Posts Tagged ‘wallpaper’

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?

Initial visit to our house

This bad.

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.

Closeup of old wallpaper border

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!

Dining Room Before & After

Dining Room Before & After

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.

Dining Room Project

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!

Dining Room Project

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:

Dining Room Project

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:

Dining Room Project

Walls painted, in lamplight:

Dining Room Project

Walls painted in daylight, and the furniture back in!

Dining Room Project

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. 🙂

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What used to be a rather dark bedroom with pretty intense wallpaper and green shag carpet has now, through the combined efforts of my in-laws, our painter/handyman friend, and some work of our own, become the bedroom for our baby boy.

The wallpaper steamed down in one afternoon, but choosing the paint and putting together the furnishings took longer — this was a labor of love from October 2011 until just before he was born in late February 2012.

How nice to find hardwood floors under that carpeting, as we’d hoped!

So much labor put in for our little guy by his grandparents. We are grateful for their hard work!

And we are SO grateful to have that wallpaper gone! I kept saying to everyone who would listen “Even if we change our mind about the wall color, we will NEVER have to deal with this wallpaper again!”

Steps for this room:

  • Steamed wallpaper
  • Patched walls
  • Primed walls (Kilz 2 latex)
  • Painted walls (Valspar Brown Buzz, trim in Behr Cotton Fluff semi-gloss)
  • Scraped popcorn ceiling
  • Patched/sanded/painted ceiling (Behr Ceiling White)
  • Replaced light fixture with a new ceiling fan (twice because the motor on the first one was faulty)
  • New smoke detector
  • New 2″ faux wood blinds (custom cut for weird-width windows)
  • Hung curtains & rod
  • Twin Bed moved in from our old guest room
  • Twin Bedding from Walmart, TJ Maxx, and Target
  • Crib from Amazon
  • Bedding from PBK and Amazon
  • Rug & pad from Overstock
  • Dresser: thrifted — tightened up by a carpenter friend and waxed by my father in law
  • Storage cabinet from IKEA
  • Chair from our living room of our first married apartment
  • Ottoman built by our carpenter friend and upholstered by his wife
  • Bookcase – free castoff from a friend – we planned to paint it but ended up liking the red
  • Paper lantern from BlueQ
  • Puff balls via Etsy
  • Artwork by Google Maps, Etsy sellers, and our vacation photos – thrifted frames spray painted
  • Wall hanging from my husband’s room when he was a little boy
  • Books and toys from our generous friends and family

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Downstairs bathroom before and after

In summer of 2010, we had a 100th-birthday-party for our house. This was our gift to it — a new tile floor.

Before the floor was installed, though, we had a few preliminary steps. We:

  • stripped the wallpaper from the walls and ceiling (using our trusty steamer),
  • scrubbed off the ancient wallpaper glue (using a green dish scrubby and lots and lots of rags post-steamer),
  • primed (Kilz 2 latex),
  • painted (the walls in Behr RoadRunner and trim in Behr Cotton Fluff) and
  • installed mirror glass in the old window that had been plastered over (from the other side, during renovations) years ago.

We hope the house likes its birthday present! If nothing else, we are pretty relieved to have disposed of that old bathroom carpet.

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So, the night we moved in, when faced with THIS in our upstairs hall:

We immediately did this:

As I’ve written about before, removing the wallpaper underlayer and glue was harder than we thought.

A lot harder.

But the upstairs hall is all finished now, and this (before):

is now this (after!)

And this (before):

is now this (after):

We ran into a lot of speed bumps and learned a lot along the way, but for better or worse, it’s pretty much done. The exception would be that we haven’t smoothed the ceilings in here because it adjoins to a place we need scaffolding to do and I didn’t want to stop it halfway across a room (or clean it all twice).

Click the last image to go to a Flickr set with all the pictures of the project so far, including some inspiration pics from (where else?) the Drapers’ house in Mad Men, and Keats House in Hampstead, and many photos of the two billion misfires as we tried to find the right shade of blue for our space. It ended up being “Eminence” by Behr.

