Wallpaper Basics

Fear not: You can hang your own wallpaper. We've asked professional paperhangers to share their secrets. Our three lessons will guide you through the process and steer you clear of mistakes.
Lesson 1: Get Down to the Nitty-Gritty

Q. Why mess with wallpaper? Isn't it just easier to paint a room?

Wallpaper samples

A. Although both wallpaper and paint liven up dull rooms, wallpaper has special advantages. It can camouflage flawed or damaged walls, soften rough or irregular architectural features, and unite awkward angles. Wallpaper also offers combinations of colors, patterns, and textures that would be nearly impossible for the do-it-yourselfer to duplicate with paint.

Q. Isn't wallpaper much more expensive than paint?

A. Yes. One roll of wallpaper, which covers about 30 square feet, might cost around $35. For the same amount, you could buy a gallon or more of premium-quality paint, which would cover approximately 400 square feet.

Q. Are some rooms easier to wallpaper than others?

A. Yes. If you've never wallpapered, start with a long hall or a square room with few breaks in the walls. Kitchens or bathrooms, though smaller, tend to have more twists and turns to paper around, making them more difficult. A bedroom is a good choice for a beginner.

Q. Can I paper over any wall?

A. Just about. Wallpaper will adhere to drywall, new and old plaster, concrete, masonry, and paneling. You can even wallpaper over slick, nonporous surfaces, such as tile, concrete block, or synthetic laminate paneling. On many of these surfaces, you'll first need to apply lining paper, which is a blank wall covering that provides a smooth surface for regular wallpaper. No matter what the surface, the key to success in wallpapering is proper preparation of the walls.

Q. How do I prepare the walls?

A. The wall surface should be clean, dry, and free of mildew, grease, stains, and loose paint. Close your eyes and run your hands along the wall. Any bumps you feel will show up after you paper, so sand them down. Repair small holes, cracks, and other blemishes with surfacing compound, then sand and wipe clean. If you face a lot of repairs, consider using lining paper. You'll also want to apply a wall covering primer/sealer -- preferably tinted to match the background color of the new wallpaper -- which will hide tiny gaps.

The primer protects the wall, helps the wallpaper bond to the surface, and makes it easier to move the paper into position. And if the day comes when you want to remove the paper, the job will be easier if you've used a primer. This is particularly true for new drywall that has been given only a thin coat of paint. If you don't prime properly, the wallpaper adhesive will bond with the drywall paper. Later, when you remove the wallpaper, you may pull away the drywall paper, too. Be sure to buy a primer specifically designed for wall coverings, not a paint primer.

Continued on page 2:  Lesson 2: Choose a Paper