How to Hang Wallpaper

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Wallpaper is back, and there are more eco-friendly options than ever. From natural wall coverings made of rapidly renewable resources to patterns printed with water-based inks on recycled or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper, today’s wallpapers are green and gorgeous.

Once you’ve found the perfect pattern (see the article “Wonder Wall” for some of our favorites), it is important to take your time and thoroughly prep your walls before you get started. Remove all artwork, faceplates and outlet covers. Wallpaper will not adhere to oil, gloss or semi-gloss painted walls. Use coarse sandpaper to dull wall surfaces. Spackle and sand holes, and clean walls with a damp sponge. Consider using a wallpaper primer to ensure the paper adheres to the wall.

It is also a good idea to make a schematic drawing of the room, noting the windows and doors, and coming up with a plan for the order in which the will paper go up. Start and end in the least conspicuous spot in the room–such as the space behind a door–where it won’t be obvious if your pattern doesn’t match up. Assign each strip of paper a number and mark it on your drawing.

Now that you’ve done all the necessary prep work, it’s time to get to the fun stuff. Two sets of hands are better than one when it comes to handling long expanses of wet paper, so it’s a good idea to invite over a friendly helper.

How to Hang Wallpaper

I. Cutting

This isn’t the first time we’ve said it, and it may not be the last, but “measure twice, cut once” is the mantra when preparing to paper a room. Once you’ve drawn up your detailed schematic, measured your walls, and prepped your room, it’s time to start cutting.

The rule to remember here is “height + 4 inches.” The “height” of the wall plus 4 inches will ensure that you have an extra 2 inches on the top and 2 inches on the bottom of every strip. If the pattern of your paper is a straight match, once you’ve cut your first piece, you can simply line up the following pieces and make the same cut. If you have a drop match (when the pattern match requires shifting a strip up or down rather than straight across), make sure to line up each following piece so that the pattern matches before you make your cuts.

Always use a metal straight edge, like a ruler or carpenter’s square, and make sure your utility knife has snap-off blades, which should be changed not just occasionally or frequently, but obsessively–after every few cuts. This is especially true later, when cutting off the excess from the wall.

After you’ve cut each piece, lightly number it on the back with a pencil according to your schematic drawing so you can keep track of your work.

II. Pasting

It’s unfortunate that we don’t have a catchy mantra when it comes to pasting your paper (we’re working on it), because there are a couple important things to keep in mind. First, read the instructions that came with your paper. Different manufacturers may recommend different methods for installation. Prepasted papers, for example, just require a quick soak in water. But in general, the following instructions pertain to most situations. Cover your table with a plastic drop cloth and have all your tools within easy reach. Then, start pasting. 

Tools and Materials

Wallpaper paste and brush
Paint roller (optional)
Drop Cloth
Paint tray

How To

1. Lay your wallpaper strips on top of one another, pattern side down, with the first piece on top of the pile. (When you spread the paste over the edge of the top piece, it’ll go directly onto the back of the next piece, which means less mess and no wasted paste.)

2. Pour a nice, big glob of paste into a paint tray.

3. Use either a wallpaper brush or a paint roller to apply an even layer of paste to the entire back of the paper, working from the center out to the sides. It’s especially important to make sure you get the edges, which will prevent your seams from showing. Because nobody wants their seams showing, right?

III. Booking

Once you have full paste coverage on your strip, it’s time to book it. “Booking” your paper involves laying pasted sides together–which seems quite counterintuitive but ends up saving you space and ensuring better adhesion of your wallpaper. This process will allow the paste to activate and be properly absorbed by the paper. Rest assured, it will pull apart just fine.

How To

1. With your first strip pasted side up, grab one end and bring it toward the center of the strip, creating a very loose fold. Without creasing the paper, place the end down so the pasted sides are together.

2. Bring the other end toward the center and place it so that the cut lines are butting–thereby essentially folding your strip into thirds.

3. Now you can fold the strip onto itself a few times (no creases!) and set it aside while you paste up the next one. You can leave booked pieces in a plastic bag for up to half an hour without any problems. We generally paste and book four to five pieces at a time.

IV. Hanging It Up

This is it: the moment of truth–applying the pasted paper to your wall. This is also when you discover wallpapering is much easier than you imagined it would be. The paper is totally manageable, the paste surprisingly forgiving. Congratulations, you are minutes away from enjoying a magically transformed room!

Tools and Materials

Wallpaper (pasted and booked)
Drop cloth
Plastic bag
Measuring tape
Smoothing brush
Plastic float
Sponge and bucket of water
4-inch broad knife
Utility knife with snap-off blades

How To Hang Wallpaper

1. Use a level and a pencil to lightly mark a plumb (perfectly vertical) line on your wall where you want to put up the first piece of wallpaper.

2. Unfold the top half of your first pasted-and-booked strip and, beginning at the top of the wall, line its edge up with your plumb line. Remember to keep that extra 2 inches on top.

3. As you line up the edge, press the paper against the wall and begin smoothing it down with your smoothing brush.

4. Once you reach the middle of the wall, unfold the bottom half of the paper and continue lining up the edge with the plumb line, smoothing as you go. You may notice a few small air bubbles, but don’t panic. Those will disappear as the paper dries. If there are a number of large air bubbles that are making you nervous, gently pull the paper away from the wall and smooth it down again.

5. With the paper in place, nice and straight, smooth the entire strip down with your brush, working from the center outwards.

6. Repeat the same smoothing process with your plastic float. This will spread the underlying paste evenly out toward the edge of the paper and press your seams flush to the wall.

7. Grab your second pasted strip and repeat steps 2 through 6. But instead of lining up the edge with the plumb line, you’re now matching the pattern of the wallpaper.

8. Once you’ve got a few pieces up, gently wipe down the paper with a damp sponge, especially at the seams, to remove any paste that may have made its way out onto the front.

9. Continue pasting up your strips until you reach the end of the wall.

10. Place your 4-inch broad knife at the top of the wall where it intersects with the ceiling or molding. Carefully slide the blade of your utility knife along the edge of the broad knife to create a clean, straight cut. Continue cutting in this manner until you’ve reached the end of the strip. Snap yourself off a fresh blade and move onto the next strip.

11. Repeat the same cutting process along the bottom edge of the paper where it intersects with the floor or molding.

And there you have it. An entire room transformed!

Reprinted with permission from Wallpaper Projects: More Than 50 Craft and Design Ideas for Your Home, From Accents to Art by Derek Fagerstrom and Lauren Smith (Chronicle Books, 2009).