Preparation Is Key

The truth is that wallpaper you put up will never look better than the wall it’s covering. Every bump, dimple, ding, dent, and crack will still be there and will still be visible. Paper hugs the wall as much as it covers it. You can paper over old wallpaper, for example, but why would you? The surface will never be as firm as the wall itself, and new paper may actually pull the old paper off. Old seams will be visible under the new paper, especially if they're crooked or lapped. New liquid wallpaper removers work extremely well.

• After removing the old paper, clean the wall with TSP solution. Dirt, grease, and grime keep the paper from sticking. When you’re done washing, rinse with clean water until the water runs clear.

• Prepare the walls. Fill small cracks with surfacing compound. Buy it premixed, push the compound in place with a putty knife, and then run the knife over it so that the repair is flush with the wall, if the patch shrinks as it dries, repeat until the crack disappears.

Fill larger cracks and holes with spackling paste. Spackling paste has a consistency between that of cake frosting and grade-school paste. Apply with a putty knife, filling the hole entirely. Paste contains bubbles, so smooth out the top as you would with frosting. If you've got big holes or loose plaster, the repair will be more extensive. On drywall, cut away the damage and screw drywall into the hole. Plaster patching compound works well for patching plaster over lath, but it will take a couple of applications. Patching large areas can be a nuisance, but not as annoying as having the wall crumble behind your favorite wallpaper. When patches are dry, lightly sand them so they are both smooth and level with the wall. Make a cleaner job of it by wiping the surfaces down with a damp sponge.

• Seal, prime, and size. This used to be three operations until paint companies managed to combine the liquids into one. Sealer keeps water, smoke, and other stains from showing through the paper. Primer provides a smooth surface for the paper to stick to. Sizing is thin wallpaper paste that seals the wall's pores to prevent paste from soaking into the plaster and provides extra adhesion. Primer/sealer can be clear or tinted to match the primary color of the wallpaper.

• Put up the paper. If you're using pasteless papers, brush a paste activator on the back. It's neater than soaking, makes the paper easy to adjust and align, and provides a better bond.

Wallpaper basics

Tips from the pros - For the best wallpapering job, follow these guidelines from experienced paperhangers.

• Use a paste activator, as the pros do, instead of soaking prepasted papers. It’s better to take time to brush on activator than to have wallpaper fall down later.

• Apply each strip from the top down.

• Choose patterns and match the seams well. Some seams match perfectly. Others, with a drop-match pattern, require the adjacent strip to be slid up or down to get a match. The amount, or drop, is listed in wallpaper books and on the package or roll.

• To get clean, straight cuts, you must use the right tool. Use a sharp blade and replace it often. Some pros advocate changing the blade after every cut. Pros often use single-edge razor blades in special handles.

• Wallpaper colors vary from batch to batch. Tell the supplier that you want paper from the same batch, and check label batch numbers to confirm. Save the labels from every roll.

Wallpaper can establish the style of a room more thoroughly and more quickly than any other single element, including paint. If you’re sure about the look you want, choosing the right paper is easy. If you’re not sure or you find it hard to put your thoughts into words, open up a wallpaper sample book.

Sample books are available in most wallpaper outlets and are organized to help make the decision process easy. After a few minutes of browsing, you’ll find yourself gravitating toward a look. If you’re thinking about complex arrangements—perhaps a chair rail, with paper above and below, and maybe even a border along the ceiling—the books show combinations that work together.

Most wallpaper isn’t just paper anymore. It’s vinyl-coated to make removing dirt more efficient and to better resist scrapes and tears. It lasts longer and is easier to install than true paper. If you’re looking for historically accurate replicas, it’s still possible to special order true paper. It’s expensive and can be a challenge to hang. If you want a historical look without the problems, find a pattern in true paper and then search the vinyl books for a replica.

Before choosing a paper, ask to take the wallpaper book home to view the paper in your room. Once you’ve settled on a favorite, order a sample, tape it to the wall, and examine it night and day. f Place it next to upholstered items and the carpet to see how they look together. Check it against the drapes. Tape samples of possible trim paint colors next to it. Be picky—if you don’t love it, try again.

STORES HAVE HUNDREDS OF WALLPAPER SAMPLE BOOKS. Most outlets will allow you to take several home to help you choose.

