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Wallpaper can stretch beyond walls, but think about removal before committing

POSTED: May 25, 2012 1:30 a.m.

Wallpaper has been around for at least 2,000 years, dating back to when the Chinese started to hang decorated rice paper on their walls.

Since then, wallpaper has been popular, reflecting designs and patterns that change to suit the fashion of the times.

When modernism came into style in the last part of the 20th century, white walls with little embellishment were the preference and wallpaper fell out of favor.

Today, wallpaper is becoming more popular because new materials, as well as advancements in digital, photo and printing technologies, have brought a new generation of artists and designers to the medium.

Two recent trends in wall coverings are papers being made with uncommon materials — glass beads, sequins, fig tree bark, recycled movie posters, denim and, of all things, stone — and the return to making hand-painted or handmade wallpapers.

Porter Teleo, based in Kansas City, Mo., uses the ancient techniques of woodblock printing and Japanese wash-painting to create designs that are organic and bold, yet minimal, in distinctive color palettes.

Here are some ideas for adding visual impact to your space without breaking the bank.

Think accent: Think of wallpaper as a large piece of art and add it to just one wall in your space as an accent. Use a bold pattern or colors and let it be the focus of the room. If you should have a room with molding on the walls that creates a paneled effect, just add the wallpaper inside of the panels.

Think framed: Wallpaper can be art, so go ahead and mount a piece on plywood backing, frame it and hang it on the wall.

Think ceilings: Wallpaper doesn’t have to be just for walls. Consider applying it to the ceiling to give your room an unexpected twist.

But remember, wallpaper can be like tattoos, says Hall County resident Tim "Tip Man" Thompson.

"When you first do it, you think it looks great. Ten years later you’re tired of it and it’s really, really painful to remove."

An analogy, he says, that is worth sharing with a spouse if they bring up wallpapering versus painting.

"Remember, almost every man in the 1970s wanted to own a baby blue leisure suit. Today, no man would be caught dead in one. Painting is always easier."

There are several things Thompson says to consider before attempting removal.

A great tip, he advises, is to remove a wall switch plate before you start your wallpaper removing project. This allows you to see what you’re dealing with, specifically how many layers of wallpaper you’re going to have to remove and whether your walls are plaster or drywall.

If you discover there are multiple layers of wallpaper, sadly you’re going to need to remove each layer individually.

Dry removal: If the previous owner of your house used dry removal wallpaper, get on your knees and thank your higher power. If it was applied correctly, it’s easy to just peel off.

Chemical solvent: Using a chemical solvent to weaken wallpaper adhesive is the most popular way to remove wallpaper. You basically score the wallpaper and then apply the solvent with a sponge, paint roller or spray bottle.

You can also use a 5-gallon pump sprayer; however, this is probably overkill. Using chemical solvents is messy and potentially toxic. Always wear eye protection and a mask.

Some people use vinegar or fabric softener instead of the harsher solvents. If you use one of these, be aware the process will be slower and results aren’t guaranteed. You must mix the vinegar or fabric softener with hot water, the hotter, the better.

Electric steamer: The science behind this method is that really hot steam is applied to the wallpaper and the adhesive is loosened enough that the paper will easily come off.

This method has fallen out of favor over the years because of the danger of burning yourself, especially if you’re working on wallpaper above your head.

This method is typically slower than using a chemical solvent. Most home improvement stores will rent you the steamer if you want to give it a shot.

So is it ever OK to paint over wallpaper?

Thompson says yes. "I’ve done it in most of the rental houses I own."

But he says there are four really important tips to know if you’re going to paint over wallpaper.

You need to fix the wallpaper wherever it might be loose. You must do this. The water in the paint will make the situation worse if you don’t.

Seal corners and edges with clear, paintable caulk. If you don’t, you run the risk of the paint seeping in and loosening the wallpaper.

Remove wallpaper seams. You can do this by either a light sanding or applying some drywall mud. Lightly sand the mud after it hardens.

Always use a primer before painting. The primer helps seal the wallpaper and provides better adhesion for your paint. Don’t skip this step even though you might be tempted to.

After the primer dries, take a bright light and look for imperfections on the walls. Fix anything that is loose or uneven.

For more pointers, visit Thompson’s website, www.tipmantim.com.

MCT Information Services contributed to this article


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