Five Tips for Wallpapering Success

Despite being the biggest, sunniest room in our house, the playroom has long been our dumping ground–the room where half-finished craft projects die on the vine, while whirlpools of unsorted mail settle in for a long winter’s nap atop miscellaneous obsolete power cords.  Decorating the playroom has been languishing on the to-do list, and I finally decided I needed an exciting design element to motivate me to get going.

Actually, all of this disorganization and clutter was on purpose to create a good “before” shot for your benefit (riiiiight):

Red House West || Wallpapering

I’ve been curious about wallpaper for a long time, and I decided the playroom would be my testing ground.  I wanted something that wasn’t too cutesy, that left room for imagination, and that wouldn’t compete with our old persian rug.  I settled on the Etched Arcadia wallpaper from Anthropologie, and ordered two rolls.

Although neither Katie nor I had ever wallpapered anything before, we decided to make a project of it during her recent visit.  It turned out great!  The mural pattern was surprisingly forgiving, and after some trial and error we really got the hang of it.  Here are 5 things we learned along the way.

wallpapering success

1.  When Using SureStrip Wallpaper, Don’t Over Soak

Like lots of wallpaper these days, the Etched Arcadia wallpaper is backed with SureStrip for paste-free application.  Instead of glopping paste on your walls, you simply soak each wallpaper panel.  It probably seems obvious that one would follow the directions when doing this, but we, alas, did not.  We knew enough to submerge the panel in water, but then instead of timing the recommended 30 second soak, I literally walked away to get a snack.  Big mistake.

When we smoothed the panel on the wall the backing spooged all over.  Understand that spooge is a big part of this process, even when you don’t over soak–you’ll want to have lots of rags and towels on hand.  But if you soak the paper too long you’ll be covered in slime like a ’90’s Nickelodeon game show contestant.

The instructions say soak for 30 seconds.  When we actually followed the instructions and soaked for no more than 30 seconds the panels went on smoother, and with less mess.

Red House West || Wallpapering

Aaaaaaand, stop!

2.  ‘Book’ Your Panels

One of the trickiest parts about this process was moving the panels into place after they had been soaked.  The wallpaper is thick and sturdy, but when wet it definitely felt like it could tear.  Plus when you apply it to the wall, you don’t want the bottom section to accidentally adhere to the wall before you’re done smoothing the top section.  Through trial and error and a number of YouTube instructional videos, we found that “booking” the panels made things a lot easier.

To book, you unroll the panel as it comes out of the soaking bath and then fold the bottom portion, gluey sides together, back on itself.  Then you press the top section onto the wall, work it smooth (see Tip #3 for more), and then unfold the bottom portion and smooth it onto the wall.

Red House West || Wallpapering

3.  A Gentle Touch is Best–Don’t Use an Ice Scraper

Not that you would use an ice scraper, but in case you were tempted, take it from me, it’s a bad idea.  When we began we were under the impression that we were missing all sorts of specialized wallpapering tools, and that we would need to aggressively press every crease and bubble out with all our might.

We learned that what happens when you use an ice scraper or squeegee is that you pretty much make the creases irreversible.  What works better is to gently and patiently smooth each panel by hand, beginning at the top.

Red House West || Wallpapering

Especially if you’ve booked the bottom of the panel, you have plenty of time to work out all of the bumps (we found that we could smooth and adjust each panel for about 25 minutes after it was first placed on the wall).  Once you’ve got the top smoothed out, move to the middle, and then to the bottom.  When you have the bottom of the panel smooth, go back to the top and middle and gently push out any bubbles that have appeared.

Red House West || Wallpapering

4.  Space Between Panels is Better than Overlapping Edges

When we began, we were nervous about getting the panels to perfectly abut each other and we erred on the side of overlapping.  We didn’t realize at the time that the panels can be shifted for a long while after they’re placed on the wall, so there is ample time to scooch them into position.  On the flip side, once the edges are overlapped, it’s next to impossible to un-overlap them.

Red House West || Wallpapering

There’s one edge in particular in the playroom that is overlapped, and while it’s no big deal, you can definitely see it.  There’s a little ridge that catches the light and it interrupts the image (though I’m sure no one but me and Katie would ever notice).

