Is wallpaper right for your home?
Wallpaper is a type of wall covering typically made of paper or vinyl and plastered to the wall in vertical strips. It can brighten up or change the look of any room without the high cost of a major home renovation.
Perhaps one of the oldest interior design techniques, it’s believed the Chinese began attaching rice paper to walls more than 2,000 years ago. The development of modern wallpaper started in Europe during the Renaissance as an inexpensive wall decoration. Modern-day wallpaper proves to be less subtle, and consumers now have a wide range of options.
Like many aspects of interior design, wallpaper goes in and out of style. Today, wallpaper is hot again, but it’s not the flowery patterns that still cover your grandma’s dining room. From accent walls to bold colors, homeowners are increasingly choosing wallpaper over paint, but only time will tell whether it remains a popular commodity, or if it sinks back to obscurity.
Wallpaper vs. Paint
There are typically two options when it comes to updating walls: wallpaper or paint. While each option has its own set of pros and cons, there’s no denying that wallpaper can change the look of a room in ways not possible with paint.
Unlike paint, wallpaper can add texture and patterns and incorporate multiple colors or graphics. But like paint, wallpaper is inexpensive and relatively easy to apply or remove with the proper know-how.
Factors you should consider before hanging wallpaper
Wallpaper works on just about any surface or room in the home. It’s ideal for drywall or plaster walls, but there’s really no limit to hanging wallpaper. For example, moisture-resistant wallpaper makes it possible to decorate a bathroom without curling and peeling, and specialized wall liners make it possible to hang wallpaper on cement block or even brick.
Because wallpaper is hung in sheets, the biggest challenge is aligning each sheet so the patterns line up, which means the more windows or obstacles you have to paper around, the more difficult the job will be.
• Number and placement of windows and doors: Remember, you’ll need to cut sheets and meticulously hang them around these obstacles.
• Moisture: To avoid peeling, pick wallpaper made of vinyl or any type of moisture-resistant wallpaper for rooms where moisture and humidity are present, such as a bathroom or laundry room.
• Are your ceilings and walls level? Those lines and geometric shapes in your wallpaper won’t line up if your ceilings and walls are out of whack.
Ghostbusters wallpaper (Photo courtesy of Bob Walker)
Types of wallpaper
Manufacturers make wallpaper from a variety of materials, but the most common types are vinyl and vinyl-coated wallpapers, mainly due to their durability, low cost, fire resistance and ease of installation.
Vinyl wallpaper: Made entirely of vinyl, this durable wallpaper is perfect for high-moisture rooms, such as the bathroom or laundry room. However, be aware that solid vinyl wallpaper’s moisture resistance can actually make it harder to remove than vinyl-coated or paper-backed wallpaper.
Vinyl-coated wallpaper: Known for its low cost and high durability, vinyl-coated wallpaper is the most popular type of wallpaper, making it ideal for high-traffic areas or playrooms. It’s made of paper and coated with a protective layer of acrylic vinyl. The paper material makes it much easier to remove than solid vinyl wallpaper.
Paper-backed wallpaper: This material is highly durable. It resists some moisture but is more susceptible to peeling, so it isn’t recommended for bathrooms or laundry rooms.
Fabric-backed wallpaper: Made of woven fabric backing with a vinyl coating, fabric-backed wallpaper is perfect for hiding walls with visible deformities.
Foil: Foil wallpaper creates a metallic look not capable with other wallpaper types. It’s made of a thin sheet of foil and a paper backing, making it extremely fragile and difficult to hang. Foil wallpaper comes in plain colors like silver or gold, or with a dull or reflective finish. You can also purchase foil wallpaper with patterns and textures.
Flock: Flock wallpaper resembles velvet or other fabrics. Many decorators say it creates a retro look, and one trend is to juxtapose flock wallpaper with more modern furnishings. Flock is difficult to clean, so it’s recommended for low-traffic or formal areas.
Grasscloth: This all-natural wallpaper is made of woven grasses and plant fibers, making it a good choice for the eco-friendly homeowner. It has a rough feel, so it’s great for masking imperfections in your walls. It creates a classic look, but due to the natural materials, no two types look alike. Grasscloth is difficult to clean so you’re better off hanging it in low-traffic areas.