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Meet our new friend:

The wallpaper steamer!

At my cousin’s insistence (and after H saw his dad using one successfully on their new house in England last week) I spent a little time reading reviews and ordered this steam cleaner. I justified it despite my skepticism because in addition to the wallpaper wand attachment (that big square thing), it also features several cleaning attachments which seemed to have useful potential in other ways in case A) it didn’t work for our wallpaper (unlikely) or B) we ever finish removing all the wallpaper from this house (even less likely).


We’ve only spent about 30 quality minutes with it so far (only did a little tank of steam since it was the first run), but it’s already sped things up quite a bit in the downstairs bath.

We did all this (the “white” parts, not the beige) in only about 15 minutes – including that all-important first-timer’s learning curve! (Noted: keep a towel draped over your arm if you’re scraping with your free arm WHILE you steam with the other one. They aren’t kidding when they put all those “HOT WATER DRIPS” labels on the thing.)

So, even though we were both pretty tired from a long day of decluttering/sorting/filing work in the office upstairs, and both feeling a little overwhelmed with house ideas and plans, we decided to give this a whirl since UPS had just brought it at 4pm.

Yes, I have become the person who can jump up saying “Is that UPS? I bet it’s the wallpaper steamer!”

No, this was not in my life plan.

But anyway, despite the small scope of what we actually DID in the room (haha), this was definitely a promising start. Maybe the best part? It really softens the ancient wallpaper glue underneath well — well enough to scrub it off right away with some scrap towels. Definitely better on that nasty goop than anything else we’ve tried.

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The night we got the keys to this house, we knew we had to come in and DO something. We took a few minutes and plonked down on the living room carpet — looked lovingly around and said a few “Can you believe it?”s, gazed into one another’s eyes, and then immediately went upstairs and started joyously, gleefully, peeling off strips of pink airbrushed glossy wallpaper.

Now I have learned a few things about wallpaper removal in the past two years, and unfortunately most of them involve profanity I can’t type here because my Mom might read it. But here’s the quick and basic version:

1) You peel up a corner and a big old sheet tears off the wall! You are a wallpaper rockstar!

1a) But guess what? That’s just the top layer, a.k.a. the “easy” layer. It is really fun and gratifying when it goes this quickly, but it leaves a huge fluffy paper wasteland behind it. (Please note, sometimes even the easy layer is hard, esp. if the wallpaper in question is not shiny to the touch in the first place. As you can see, I had to find an internet photo of this phenomenon as I have never quite had it myself.) So here’s what that underlayer looks like from far away and then from close up, with dramatic lighting to illustrate:

2) So, if I spray that remaining fluffy beige layer really well with very hot tap water in a spritz bottle, and let it soak in, and use a 7-in-1 tool gently, it comes off! This, of course, takes a lot longer than the “easy” layer but then you’re done!

And all is well … Except that

3) When your “clean” paper-free walls dry, there is still a layer of paste. Paste from Satan. Paste you can’t always see with the naked eye, but then from an angle you suddenly see a filmy layer, complete with the brush strokes of the paperhanger from decades past. This layer, which can RUIN your paint job (and your life) if you let it, is easy to detect by running your hand over the wall, at which point, if you’re like me, you’ll get massively squicked out by the dusty, dry, crackly surface that is anything but smooth.

4) If you leave the paste on and let it dry (ESPECIALLY FOR, SAY,  TWO YEARS), it will start to peel up the paint/sizing that was on the walls behind it. Because (MY THEORY GOES) as the newly rewetted paste dries, it contracts a little bit and pulls up paint flakes from behind it. So instead of this nice smooth post-paste wall:

you get this unpaintable madness:

and then you kind of want to die and put things off for two more years.

Or maybe that’s just me.