5.  Use a Sharp Utility Knife and Change the Blade Often

One of the things I’m really proud of is that the wallpaper edges are straight and sharp.

Red House West || Wallpapering

To my eye, the nice clean edges go a long way toward making it look like a pro job.  But cutting wet paper isn’t easy–as soon as the blade was the slightest bit dull the edge of the wallpaper would start to pull and shred.

We ended up using a new blade for pretty much every panel.  When cutting around one of the outlets I did tear a section of the paper, which led to us learning another valuable lesson: patching is possible.  I took the torn piece, smoothed it out, and stuck it back on the wall.  I don’t think I could find it today if I tried.

And that’s it!  It took us a full day to finish, but once we got the hang of it (no pun intended) it wasn’t difficult.   The end result is, as the blogger kids these days say, ‘impactful’.

Red House West || Wallpapering

It really does make the room magical, and most importantly, Opal loves it.

Opal in her favorite construction equipment PJs, making her camping guys (Bass Pro shop action figures from the thrift store) pose for the camera.

Opal in her favorite construction equipment PJs, making her ‘camping guys’ (action figures from the thrift store) pose for the camera.  I could (and do) stare at those eyes all day.

The rest of the room is coming along, and I’ll share the full reveal soon.  Thanks everybody!

16 responses on “Five Tips for Wallpapering Success

    1. Mera Post author

      Thanks, Nina! Never having hung traditional wallpaper, I can’t speak to whether SureStrip significantly improves the process or not, but I can say that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Not by a long shot. And oh, my darling Opal. She is all her own, and magnificent in every way. 🙂

    1. Mera Post author

      Do it! Honestly, if Katie & I can handle it, someone with your DIY chops will have no problem. Drop us a line if you decide to go for it–we love seeing people’s projects!

  1. Carol Bryner

    This IS an exciting design element, especially for the “camping guys.” They ought to be able to get really lost in all that wonderful pattern. Hanging wallpaper has always terrified me, and although you two made it seem more doable, I’m not sure I’ll be mopping up wallpaper spooge anytime in the near future. I would have loved this room when I was little. Lucky Opal.

  2. andrea

    I’ve been enjoying your blog (friend of Holly’s from high school) and wondered if you’re going to do more 1) expert advice posts and 2) would wallpaper work on nasty 70s textured walls? There’s not a whole lot else to do about that short of ripping out the drywall (which I’ve thought of, but is too labor and $$ intensive).

    1. Mera Post author

      Hi Andrea,
      We are definitely focusing on putting together more before & after posts, and more how-to posts (although we’re no experts, so really these are more like advice-from-complete-amateurs posts.). I am unsure about whether wallpaper will work over texture, but my best guess is that if it is lightly textured (orange peel, not popcorn) a wallpaper that is matte and that has a small scale pattern (to hide any texture that shows through) *might* work. I’ve also seen some DIYs for skim coating textured walls, but talk about labor intensive! Let us know what you decide to do!

  3. Jill

    I purchased this wall mural from Anthropologie a year ago and have been waiting to use it. I’m trying to decide which wall/room to use it in. I love how it looks and think you did a great job! Thanks for all of the useful tips. I will definitely take your advice and take the plunge and just do it.

    If I could make one suggestion that I think would just finish off the room, would be to paint out the window in a grey that would match the tone of the grey in the wallpaper and a simpler window treatment. It would make the wallpaper stand out more and be the focal point. My eye goes to the window first. Love the wallpaper with the persian rug.

    Looks fantastic.

    1. Mera Post author

      Thanks, Jill! I appreciate the suggestions–definitely send us a picture of your wallpapered room if you decide to go through with it!

  4. Kayla aka I Am Kilo Bravo

    Just found your blog while doing a search to see if anyone else has put put up this particular anthro wallpaper. We are putting it up in our son’s ‘big boy’ room soon and your tips seem helpful and have definitely given me the confidence to tackle this one ourselves (I’ll be sure to have all my snacks on hand, haha)! Looks gorgeous in your room!

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