COLLECT SAMPLES OF ALL THE COLORS IN YOUR ROOM and use them to help select suitable wallpaper. Designers make books of samples of all the colors and textures in a room to help them make decisions.

ORDER A SAMPLE, TAPE IT TO THE WALL, AND LOOK AT IT under different lighting conditions and at different times of the day before you make your choice. Remember, you'll probably live with the paper for many years.

Measuring and estimating wallpaper

Before you get too technical, remember one thing: You’re estimating.

EASY ESTIMATING. To estimate the number of double rolls you need, divide the square footage of the wall by 50. Round up to the nearest whole number and add 1.

NOW TO GET TECHNICAL. When you paper a room, you need to have enough paper to do the wall, plus about 10 percent extra to make up for trimming, matching, and mistakes. Because papers quickly go out of print, you also want to have a double roll on hand for subsequent repairs. At $20 or $30 a double roll, it’s good insurance.

Start by figuring out the square footage of your room: Measure the height times the length of each wall in feet, and add up the total. Don’t subtract for doors, windows, or obstructions because you can’t use the pieces of paper you cut out. Even though a double roll covers 56 square feet, the formula pretends it only covers 50 square feet, giving you the roughly 10 percent extra you need for trimming, matching, and mistakes.

Consider an 8x12-foot room with 8-foot ceilings. Two 12-foot walls with 8-foot ceilings account for 192 square feet (2x12x8=192). The two 8-foot walls total 128 square feet (2x8x8=128). Altogether the room has 320 square feet of wall (192+128=320). Dividing the square footage by 50 and rounding up to the next whole number means you need seven double rolls (320-^50= 6.4, which rounds up to 7). Add a roll, and buy eight. Keep the extra roll for repairs. If you have more than one extra roll after you finish, return it.

WALLPAPER TABLES - Professionals buy tables that are about as wide as a roll of wallpaper, but you can make your own. Cut a strip of plywood a little wider than your paper. Wrap the plywood in an old sheet to absorb activator and water and set it on two sawhorses or on an old table covered with newspapers.

Like any craft, wallpapering has a language of its own. Here are a few terms you'll need to know:

Double Roll: A double roll is twice as long as the single rolls your grandparents bought. These are not twice as wide, however. A double roll covers 56 square feet of wall. A single roll covers 28 square feet. Virtually all rolls are double rolls these days.

Random-Match: If the pattern automatically aligns when you put one strip of paper next to the other, it is a random-match paper. Striped papers are random-match.

Straight-Match: The pattern on straight-match papers stops before it reaches the edge. When you hang a strip, make sure the pattern aligns with the pattern of the previous strip. If not, the pattern will zigzag as it crosses the wall.

Drop-Match: On a drop-match paper, the edge of the strip cuts through the pattern. The pattern runs diagonally— perhaps very subtly so—and meets the right edge of the strip at a point lower than on the left edge. If the edge of a drop-match paper cuts a flower in half, for example, you would have to align the edges of adjoining strips in order to get a complete flower. The amount of diagonal drop, called the pattern repeat, is printed on the back of the paper and is listed in wallpaper books.

Peelable: An easily removable paper. When you lift and pull off peelable paper, however, the backing remains on the wall. The backing was originally seen as a kind of liner that you could paper over. This idea largely has gone by the wayside.

Strippable: Lifting off the corner of strippable paper and pulling it will remove the entire strip of paper.

Vinyl: Vinyl refers to a pattern printed on solid vinyl, which is backed by paper or pulp. It is durable and scrubbable. Because of its cost, it's generally used in commercial settings.

Vinyl-Coated, Washable: A surface that you can occasionally wash with a sponge, mild soap, and water.

Vinyl-Coated, Scrubbable: A more durable surface that you can wash often with a sponge, mild soap, and water. No paper is up to the rigors of a scrub brush.

Finding the area if the walls aren't rectangular - To calculate the area of the rectangle, multiply the length by the height.

Add the three areas together to get the total square footage.

Gable walls: Measure as though the surface were a square or rectangle. Measure the length and the height; multiply the two numbers to find the area.

Stairs: Divide the wall into two triangles and a rectangle.

• To determine the area of a triangle, multiply the length of the triangle by its height and divide by 2. Repeat.

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