So, fast forward through two years and I have been wanting to hang up some family pictures on the long wall in this upstairs hall. We found a wall color that we like, or think we like to the point that we bought a cute sample can. But before we can possibly do the priming or painting, much less the photo-hanging, we have to get that horrible stubborn paint-ruining PASTE off the walls.

My mom is visiting, and she likes to experiment. So here are our results:

  1. Hot water, which got the paper off, does remove a little. It would take about 20 rounds to get all the paste off.
  2. Hot water and some borrowed DIF (by Zinsser) fancy wallpaper removal solution did very for me as well.
  3. Hot water and extensive scrubbing with a plastic scrubby pad for nonstick dishes did a little better than the hot water alone.
  4. Hot water and dish soap did very little. This was super disappointing because A) My mom believes in the power of Dawn dish soap to do almost anything, B) It is cheap and C) it was highly recommended by a famous home improvement expert called The Internet.
  5. Hot water and white vinegar, however, in a 1:1 ratio solution sprayed from a spritzer bottle and then wiped well with a cellulose sponge? For some reason, on the particularly hellish paste of our fiendish upstairs hall, this worked fairly well. And it’s also inexpensive (compared to DIF, anyway!) and relatively innocuous as far as chemical paste-strippers go.

So you have to lay old towels across the bottom of the wall to catch the drips, and your whole house smells like Easter eggs for a little while (it does dissipate), and you have to rinse out your sponge/scrubby almost constantly, and it’s still time-consuming and sticky and imperfect, but for now, it’s the best I’ve got.

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First off, I must say it’s good to know we’re not the only ones with paint under our nails. 🙂

Of course this was for a worthier cause, a 9/11 Habitat service project in DC. But it made me smile.

As for what we’ve been doing lately on the house, well, school has begun once more and with both of us teaching like crazy we’ve slowed down as anticipated. If you recall my own embarrassing admission, it’s still true that I can’t stay focused on things if we have only one room we’re working on. I start to feel like I “have” to work on it and have no choice, and the levels of procrastinatory justification I immediately begin? They ain’t pretty. So we currenty have TWO count em TWO projects in the works:

Upstairs bedroom: While the summer was the big push, scraping the popcorn ceiling, mudding, sanding, priming, REpriming, painting and REpainting that room, we’re now trying to turn it into a reasonably comfortable second guest room by the time our holiday guests arrive. We purchased two twin beds (our other guest room has a queen) and are going to be piecing together the rest of what the room needs over the next few months. Considering all that is in there right now is two twin mattress sets on metal frames? It still needs a lot. Our cats, however, are pleased with the progress so far:

The second project — because there always needs to be a second project — is the foyer. As a reminder this is a smallish room but a biggish entryway, with wide doors on either side leading into the piano room on the left and the regular living room (TV, couches, etc) on the right.

Please note the partially-scraped popcorn ceiling. 🙂 For this picture, I am standing in the piano room (where the piano will someday be) looking across the foyer.

The foyer is definitely your first impression of the house — especially at night when we, like many people on this street, keep our door open and just the (locked) glass door closed. It’s wallpapered with an Asian-themed toile print in pink, and while it isn’t the paper I’d choose, it’s not bad enough to make me want to change it right now considering our other (uglier) priorities.

Since this is a matter of first impressions, I think it’s going to be a good room to have done. So we’ve been beginning to paint over the burgundy trim with first primer, then off-white trim paint. Here’s a before and after — or really, since it’s only primer on the trim in the second picture, a before-and-during:

Painting all the trim is suprisingly slow going — it turns out it’s harder when you have large areas you DON’T want to paint as well as large oddly-shaped areas you do. Also I learned VERY QUICKLY that putting masking tape, even very lightly pressed, onto the wallpaper was a bad idea (there is now a little mauve-tone gondolier man with half a head to back me up on this) but I think it’s going to look good someday. As for those pink radiators? I’m not even sure how to start.

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