Hanging Wallpaper on a Feature Wall :: A Fix for a Cracked Plaster Wall
I have a confession. I am not the best painter in my family. (Must be my ADD, ADH … ADD.) While I did help paint a few of the rooms in this house, I left, and still do leave, most of that work to Mrs. Moxie, my wife – Jen.
She’s done all of the interior painting on her flips. And frankly – she’s nothing short of a real pro.
In other words, I’d like to think between us we know what we are doing when it comes to interior paint.
Now, for wallpaper (the topic of this article), that’s a totally different story. Apart from repairing it (as I’ve done as a punch out guy) and/or removing it (as we’ve both done a handful of times), neither of us really had any experience with hanging it.
Mrs. Moxie Removing Wallpaper from Kitchen Ceiling (2006)
So there we were; we needed a fairly quick, high impact fix for a troubled plaster wall in our bedroom. And here’s the story of what we did, as part of getting our old house ready to list.
In the article, I’ll cover some of the history of wallpaper, plus available types and styles. I’ll give you some of my/our personal backstory (as above), plus the process we (Mrs. Moxie and I) followed for both selecting as well as for estimating and ordering the wallpaper needed for our master bedroom feature wall.
I will also of course cover hanging wallpaper. This project includes:
- Prep for Hanging Wallpaper (on Plaster Walls)
- Establishing a Layout Plan
- Rough Cutting and Prepping (Vinyl) Wallpaper for Hanging
- Hanging Vinyl Wallpaper
- Trimming the Hung Wallpaper
- & Rolling Wallpaper Seams
Photos are a little slim throughout, I am sorry, but much of this work was actually done in our pajamas. Ha! enjoy. ~jb.
Briefly on Wallpaper :: History, Style & Types
* Wallpaper in History
Wallpaper was hung in English manors dating back to the 16th century. Since its heyday here in the US – in the early 1900s, it has gone in and out of favor. In the last decade, perhaps, there has been a slight resurgence. I have seen many designers choosing it as a means for adding embellishment to rooms.
Wallpapers comes in many different styles. We might simply categorize them by their pattern (or lack therefore). But wallpaper is also often grouped by how it is constructed. This includes what we’ll call their surface treatment – affecting both texture and durability, as well as how exactly they are hung.
You’ll see wallpaper in nearly any room of a house, but different papers work better in/for different rooms. For us (me & Mrs. Moxie), we would use a vinyl, unpasted wallpaper for our bedroom feature wall – and that’s important to remember as you make your way through this article.
* Wallpaper Types & Adhesion Methods
Wallpaper types include: Grasscloth, Embossed, Flocked, Metallic (or Foil), Paper (the original – often coated with an acrylic film), Vinyl and the most recent addition – Nonwoven. Broadly, this article does not include details about each type, rather it focuses solely on Vinyl. Vinyl (sometimes pre-pasted) is likely the most widely available, and probably also the easiest to hang.
While the surface treatments – the faces of these papers vary, so too do their backings. This is no more true than with the Vinyl wallcoverings. You’ll see Vinyl wallpaper with a fabric, paper, vinyl, or even a nonwoven backing.
With that, it’s important to note that adhesion methods also vary. Adhesion options include: a traditional, flour-based, wheat paste – mixed on-site. More popular, and DIY-friendly, are your premixed pastes. Clear paste is likely the most practical for obvious reasons. In most cases, the wallpaper you select will dictate how exactly it should be adhered. Refer to manufacturer specifications before choosing a specific adhesive.
As mentioned above, some papers come pre-pasted. The application for these papers differs greatly from other types of wallpaper. Peel and Stick options – in the form of giant decals and/or even full-on temporary vinyl papers, appeared in the 80s. These often require only minimal prep work in hanging. They are great in rooms (like a nursery or a child’s room) that might see varying looks across a few years.
Our Master Bedroom Bed Wall
As the time to list our then remodeled Victorian farmhouse approached, we knew we wanted to do something special with our master bedroom’s bed wall. While it did take some effort, I did ultimately talk Mrs. Moxie into doing that one wall in wallpaper.
