Wallpaper Installation

DEAR MIKE: If I decide to wallpaper my bedroom, how can I make it look really good? -- Kathy Z.

DEAR KATHY: A quality wallpapering job requires quality wallpaper. Forget the cheap stuff because your papering will only look cheap.

Good paper starts around $20 for a double roll and comes pre-pasted (all you do is get it wet, let it sit, then stick it to the wall). Plan on spending a day to paper an average-sized bedroom.

The tools needed for this job will cost around $30, and include a wallpaper tray, plastic smoother, large sponge, broad knife (an oversized putty knife), seam roller, and sharp single-edge razor blades.

Your first step is to prepare the walls. If they are painted drywall, prime them with a wallpaper undercoat (about $10). Let the walls dry overnight so they'll be sticky when you're ready to start hanging the paper.

Start hanging in the most inconspicuous spot (if such a thing exists) on the wall, and mark a plumb line with a level. This line marks where the edge of your first "drop" (a strip of wallpaper) will land. Make sure you remove the plates covering the light switch and electrical outlets, and shut off the power to the room to avoid a problem should wet paper come in contact with the exposed unit.

Cut the drop a few inches long on both the top and bottom so you can line up the paper's pattern. Fill the paper tray with water and set it at the end of a long, flat surface (a folding table or counter is good). Loosely roll the paper inside out, so that the glue side faces outward. Submerge the roll in the water to get the glue wet. Next, unroll the paper slowly, starting with the top edge, and lay it on the flat surface glue side up.

Lightly fold the drop's pasted side in, but do not crease it. Then fold in the edges, and let it "book" (wallpaper lingo for "rest") according to the manufacturer's recommendations (usually 2 to 4 minutes).

Usually, I align the right side of the drop to the plumb line, then move around the room to the right. I also start just to the right of an inside corner and make the plumb line slightly less than the full width of the drop. This way, I'll have to trim the wallpaper at the corner, but any building flaws there will be covered.

Starting from the top, hang the drop and release the folds gradually, making sure that the edge of the paper is aligned with the plumb line. Get the plastic smoothing tool and, starting from the middle, push out the air bubbles. You won't be able to push out all of the bubbles, but they should disappear as the glue dries.

Now, you need to trim the paper at the ceiling and the baseboard. Use the broad knife to push the paper into the corner, then run the razor blade along the knife. Change the blade often, or as it gets dull. Otherwise, you'll tear the paper instead of cutting it. Wet the sponge and use it to wipe any glue from the paper and the baseboards. Don't worry yet about the seams.

Cut the next drop to the same length and let it book. Hang it in the same manner and butt the seams together, but don't roll them just yet.

After the third drop is hung, go back to the first seam and roll it just once with the seam roller. Use gentle pressure to avoid squeezing out any glue. Trim around the electrical outlets after the drop is hung.

The biggest challenge is the corners. As you approach an inside corner, measure the distance from the edge of the paper to the corner. Measure from the top, the middle, and the bottom of the paper. Although these measurements should be identical, if you've stretched the paper too much to close a seam, or if the corner of the wall was not carefully finished by the builder, these measurements will be slightly different. Add one-half inch to the largest measurement. Cut a full-sized drop to this measurement and hang it. You'll want to use the plastic smoother to trim this piece at the corner, because the smoother is wider than the broad knife and will give you the extra bit of material you need to overlap the first drop coming out of the corner by the necessary one-sixteenth of an inch.

Now that you've got the corner wrapped, peel back the paper by about an inch. Use the leftover piece from the full-sized drop you cut previously and use it as the first drop coming out of the corner. Align and trim this piece at the corner, then replace the piece you peeled back. It will overlap the first corner drop slightly and cover the flaws. Mark a new plumb line to ensure that the seams forward of the plumb line are properly aligned.

If the seams curl up when everything dries, use a seam adhesive (about $5) and a cotton swab to push them back down. And if you still have air bubbles after the glue has dried, use a new razor blade and slit the paper over the bubble, stuff in a little adhesive and push out the air. It's sort of like burping a baby, except without the smell.

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