Removable wallpaper: Also referred to as peel and stick or temporary wallpaper, removable wallpaper works exactly like it sounds. You simply peel off the backing and stick it directly to your wall without the need for wallpaper paste. When you get sick of it, simply peel it off. Quality wallpaper should leave no visible damage to your walls, so it’s perfect for renters who want to spice up their décor without worrying about paint. Some companies make custom wallpaper based on your unique design.
Custom wallpaper: This is the perfect option when store-bought wallpaper won’t suffice. Have a specific idea for wallpaper? Can’t find a wallpaper to suit your fancy? Maybe you have a piece of scrap wallpaper you’d like to match? Several companies use digital printing to turn copyrighted photos, images or artwork into wallpaper.
Wallpaper adhesives. Improved manufacturing technologies, hanging wallpaper isn’t the arduous process it once was.
• Prepasted: The back of the wallpaper is coated with an adhesive that is activated with water or a special solution.
• Self-adhesive: This type of wallpaper doesn’t require water or an activator. Simply peel the back off and hang.
• Non pasted: Also know as dryback, this wallpaper comes free of adhesives. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for applying wallpaper paste.
Styles of wallpaper
Brick wallpaper: Instantly add rustic charm or modern distress to any room. A type of vinyl wall covering, brick wallpaper provides the look and warmth of exposed brick on a wall made of drywall or plaster. From red brick to Tuscan to rustic, brick wallpaper comes in a wide range of styles and colors.
Damask: This classic wallpaper style is known for it’s luxurious and elegant design. The ornate pattern dates back centuries to weavers in Damascus. It typically features intricate patterns on a white background. Once reserved for formal rooms, damask wallpaper now comes in styles appropriate for formal rooms or accent walls.
Paintable: This wallpaper offers the best of both worlds: You get the designs and textures that come with wallpaper, and the wide range of colors you get with paint. Also available in white, paintable wallpaper is a blank canvas to create a one-of-a-kind look.
Mural wallpaper: You can literally bring the New York City skyline to your home office, or display Niagara Falls on your bathroom wall with mural wallpaper. Many wallpaper companies now make custom wall murals based on whatever photograph the customer submits.
Interior designers and decorators agree wallpaper is back, but homeowners aren’t choosing to wall paper their entire homes. Instead, it’s used to highlight a single wall or room, or to bring a child’s bedroom to life.
Some of the most popular areas to decorate with wallpaper include powder rooms, half baths and entryways.
Consider these popular wallpaper trends
Bold textures: Animal skins, faux brick or slate, flock or grasscloth don’t just catch the eye, but provide touch appeal.
Bold colors: Neutral colors are out. Rich colors are in. Metallic accents give a luxurious look.
Bold patterns: Taking a cue from the fashion world, wallpaper design with geometric shapes is popular. In addition, updated designs of the past offer vintage appeal with modern flair.
Accent walls: The old adage less definitely more often applies to wallpaper. Instead of wallpapering an entire room, decorate one wall to create a focal point. Creating an accent wall reduces the possibility of wallpaper overpowering a room.
Wallpapering inside cabinets or closets: Just because closets serve a utilitarian purpose doesn’t mean the space has to be boring. A closet or other small space provides the perfect opportunity to overcome your fear of wallpaper or go wild and choose a fun, over-the-top paper. Since the space is small, wallpapering a closet is the perfect opportunity to splurge and purchase expensive paper. Also, choose smaller patterns as large patterns or prints may overpower the closet.
Where to buy wallpaper
Wallpaper is available for purchase at hardware stores, home design catalogs, contractor supply stores and from online specialty stores. For murals and custom wallpaper, you’re better off shopping online.
How it’s sold
Manufacturers sell wallpaper by the roll, and the average cost for quality wallpaper is $25 to $50 per roll. Expect to pay more for high-end or designer brands.
While the price of wallpaper is listed per single roll, it’s usually sold as a double roll. Therefore, a $25 roll actually costs $50. Manufacturers say selling it as a double roll provides more continuous coverage.
Average wallpaper installation costs $2 to $5 per square foot, which includes the cost per wallpaper roll and labor costs. Labor rates will vary depending on the job.
Some Realtors recommend removing wallpaper before placing a home on the market. (Photo by Angie's List)
Wallpaper advice from a realtor
Wallpaper might be in style, but that doesn’t mean you should go overboard. Many people are still on the fence about whether they even like wallpaper. So if you’re planning to sell your home, consider this advice from Kristie Smith, founder of highly rated Indy Home Teams in Indianapolis.
