yes. The old-fashioned top borders wrapping around the room are out. They had their day in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Now we are in a period of anything goes—tastefully, that is. Borders can be used as fresh accents wrapped around doorways and windows. They can beautifully fit in as risers on your staircase like this one by Jeff Troyer. I’ve even seen them handsomely used as vertical patterns covering an empty half wall. Go for it. You won’t regret it.
4. Can wallpaper be washed?
It depends on the type of wallpaper. Obviously, we see wallpaper very often in bathrooms and kitchens, where there is lots of traffic. Do your research so you know what material your wallpaper is. If your wallpaper is of fabric, cellulose (plant), bamboo or a hybrid cleaning with water can damage it. Dust or vacuum only. Contact the manufacturer if there is a stain. Vinyl or fiberglass are okay to be cleaned with water.
Here are a few general tips: First, dust or vacuum from the top of the wallpaper downwards using a soft brush attachment; second, into a bucket of warm water squirt a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Wash wall gently with a sponge starting from the bottom and moving upwards to avoid dripping streaks. If you notice any stains get some wallpaper dough, roll into a ball, and then roll on the wall over the stain or dirt. Hopefully, that will do it.
Avoid excessive soap or hard rubbing, which could damage the wallpaper.
5. Can I wallpaper just one wall?
Absolutely. Accent walls are one wall. The colors and designs boldly stand out. I have done this in my kitchen, dining room, and guest bedrooms—and am excited to do it elsewhere in the house. Visitors are constantly commenting on how these walls complement and enhance their surroundings while making their own artistic statements.
6. Are wallpaper accent walls in style?
Accent walls give your space a great facelift. They offer an easy and stylish way to add texture and color to a room and experiment with smaller doses of bright colors and daring patterns. An accent wall can set up a mood, and give a character to the room more than anything. Your aim is to draw the eye and create that visual statement. In the process, the rest of the room will stand out more, too.
7. Can wallpaper go over wallpaper?
It can. I have done collages like the above by the creative Avocado Sweets and it has been fine for years. But just sticking wallpaper over wallpaper without paying close attention to the old wallpaper could lead to problems. For instance, putting wallpaper over vinyl wallpaper is a no-no. Smooth vinyl wallpaper is nonporous, which means whatever is over it has nothing to stick to. You can get around this if you can peel the vinyl wallpaper off. It usually has a paper backing, which can be left in place for another wallpaper to adhere to. So all is not lost. It obviously is better if you are hanging on a noncoated wallpaper. But how do you know if it is noncoated?
A simple test is wetting a sponge really well and dabbing a small test area. If the wallpaper darkens then you know it doesn’t have a vinyl coat. But if you realize the wallpaper is still too dark to hang the lighter, quieter wallpaper you love, or the hanging of a test wallpaper sample reveals the old wallpaper bleeding through, what’s next? The real prep work. You remove loose wallpaper, especially around the seams. Apply drywall compound where needed. Then sand any rough areas you find. After cleaning the wall comes an oil-based primer. Make sure the drywall compound and stains are well covered. Let dry for 24 hours. Now paint with an eggshell or flat white paint. Do a light sanding. Get the wallpaper adhesive and you are ready to go.
8. Can I wallpaper over wood paneling?
That’s another thing I have done many years ago in my daughter’s bedroom when she was little. As long as you know that the grooves will be visible, it is all good! Preparing the panels well is the key to success. Be sure to first clean the panels. Next is to caulk the paneled grooves, either with wood putty or joint compound. Some pros say that this step may not be necessary if the wallpaper is thick enough, but my advice is to fill those grooves anyway. Now apply a latex primer followed by sizing to create a rougher surface for adhesion. Lastly the wallpaper. A more heavy duty wallpaper is best, with adhesive, especially if you choose not to fill the paneled grooves. Those wanting to paint the wallpaper should go with a plain white color.
9. Can I wallpaper over textured walls?
That’s another thing trying to cover some horrible, uneven textured walls. It involves work but is doable. There are two ways to go here. The first way entails going over the wall with a putty knife to remove any bumps, etc. Then apply a skim coat of joint compound, let it dry, and apply a second coat so nothing was missed. Then you sand and clean it. A primer / sealer comes next. Let dry 24 hours. Then hang with a wallpaper paste. The second way is much quicker, and riskier. Use a self-adhesive, thicker and darker wallpaper. Other than cleaning the textured wall, the main challenge is to cut and line up the wallpaper panels correctly. You can try a sample piece or two on the wall to see how they adhere and if the wall texture comes through the paper. But in my case it worked like magic and upgraded that kitchen like a charm!
10. Can you wallpaper a ceiling?
Certainly. Ceiling wallpaper can add dramatic beauty to a room. The job is more of a logistics challenge than walls so you will need to have everything in place—drop clothes for the floor, a paint scraper to scrape off ceiling flakes, goggles, hop up platforms or milk crates to walk on as you move across the ceiling, a long table to lay out wallpaper, and especially an assistant who can hold up part of the wallpaper as you are pressing the rest of it to the ceiling.
Prep the ceiling by scraping off flaking paint and rough spots, followed by cleaning with a damp sponge, then apply an acrylic primer. Allow 24 hours to dry. Once you’ve determined the placement of the first sheet of wallpaper, cut (Remember to add an extra 3 – 6 inches in the measurement for matching the wallpaper patterns), then apply wallpaper adhesive to it with a 3-inch paint brush, allow 5 to 10 minutes for the adhesive to set. Place the wallpaper on the ceiling using a plastic applicator to smooth out creases. A seam roller will do nicely around the edges. If you notice bubbling, then rub a damp sponge along the wallpaper to push the bubbles out. Be careful when moving about and take short breaks to relax your arms and neck.
11. Can I wallpaper on new plaster?
Yes. The key is waiting long enough to ensure that the plaster is dry. It should take a couple of days at best if you are dealing with a skim coat. If you impatiently use a hair dryer, then there is a chance cracks could develop. Look for signs (moisture on window, darker plaster spots) that the plaster is still damp. When it looks and feels dry, coat the walls in a sizing solution that seals the new plaster. A clear vinyl coating will work well. As long as the wall is now smooth enough, you are ready to go.
12. Can old wallpaper have asbestos?
Unfortunately, yes. Vinyl wallpaper had asbestos fibers until the mid-‘80s. So if the wallpaper deteriorates or is damaged, dried-out asbestos fibers can be released into the air.
Asbestos was an all-purpose additive that seemed ideal for the job back then. “Asbestos fibers gave vinyl wallpaper more strength and flexibility than ordinary wallpaper with a paper backing. Asbestos lightened the paper rolls creating less strain on finished surfaces. Asbestos additives made wallpaper fire resistant. . . . Asbestos was a natural insulator and acoustical control. It was also durable, washable and held its manufactured color indefinitely.” On top of this it was noncorrosive, nonconductive, and, most importantly, the “cheapest additive available for vinyl wallpaper.”
My suggestion: If you are dealing with old vinyl wallpaper that can be dated to the ‘80s or earlier, have a professional remove it before moving forward.
I hope you have taken away a few practical ideas from my answers. I love wallpaper. And I love sharing the endless possibilities wallpapering presents. The more you dive into it the more the world of wallpaper beckons. Riches upon riches of plain and striped and floral and faux and motif and animal and geometric and Damask designs are waiting to grace your walls.
Let’s cover it up!