As with most of my projects in this old house, I was up against some uncommon circumstances. Admittedly, though, those uncommon circumstances were in fact part of my motivation for looking into wallpaper to begin with.
Long time readers will recall that we created a kitchen passthrough by removing a portion of a center (load-bearing) wall. This gave the 1st floor more of that “open plan” feel. When we removed that wall, and as we set the new header, we did see a good bit of cracking in the plaster walls above.
Over the following few months, this cracking expanded – presumably as the structure continued to settle into the new header. I covered repairing some of that cracking in a video here – Repairing a Large Crack in Plaster.
* Cracking in Plaster Walls
The wall featured in that article shared framing with – well, our bed wall. As seen in the video, cracking (in our playroom) presented itself rather aggressively. On the bedroom-wall side, however, things were far more subtle. In the bedroom, the wall had developed a network of spider cracks. Some pre-existing, but many more made more pronounced with the removal of that kitchen wall.
For bedroom repair, and unlike the larger crack, I purchased a box of one-inch plaster washers, grabbed a spray bottle full of water, a tube of Alex Plus and had at it. My goal really was only to get everything screwed off (reattaching the plaster to the wood lath behind). My hope was I could avoid skim coating that soon to be wallpapered feature wall.
In almost all cases, it makes far more sense to repair plaster than it does to replace it. I have written about this topic specifically for The Home Depot’s Pro Referral Network here – How to Repair Plaster Walls. (For more on the primary reasons for retaining plaster, see my article, instead – The Best Way to Remove Plaster.)
To read more about what I did to repair the bed wall’s spider cracks, see the section Repairing Plaster Walls with Plaster Washers at the bottom of this article.
Selecting, Estimating and Purchasing Wallpaper
So we knew we wanted to do one wall in our master bedroom with wallpaper. This would effectively create what is known as a feature wall. But some questions remained:
- Where Do We Shop For Wallpaper?
- How Much Wallpaper Would We Need?
- & What Kind of Wallpaper Should We Use?
We had that one wall, the bed wall of the bedroom – the wall where the headboard lives. By rough measurements, that wall was just about 9 feet tall by 16 feet wide. There was one door, a closet door, at the far left side of it.
Mrs Moxie and I are both big fans of psychically touching things. Meaning – while many online retailers have popped up and many will ship samples or even rolls to you, we carted ourselves up to our local Sherwin-Williams (big fan). There we found a set of bookshelves and an extended display full of wallpaper samples. Nearby, a well lit table.
From the bedroom, we grabbed our bed spread and a curtain. In preparation for this adventure, we even painted a scrap piece of drywall with the bedroom wall color. While taking all three of these items certainly made matching easier, I won’t lie – it still took us several trips to a few of the Sherwin-Williams around town before we could really hone in on what we wanted.
In the end, the paper we selected – a Vinyl with a Fabric backing. And as you can see from pictures, it most definitely resembled a grasscloth. A green, blue and yellow paper with a subtle horizontal hatching. It worked exceptionally well with the spring scheme we had cultivated in our bedroom.
* Estimating Wallpaper
Once we had our wallpaper targeted, it was time to estimate and then purchase. Wallpaper like carpet or fabric is subject to dye lot. Because of this, and because there can be variances in color from lot to lot, it is important to get estimating and your initial purchase exactly right.
Many samples have specific information about such things as width and square footage per roll printed right on their backside. Other information includes the pattern’s match type (straight, random, none, etc.) as well as the length, size and distance of the given pattern’s repeat.
For estimating our job, and not to complicate matters here, I simply measured the wall and subtracted the size of that closet door opening. In the end, I determined I needed two rolls of our selected paper. But we would ultimately use only a roll and 3/8th for our feature wall.
For those that want and need a little more precision (especially important when using papers with more complex patterns), there are a number of wallpaper calculators online. (This one at Wallcoverings.org looks like a good one.)
These calculators often include something called yield factor, which allows you to easily calculate expected waste – based on the size of the pattern being used.