1. As a Realtor, what are your thoughts on having wallpaper in a home that is for sale? Can it negatively affect a home’s ability to sell?
"Older wallpaper that is dated (and wallpaper borders) are a big deterrent. It is difficult for buyers to see past the busyness of the walls. Many people have had experiences with wallpaper installed on non-prepped walls, meaning if you try and remove it, you damage the drywall, have to re-skim and incur costly charges. There are so many other houses for sale without this objection, so it’s simply easier to pick a different house that is move-in ready.
"However, there is newer, modern wallpaper that is back in style and trendy. If there is a ‘Pottery Barn’ look of contemporary, newer wallpaper…I think it’s OK to keep.”
2. Do you recommend removing wallpaper from a home that is on the market?
“Yes, if it is the dated kind.”
How to hang wallpaper
Before you get started: Make sure to clean and sand your walls, and patch or spackle any holes or cracks. You’ll need several tools to successfully hang wallpaper.
• Tape measure
• Utility knife
• Smoothing brush
• Seam roller
• Paste (if using non-pasted wallpaper)
• Putty knife
• Water tray
• Screwdriver to remove outlet and light covers
Tips to hang wallpaper
1. Pasting: First, apply a primer to the wall. While this is drying, cut the wallpaper sheets slightly larger than the height of your wall or area where you want to apply wallpaper. Typically, you want to leave an excess of 4 inches. Check the wallpaper for any irregularities or damage, and then lay it flat and face down. Use a paint roller to apply the paste to the back of the wallpaper, taking care not to get any paste on the table or surface below the sheet. (If you purchased prepasted wallpaper, you can skip this step.)
2. Booking: Without applying pressure or creasing the wallpaper, fold the ends of the wallpaper inward to allow the paste to evenly absorb. Make sure that the sheet is lying flat, and leave it to soak for the amount of time recommended on the label of the wallpaper paste.
3. Lining up the first strip: It's imperative that the first strip lines up correctly because you’ll use it to align all subsequent strips. Alignment is easiest when starting both near a door and a corner. Leave some overlap, approximately 2 inches, on the ceiling, with approximately an eighth-of-an-inch overlap on the corner. Press gently and allow the booked paper to fall, hanging it onto the wall from ceiling to floor. You can check that the paper is hanging straight by referencing whether it is parallel with the door.
4. Tucking and trimming: Use a paper smoother to tuck the paper and keep it looking neat. After you finish tucking the paper, use a knife to cut off excess wallpaper. Using a level to mark your cutline ensures a straight, clean cut. Use this process around moldings, windows, switch plates and other permanent fixtures.
5. Closing the seams: You’ll need to use a seam roller to close the seams. This tool allows you to roll the seam under and press the seam closed for a streamlined look. You will need to check periodically to verify that you are evenly closing the seam. Once you are finished closing the seams, smooth out the wallpaper.
6. Repeat: Repeat this process around the room, using the paper smoother to keep the wallpaper even and remove air bubbles. Use a slightly damp sponge to gently wash away any glue that seeps out as a result of smoothing.
• Be patient. Hanging or removing wallpaper takes time
• If paste is used, be sure to completely cover each piece
• Be gentle when smoothing the paper
• Choose heavy paper; it’s easier to apply
• If the wallpaper uses self-adhesive paste, wet it before hanging
• Save the backing for peel and stick wallpaper for future use
• Rush. Set aside enough time to do the job slowly and carefully.
• Remove the entire backing off at once when using peel and stick wallpaper.
While this wallpaper style might have been popular in the 1980s, Realtors say it could turn off potential buyers. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Lauren H. of McKinney, Texas)
Hiring a wallpaper professional
Wallpaper installation requires more technique than simply sticking paper onto the wall. There's an old joke that says hanging wallpaper with your spouse is a good way to test compatibility. Because it's a tedious and time-consuming job, many homeowners prefer to hire a professional for wallpaper installation.
Professionals need to understand how the different types of wallpaper work, possess mathematical skills, know how to match seams flawlessly and have the skills to work around windows or tricky curves in a wall. Wallpaper should be straight, and there shouldn’t be visible air pockets.
You can search Angie's List for wallpaper professionals in your city or state. Also, many interior painters, handymen and wall covering specialists hang and remove wallpaper.