When we first walked through our house four years ago, several rooms had wallpaper or paint colors that weren’t to our taste. It’s to be expected, really. And like everyone says, you have to have the vision to see past colors you dislike and look at the bones beneath.
The bones were good.
But the wallpaper? The wallpaper was bad. How bad, you ask?
We imagined that the dining room would be one of the first rooms we’d repaint, because it seemed like such an “easy” payoff. Big windows, a neat floorboard pattern, a built-in china cabinet, and a chandelier that, while over-the-top for sure, was original to the house and had a certain ragged glamor to it. Yet we never got around to it.
We had paint chips hanging from a nail on the wall. We even scraped a little of the wallpaper off one weekend, to see how hard it would be. We scraped a patch of the popcorn ceiling and sent it to the lab.
And then we just… stopped. We did other rooms. We worked. We watched lots of Netflix. We had a baby. And still the dining room remained in all its ridiculous glory.
The wallpaper border, when viewed closely, shows a rich variety of wildlife: birds, insects, hermit crabs and a horned tadpolish creature a friend once termed “fetal goats.” Not something you see every day, really.
Unless you’re us. We saw it EXACTLY every day. For four years. But at long last, after far too long, and due almost entirely to the hard work of my father-in-law who was visiting (and swears he enjoys this stuff), we can finally say that the dining room is quite different now!
So the basic steps of the transformation (again, all credit to my in-laws, especially for the hard initial steps of scraping!)
- Put down plastic and tape it to the baseboards.
- Put very hot tap water into trigger spray bottles.
- Spray a 3′ x 3′ patch of popcorn ceiling, move onto a second one, and then move back to scrape the first. (Side note of caution: We had our ceiling texture tested for asbestos and other evil things not long after moving in – don’t skip that step because you do NOT want to be breathing in all that bad stuff if it’s in your ceiling. The $50 the test cost is nothing compared to the chance of possible medical bills and heartbreak years down the line.)
- Scrape the popcorn texture off with your putty knife lying almost parallel to the ceiling. Be careful not to gouge through because patching is no fun.
- Patch the inevitable few gouges with joint compound.
- Sand out the gouges and any weird spots in the ceiling.
If your popcorn texture is like ours, it leaves a chalky residue behind. We tried washing this off, sanding it, scrubbing it, etc. but sometimes it still causes the first coat of primer and paint to peel off.
This is not a happy moment. Not at all.
The good news was that when it all came down, it brought the worst of the chalky residue with it, so the next coat stuck. We used high-bonding primer from Lowe’s and Behr Ceiling White paint from HD.
For the wallpaper:
Seriously, wallpaper is different every time we remove it. In this room, here’s what worked.
- Score the wallpaper with a scoring tool.
- Put very hot tap water into trigger spray bottles and add a few drops of dish soap (this was the inlaws’ idea, and it seemed to work).
- Spray the scored paper and let the water really soak in for a while while you keep spraying other parts of the wall.
- Scrape off the wallpaper — ours was super old and came off in annoyingly tiny bits. But it did, eventually, come off.
- Scrub the wall well to remove the wallpaper glue residue as much as possible (we used microfiber dishcloths for this, rinsed in hot tap water.)
- Use joint compound to smooth any gouges or weird spots in the walls — in an old house, there are always weird spots — and sand smooth.
The people before us had painted a pink stripe UNDER the wallpaper border — probably to keep the blue paint from showing through? Who knows. Nothing a little high-hiding primer couldn’t handle!
This stuff is very helpful for putting dark colors to rest – we’ve used it in the foyer, too, and it really saved some time when we were painting that burgundy trim white. I’d say one coat of this is equal to 2-3 coats of Kilz2 latex primer, for color hiding at least.
Once the walls were primed it was time to pick a new wall color. With such a big shiny light fixture dominating the room, we wanted something that would blend in to the background and let the woodwork and lighting be the main attention-seekers in the room. We tried a few pale colors:
Left to Right these are:
Mild Mint by Behr, Lincoln White Sash by Valspar above Spring Melt by Martha Stewart (color matched to Behre Ultra), Valspar Luna, and Valspar Churchill Hotel Ecru.
They looked different in different parts of the room, and (as always) in daylight vs. lamplight, but we ultimately settled on the color-matched Spring Melt, because it was a nice pale grey/green/blue and we thought it looked kind of timeless and clean and light. Again, it’s a much paler color than we would usually go for, but we wanted the lighting to be the noticeable thing about the room, not the wallcolor.
And so, again, with the amazing help of my in-laws, we finished it up… two coats of paint on the walls, two or three on the trim, and all the cleanup.
But so far we’re feeling pretty good about how it turned out.
Smooth ceiling with the paint finally sticking properly:
Walls painted, in lamplight:
Walls painted in daylight, and the furniture back in!
We still have some finishing touches to do — notably finding some stuff to hang on the walls which look so much EMPTIER without all that busy wallpaper going on. But so far, so good.
Honestly, it will be really nice (kind of weird, but really nice) to be able to have people over and talk about something at dinner that is a topic OTHER than the walls.