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L.Srikumar Pai
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Home improvement tips: Wallpaper for interiors

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Wallpaper is a kind of material used to cover and decorate the interior walls of homes, offices, and other buildings.  It is usually sold in rolls and is put onto a wall using wallpaper paste. Trying to decide between using interior painting or wallpaper to decorate can be a difficult task. Each of them has some unique benefits that are worth discussing. The main advantages for interior paint are that it is easy to apply and usually somewhat less expensive. A good coat of paint will need to be redone in about 2 years, whereas wallpaper, although initially more expensive, can easily last between 10 and 15 years.

There plenty of wallpaper designs from which one can choose. This makes it easy to choose the pattern, colors or designs that match a room’s existing decor.

Wallpaper designs can be used alone or in conjunction with coordinating borders or colorful wallpaper murals. There are also a wide variety of textures that can be chosen as well. It can be fun to mix and match various designs, patterns and colors to achieve just the right flavor for the room. With all the possible selections and combinations of colors each room can be decorated to achieve the desired effect.

Like paint, wallpaper requires proper surface preparation before application. Additionally wallpaper is not suitable for all areas. For example, bathroom wallpaper may deteriorate rapidly due to excessive steam. Proper preparation includes the repair of any defects in the drywall or plaster and the removal of loose material or old adhesives. Accurate room measurements (length, width, and height) along with number of window and door openings is essential for ordering wallpaper. Large drops, or repeats, in a pattern can be cut and hung more economically by working from alternating rolls of paper. Paper is sold (with very few exceptions) in double rolls.

Besides conventional installation on interior walls and ceilings, wallpapers have been deployed as decorative covering for hatboxes, bandboxes, books, shelves, and window-shades

How do I measure for wallpaper?

Exact estimates can be obtained from where you intend to purchase your wallpaper, or if a professional will be doing the installation, they will provide this service.Refer to the wallpaper estimation page.

Where do I buy wallpaper?

There are a few ways that you can purchase wallpaper. Interior decorators, home improvement stores, and your local paint and wallpaper stores. Interior decorators are generally the most expensive route, though they may offer the best advice as to what particular wallcoverings best complement your overall decorating scheme. Local paint, wallpaper, and home improvement stores generally save you more money as long as you are willing to invest the time matching your wallpaper needs with your existing home decor.  Some of these stores have free in-house consultants for this purpose.  Refer to the wallpaper links page for wallpaper manufacturers.

What is a pattern match?

On all wallpaper, except some textures and murals, there is what is called a pattern repeat. This is the vertical distance between one point on a pattern design to the identical point vertically. This pattern repeat is an integral part of the design. A random match is one in which the pattern matches no matter how adjoining strips are positioned. Stripes are a good example. A straight-across match is one in which the design elements match on adjoining strips. A drop match is one in which there is a vertical drop between the matching design elements. With straight-across matches, every hung strip is the same as the ceiling line. With drop matches, the number of strips hung before a strip is repeated is dependent on the type of drop match.  Patterns with a significant drop match (24 inches or greater) will require additional wallpaper to be ordered.

Do I need an interior decorator?

No, as long as you are willing to invest the time to browse through the wallpaper books to find the wallpaper that suits your taste. If you are unsure about what wallpapers will complement your home decor, most home improvement centers and wallpaper stores have associates who will be able to assist you. Home improvement and wallpaper stores generally sell for 10-50% (or more) off of full list price.

Can I hang it myself?

Yes. There are numerous resources available, both on the internet and at home improvement stores to aid in self installation. First-time installers should avoid kitchens and bathrooms as these are more complicated. Certain types of wallpaper should only be hung by professionals though and you must match your particular skill level, wallpaper type, and complexity of application to give you a fair indication as to whether it's time to call for help or not.

Can I repair a small tear?

Yes, and if done properly, the repair is practically invisible. As illustrated below, place a larger piece of wallpaper over the tear so that it makes an exact match with the wallpaper on the wall. Use a razor knife (with new blade) to double-cut through both layers around the tear. Remove both layers, clean the exposed wall area and re-paste the new piece into the area. After 15 minutes lightly seam roll the fitted edge. Note that an irregular, wavy cut following the design in the wallpaper will make your cut less noticeable.  If there is a pattern around the damaged area, attempt as much as possible to follow this pattern with your cuts, as this will camouflage the repair as well.


Can I hang wallpaper over old paneling, brick, textured walls, etc.?

Absolutely.  Start with good preparation:  remove all nails or other protruding objects. For textured surfaces, "knock down" any high points.  For paneling, now is the time to ensure that the paneling is secure by adding additional nails if needed.  For slick surfaces/paneling, wash with TSP (TriSodium Phosphate) or equivalent grease cutting cleaner.

Now, you can hang bridging material. This is a thick, blank wallpaper designed for irregular surfaces. Once hung, this will "bridge" the grooves in paneling or other unusual surface allowing for the ultimate application of wallpaper or it can even be painted.

Alternate/additional advice: The application of joint compound to the grooves of paneling is an additional precaution when using bridging material. Some wallpaper installers use the "joint compound, then primer" technique instead of bridging material.

For ceramic or other tile, sand the surface with 200-400 grit sandpaper followed by rinsing with TSP.  Apply a prep coat and then hang your bridging material.  Examples of prep coats are Roman's R-35, Zinsser's Z-54, California Paint's Prep 'n Size, Golden Harvest's BITE, Muralo's Adhesium, Duron's Tack Prep, and Benjamin Moore's Wall-Grip.