Paper size and coverage can vary greatly maker to maker. My wallpaper was 27” wide (though you’ll also commonly see papers 20 1/2″ wide). For the brave, there are double rolls available. In general, and double rolls withstanding, you should expect to see coverage from 50 to 75 square foot a roll. (For the curious, mine was marked at 65 sq foot.)
Through Sherwin-Williams, our wallpaper was a custom order received within three days. The cost for the wallpaper itself was right under $90.
How to Prep the Wall for Hanging Wallpaper?
Vinyl papers are fairly durable, but because of this, they are not necessarily so forgiving. Some imperfections in the wall below will show through.
As mentioned above, I was installing my wallpaper on a plaster wall. (Jump to information about preparing this plaster wall by clicking here.) Regardless of the type of surface, it needs to be as free imperfections as possible.
Those in older houses know that plaster walls have a tendency to undulate. For highly visible locations, it may be worthwhile to skim the wall before applying wallpaper. (Alternatively, and with more delicate types of papers, a wallpaper liner could be used behind.)
For the best possible application, it may make sense to remove trim from walls, hang the wallpaper and then return trim. We had the option, in our bedroom, to remove the rosettes from our colonial casing around the closet door. We did not. The cuts and pasting here, admittedly, was a little challenging and in the end, required a delicate hand.
Installing around trim often requires making a series of relief cuts, followed by precision trimming – which may be best left for the end of the job.
* Understanding Your Surface – Primers
I repaired spider cracking in our plaster wall with plaster washers. I flash-patched those repairs with standard joint compound and sanded. What I didn’t mention of course was that this wall had also been painted previously. This created quite a mosaic across the surface, and in general, I knew I’d have to take special steps in preparation.
We applied Rx-35 PRO-999 – a wallpapering primer/sealer designed for painted surfaces. Allowing it to dry overnight, it both seals and “sizes” the wall prior to wallpaper installation.
What Does “Sizing” Mean in a Wallpaper Installation?
Good question. According to this page:
Although this may sound like a measurement process, it actually refers to treating plaster walls with a product that allows the paper to stick better, but not so tightly that you can never remove it. Sizing is a compound of chemicals that acts as a buffer between the wallpaper backing and the plaster surface. It prevents the wall from absorbing all the adhesive’s moisture and slows down the adhesion process, which allows you time to get the paper placement just right. It also prevents the adhesive from permeating the wall surface, making it impossible to remove in the future without destroying the walls.
* Understanding Your Surface – Pastes
We choose to work with a pre-mixed paste. This link from Roman Decorating Products was very helpful in selecting the right paste (great resources in general on this site). Using it, I could determine we needed Roman’s PRO-880 Ultra Clear Strippable. (By its spec, its anticipated yield is 330 square feet under ideal conditions.)
In general, pre-mixed pastes are categorized by three elements: a) The type of surface you are adhering to – unfinished drywall, plaster, painted wall, etc. b) Level of adhesion and working time required – Extreme Tack, etc. & c) Its degree of removability – how easy or hard it would be to strip the installed wallpaper later.
Creating a Wallpaper Hanging Plan for a Feature Wall
We started by finding, well, a starting point. To do this, we cut our first strip of wallpaper and working together, we held it near the center of the wall.
Note: For more complex patterns, finding where to start is very important. You want to position the paper on the wall such that both seams and the pattern won’t make awkward intersections at the ceiling and/or at door and window trim. When hanging a whole room it may make sense to sketch out a layout plan. For a feature wall, you need to determine only where to start and a direction in which to work.
For me, and because I didn’t have to navigate corners, balancing my layout was easy enough. Further, because we just had that simple grasscloth pattern, we really didn’t have to move the paper up and down as much as we had to shift it side to side.
* Using Reference Lines
When it finally sat where it seemed to work, I marked each side of that first strip of wallpaper. I then used my tape measure creating hashmarks across the wall where each strip of paper should fall (27″ apart). These marks were used more as a visual reference to aid in layout, allowing me to check myself as I thought about moving across the wall.
