It’s bird-hunting season in most of the southern US right now so we thought what better time of year to write about vintage, hand-made shotguns. I own a 1972 Holland & Holland 20-gauge side-by-side that I inherited from my grandfather which would look as incredible mounted in a shadow box above our fireplace as it does taking quail in the field. There are thousands of people from Thomasville, Georgia to Brownsville, Texas right now post-holing through the grass carrying similarly classic shotguns that have the distinctive pedigree of being made piece by piece by a master craftsman rather than by a machine.
So if it seems a bit emasculating that I’m now going to tell you about wallpaper, welcome to the art of marital negotiating during hunting season. Real men do hang wallpaper when their brush time is on the line.
Meggen started baiting the honey-do wallpaper negotiations back in September. “What do you think about wallpapering the dining room in the next few weeks?” It was casually thrown out as if she didn’t care if I even answered. Which is where I know the hard negotiating begins.
“What’s wrong with paint?”, I countered. Painting is a known quantity. Papering is expensive. It’s irreversible. No.
My wife’s persistence when it comes to home re-design has a particularly successful subtly to it, however. She got samples. She casually taped them to the walls before I got home. She told me how the patterns would add “height” and “depth” to our walls while handing me a glass of wine. It would be like having a sexy Miami Beach Art Deco hotel lounge in our own house.
Sold. I could almost hear the dust falling on my Holland and Holland as I agreed with her that Thanksgiving weekend would also be a great time to wallpaper our dining room. Meggen got the better of me on this one. But I have a huge credit in the bank.
Our wallpapering adventure is the classic example of necessity being the mother of DIY initiative. Wallpaper hangers on the Eastern Shore are an extinct breed and when you have no other options you just do it yourself, damned the final outcome. We do all of the work around our historic house inside and out with the rare exception of serious plumbing, electrical, and roofing jobs. But for some reason we got it into our heads that wallpapering warpy old walls was the soufflé equivalent of interior design—fanciful, delicate, and only appropriate for the pros.
Don’t be misled. Our dining room is starting to look like a private lounge at the Delano Miami South Beach Hotel thanks to the Art Deco pattern of our paper, and the careful selection of appropriate mid-century furniture. We also painstakingly followed all of the tried-and-true wallpapering rules about wall prep, pre-pasting and booking the paper, and where to start and stop the pattern. In the process, we learned a few critical tips that aren’t in the DIY books for the novice wallpaper-hanger who wants their own boutique hotel lounge.
Say It Like A Mantra—Prep, Prep, Prep
In real estate it’s location, location, location. With wallpaper it’s prep, prep, prep.
Before you even think about installing any finished wallpaper, suck it up and pull out your painting clothes, dust mask, scrapers, spackle, and sandpaper. Your walls should be near perfectly smooth. Remove and sand down any protrusions, fill any cracks, and repair any other imperfections that will telegraph through. Do this 3-4 times even if you don’t think it’s necessary, and drag your fingers across every square inch of the wall to make sure you didn’t miss any little snags. Think we’re being anal? You’ll be even more aggravated when you have your project completed, turn on the lighting, and fixate on the wallpaper that’s tenting out over a tiny spackle mark right at eye level.
We also had to deal with multiple electrical outlet openings as well as face plates that had been painted in for decades, all of which had to be fully-removed as part of the prep process. My personal favorite was discovering a 12” cover plate in our wall that concealed the old stovepipe connection between a wood-burning stove in the dining room and our main chimney flue. This required some out of the box thinking to seal up so that the soot from any future fire wouldn’t stain the wallpaper.
The dastardly beauty of thorough prep work is that it uncovers all of the problems that you never wanted to find which add cost and time. Embrace it. All of your renovation projects will be better in the long run when you face the prep music upfront.
No matter what you read, the most analytical and thought-warping part of the paperhanging process is lining up the pattern. This has two major impacts: 1) Minimizing the waste of the roll, and 2) Where the pattern starts, stops, and flows on the wall. At your peril don’t underestimate the latter from a design standpoint.
The pattern for our “Bottna” wallpaper by Marimekko, which we bought from Allmodern.com, repeated every 25”. In addition to lining up where the repeating pattern started, we had to decide which direction the pattern would run. Our wallpaper looks like an abstract school of lilies or jellyfish moving with the ocean current so we decided to orient it vertically to pull your eye up and give our space the feel of having higher ceilings.
With particularly graphic wallpapers think carefully about where the most visual part of your paper design will start and stop or should it be at eye level or not. Even if you end up with an unpalatable amount of wallpaper waste it’s more important to make sure that you can live with your final pattern design every day. Trust us.
I know after renovating two historic houses that I can master any DIY task if I research it enough and work slowly, but I’ve also learned I’m the worst estimator on the planet. Anything related to labor, material waste, prep time, forget it. In her head I think Meggen multiplies them all by four if I’m doing the work myself.
With wallpaper double the amount of wallpaper that you think you’ll need based on square foot coverage (to account for the waste of matching the pattern, working around windows and doors, etc.). Triple your expected prep time if your walls need some real love to get smooth and have a lot of penetrations (i.e., outlets) and trim.
Once all the prep work is done, wallpapering takes no more time than painting. In many ways it’s also easier. So lose your preconceptions about the prima donnas and soufflés. As far as retaining your masculinity while you’re hanging wallpaper over Thanksgiving weekend and all of your friends are out bird hunting, that’s another story. We’ll talk about guns next week.