You may obtain bridging material at most home improvement stores. You may find a list of bridging material manufacturers here.

What types of wallpaper are there?

Wallpaper products today offer not only a wide variety of patterns, but also a variety of protective coatings. Basic wallpaper categories:

Vinyl coated paper:  This wallpaper has a paper substrate on which the decorative surface has been sprayed or coated with an acrylic coating.  The proper name for this type of paper should be acrylic coated paper, but the inaccurate name has caught on and is used in it's stead.  These wallpapers are classified as scrubbable and strippable, and are suitable in most any area. These papers are better resistant to grease and moisture than plain paper, and are good for bathrooms and kitchens. 

Coated fabric:  This wallpaper has a fabric substrate coated with liquid vinyl or acrylic. The decorative layer is printed on this coating. This is generally considered more "breathable" wallpaper which makes it best for use in low moisture rooms, like living areas

The wallpaper anatomy page covers them all.

Should I inspect my wallpaper when I receive it?

Yes.  When you receive it, check the wallpaper you have purchased roll by roll to ensure you have the correct pattern, color and sufficient quantity of the same Lot Number.  There are many flaws you can spot even with new wallpaper right from the store or shipping company.  Some of them that you may spot are contained on the wallpaper defects page.

What should I be thinking about before I order wallpaper?

How good are the walls?  If the walls are perfect, a flat finish wallpaper will be alright, or a silk/shimmer effect. If the walls are less than perfect, then look for a paper with an embossed or expanded surface texture.  For areas that have a lot of use (e.g. hallways), a very plain finish will show marks. A textured or patterned surface is a little more forgiving. 

Do you want the same wallcovering throughout the whole house or personalize the rooms?  Borders are one way to add personality while maintaining continuity. 

How much light do you get in the room?  Remember, light colors reflect light, dark colors absorb light, but don't be frightened of stronger colors, they can be very expressive and add "depth" to a room.  Colors affect your mood, so think about the mood you want to create. Greens are restful, Reds are stimulating, Yellows are happy, Blues are cooling.  Think about your own color preferences; the colors you select for your clothes. Do you want your home to be tranquil and peaceful, or exciting and vibrant?  Whatever the mood, it should be a reflection of your personality.  Have fun with wallpaper!  If you really want to express yourself with wallpaper, here are a few ideas:

Wallpaper the Ceiling.  Why not the same pattern as the walls or a coordinating paper; a little floral on the ceiling of a bedroom could look really super.

Borders:  there are some wonderful borders available to coordinate your wallpaper.  They can be used in many ways.

  1. Run a border at ceiling height

  2. Create a split wall with a border at chair rail height, a darker paper below, and light coordinate above.

  3. Create a panel in the center of a wall with a border edging mitered on the corners.

  4. Borders can be used around architectural features such as doors, and windows.

  5. Use more than one border, they are available wide, and narrow.

  6. Run a border at the chair rail height, and one at the ceiling level.

Can I paint over wallpaper?

Yes, you may.  The best route is to use proper wallpaper stripping techniques first. This will tell you if the wallpaper can be stripped successfully or not. Sometimes painting over wallpaper is preferred. Where wallpaper is adhered to unprepared drywall, this can be the only way to go.

Before deciding to paint over wallpaper, you should always attempt to strip the existing paper first. If after a valid, dedicated attempt at paper removal, it either causes wall damage or just refuses to come off, then you may take the steps for painting. This decision should not be taken lightly! Wallpaper stripping over a properly prepared surface is actually easy to do. Stripping painted over wallpaper can be the worst case scenario and will cause you or the future homeowner problems.

Preparation is the key to painting over wallpaper. Remove any loose paper areas first. Then apply joint compound to any nail holes, seam areas, or other damaged spots. Sand these areas smooth after proper curing time. The more time you spend filling holes, patching, smoothing, and sanding, the better your end result will be. Once you are finished your prep, close your eyes and rub your hand over the entire wall surface. Your hand will tell you where the errors are better than your eye. Without valiant efforts at preparation, it will look just like you painted over wallpaper. Then apply a good quality primer/sealer such as Scotch Paint's Draw-Tite, Zinsser's Gardz, Roman's Liquid Drywall, or Sherwin Williams' PrepRite Drywall Conditioner over the entire surface. Now your wall is 100% ready for paint or additional wallpaper.

How do I prepare my walls for wallpaper?

There are two reasons to prepare your walls before installing wallcovering.  It ensures that your wallpaper will adhere correctly to the wall and it aides future removal.  As wallpaper dries, normally over a 24 to 48 hour period, there is a significant amount of pull as the paper contracts.  If the wallpaper has not formed a good bond, it will pull away from the wall.  Additionally, when the paper is later removed, it may damage the covering of the underlying surface.  Proper preparation will ensure the best results from your wallcovering. The wallpaper preparation page covers it all.

( Courtesy: . Rebecca Schunck Wallpaper Installation and Removal, Hampton Roads area of Virginia.  Services include paperhanging, wallpaper stripping, wallcovering estimates, and minor wall surface repair and associated preparation for the application of wall covering. You can contact  for your wallpaper repair, installation, or removal needs. )






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