When I was finally happy with what was planned, I used a 6-foot level to draw out working lines on either side of that first strip. Some would suggest marking off lines for each strip, or at minimum setting a reference line near vertical obstacles like doors. I stopped short of this. I mean – I knew each strip of wallpaper would butt edge to edge. Doing one final adjustment of my hashmarks at this point got me ready for hanging.
* Hiding an Awkward Seam
I knew for certain that I didn’t want a seam to fall right at my closet door trim. Also, as a rule of thumb you want to avoid a seams within six inches of an adjoining wall. Since our closet was at the far side of the wall, and because its door trim was butted conveniently to the adjacent wall, I was able to shift paper appropriately.
With little hassle, I’d be able to cut down the width of just one strip of paper. I worked in layout to plan for placing this seam above that closet doorway. The door trim itself was then fitted with an L-shaped strip of rough cut paper.
Working with Vinyl Wallpaper
* Cutting Wallpaper
When rough cutting wallpaper, I found that making cuts about four inches long worked pretty well. This gave us 2” extra both at the top and the bottom of the wallpaper. (I had a traditional 3-part built-up baseboard at the bottom of the wall, but no crown molding at the top.) Note: More complex patterns might require a larger over-cut.
While wallcovering tables can be rented (I’d recommend), we worked on a scrap piece of plywood (topped with builders paper) laid out on the floor of our adjoining playroom. A T-square worked just fine as we marked off cut lines on the back of the paper. We then used wallpapering scissors to make our rough cuts.
Tip: When working with a large repeating patterns, make cuts in the same location on the paper each time.
* Applying Adhesives for Un-Pasted Vinyl Wallpaper
Our pre-mixed adhesive was rolled on from a paint tray using a standard 1/4” nap paint roller. Paste does not have to be applied in a thick coat, as much as it has to be applied evenly. While paste brushes may be purchased, a 3″ paint brush seemed to work well for fine tuning. Paste the entire back side of your wallpaper including the edges.
Then employing a technique called booking, we folded the ends of the wallpaper over onto themselves. Booking, among other things, allows adhesive to “soak in.” During this time, too, the paper itself also relaxes its roll. Booking times and requirements vary by paper, so always check specs. Our wallpaper called for 10 minutes of booking before hanging.
Warning: Be cautious as not to create undue creasing when booking.
Hanging Vinyl Wallpapers
Working together, we positioned our first strip of paper tight to those working lines. With our hands palms flat and using our fingertips, we moved the sheet fractions of inch up and down, so that it was positioned perfectly. A smoothing brush then worked well at seating paper both that the top of the wall (reached with a step stool) and at the bottom.
Tip: Leave the bottom half of the paper booked as you work to align the paper at the top of the wall first.
Subsequent strips of paper are butted tight together. For the outlet locations in this wall (one electrical & one multi-media), and with both the power off and outlet covers removed, we simply measured from the previous strip and also up from the floor. We then hung the wallpaper right over them.
With a rough idea of where those outlets lived, we made appropriate cut-outs. To do this: a) Make an X-cut over the outlet’s box location, and then b) Cut away what is to be removed from its perimeter.
* Smoothing Hung Wallpaper
After hanging the paper, you want to remove any air pockets or bubbles from behind the paper. In a lot of cases, this also amounts to removing excess adhesive from the back of the wallpaper. Some recommend a smoothing brush here as well, but we chose to work instead with a plastic smoothing tool. A straight edge – kinda like one you might use for stripping paint from a furniture top.
Tip: Smooth from the center up, then from the center down. If at all possible, never pull the smoother to the sides – whether a strip has been butted to another or not.
Be firm here but not so firm that the paper shifts on the wall. Excessive adhesive squeezed from the paper can be removed with a damp sponge, dipped into a nearby bucket of clean water. While natural sponges have traditionally been used, I purchased a polyester sponge – it kinda resembled a grout sponge.
Trimming the Edges of Hung Wallpaper
Most will say wrap corners (intersections at ceiling, trim or adjoining walls) by an ⅛”. This means you will trim your paper such that your razor blade points away from and opposes the paper.
