Stylish and beautiful, grass-cloth wallpaper is a timeless addition to a well-designed room. But unlike some decorative elements, it isn't simple to install -- or to remove. Before you order a roll, read on for some basics.

By Kelly Roberson

Grass-cloth wallpaper is one of those home decor elements that packs a lot into a single product. It offers unmatched visual texture for walls, ups the elegance quotient for traditional and classic rooms, and can provide distinctive color, too.

There are plenty of design ideas for using grass-cloth wallpaper, but it does have some installation and care considerations. Here's a primer to help you decide if grass-cloth wallpaper is right for you.

What is grass-cloth wallpaper? Grass-cloth wallpaper includes a range of products -- some natural, some man-made -- that have a similar look and feel, with a pattern that is primarily vertical and tactile. Grass-cloth wallpaper may be made of a range of materials, including hemp, reed, arrowroot, jute, and other faux-grass-cloth products.  

Traditional, natural grass cloth is created through a complex process that uses sea grass strands and thin cotton thread, both of which are adhered to a light backing, typically rice paper. Most grass-cloth wallpapers have a single linear texture that's usually installed vertically, although some may have a basket-weave pattern that offers both vertical and horizontal patterning.

How is grass-cloth wallpaper installed? Grass cloth comes in traditional wallpaper rolls, typically either 30 or 36 inches wide. Like all wallpaper, grass cloth must be adhered to walls, but the delicate paper that backs most natural grass cloth usually requires the use of non-staining pastes. Adhesive can be applied in one of two ways: either to the back of the grass-cloth panel or to the wall directly.

The seams between panels of grass cloth are difficult, if not impossible, to conceal and are often integrated into the design. And sometimes the color variance from one roll to the next can be quite pronounced.

Where can grass-cloth wallpaper be used? Grass-cloth wallpaper adds natural texture and color to a room, and its sophisticated aesthetic can be applied to a range of styles, whether contemporary or traditional. But generally, grass-cloth wallpaper doesn't withstand either high traffic or moisture, making it unsuitable for a number of rooms. For example, hallways with lots of foot traffic, kitchens which often endure food splatters and spills, humid bathrooms with a shower or tub, or walls close to a toilet in a half bath should all be avoided. The faux-grass-cloth products tend to have a wider range of usability but should still be installed with care.

Because of its delicate nature and time-intensive installation, grass-cloth wallpaper may be more suitable for an accent -- say, a single wall or raised panel in a room -- used to draw attention or as a focal point.

How is grass-cloth wallpaper cleaned? Most natural grass-cloth wallpaper can only be lightly dusted or vacuumed; any moisture in cleaning products will damage it.

Can grass-cloth wallpaper be painted over? Yes, grass-cloth wallpaper can be painted over, but it's a difficult job with uneven results. In addition, the texture is nearly impossible to cover, so the paint will have the weave or crosshatch pattern of the wallpaper. If you're considering this option, test a small, out-of-the-way section first. To paint, thoroughly clean the wallpaper and apply several coats of an oil-based primer; then apply your finish paint, using at least two coats to achieve even coverage. Make sure to allow each coat to dry thoroughly.

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