At the ceiling, for example, cut along the ceiling, not the wall! I found that holding the knife such that the handle bend back toward the papered wall worked best. At wall intersections, similarly, hold your knife again with the handle toward the field and cut away from it, pressing the paper tight to the corner. Use a broad knife for help with guiding your cuts (a 6” to 12” drywall knife work just fine here).
For our installation, I chose a 24” paint shield with the hope that I wouldn’t have to move my guide as frequently. But alas, I don’t know how effective this actually was because of waviness at the wall/ceiling intersection. Lesson Learned: I should have known most ceilings and walls are not perfectly square over their entire length. And this is never more true then with plastered surfaces in old houses.
Most will recommend a snap-off utility knife for trimming wallpaper. These work well both for your slim design as well as for their ease in keeping a super sharp edge. (To “renew” a blade, simply use a pair of Channellocks.) Renew the blade every third cut as to avoid snagging or tearing the wallpaper (and admittedly – I did have at least one minor slip up in my installation). Cut, slide the knife, and cut again. Don’t drag the knife and cut at the same time. While Mrs. Moxie used the smoothing tool at times as a guide, I do not think this is ideal.
Pro Tip: Minor cut errors can be hidden with a color-matched Sharpie.
Rolling Seams & Giving the Wallpaper a Final Wipe Down
As you finalize hanging, you have couple strips hung, roll your seams gently with a seam roller. Do not press so hard that you push out pastes. Start about 3″ from the seam itself, working your way toward the seam, and then finally roll the seam itself with only the lightest of pressure. Repeat seam rolling as needed throughout the job.
Wipe the entire surface of your wallpaper periodically with a damp sponge. This removes any excess adhesive that could have made its way onto the face of the paper. Note: Refresh your bucket of water frequently throughout the job.
While vinyl wallpaper, as you can see, is easy enough to DIY, other papers (and/or an entire room) may prove more challenging. In fact, it may make sense to hire a pro. Pros often charge by the roll, and start usually in the range of $50 per.
The hardest part of this feature wall was probably picking the paper and the products. All aspects of this project work hand in hand. How you proceed will be dictated by a) What you are trying to achieve, b) The type of wall you are going over, & c) The state of your wall before you begin.
As mentioned, I was a newbie at wallpapering and I provide simply what I did. That said, I’d love to hear tips from those that have a little more experience. Please add a comment below if you have a good share.
Repairing Plaster Walls with Plaster Washers
I wrote about repairing plaster for The Home Depot‘s Pro Referral Network, here: The Plaster Wall Repair Guide. Below I include some pictures from my project, plus some choice outtakes from that article – focused on using plaster washers.
Plaster repair fasteners appear in several unique forms, including both as staples or as capped nails. Plaster washers, however, are possibly the simplest, most straightforward option. While designs may vary based on maker, each measures around an inch in diameter and incorporates a subtle recess at its center, provided in this case to accept the head of a drywall screw.
* Plaster Washers are Installed as Follows
Using a drill-driver, a drywall screw is driven through the washer, through the plaster surface, and into the lath behind. Based on the dimensions common in plaster installations, 1 1/4″ – 2” fine-thread drywall screws are ideal for this operation.
When installing screws and washers, be mindful of misses–those efforts that fail in finding lath behind. If a miss is perceived, correct up or down (along the course of the crack) by about 3/4″ should guarantee success in re-securing the plaster to lath.
When successfully driven into place, the screw and washer combination should both draw the plaster back into plane, and also dimple downward to create an easily patchable surface. If your drill-driver has a clutch, it may be wise to back it down as not to risk damage from over-driven screws. If your drill-driver has a variable speed option, it is best to install washers with the drill set at a lower speed.
Install washers appropriately 1 ½” from the crack’s center. Once lath is successfully discovered, space washers on both sides alternating at maximum every six inches. For areas where you find the plaster to be particularly loose, you may choose to “pair” washers on either side of the crack in that location. For added insurance, you could pre-fill the crack with an adhesive water-soluble caulking. Plan to wipe down the surface with a wet sponge after washers are installed.
* Other Important Notes about Plaster Washers; Making Adjustments
If you are consistently missing when setting your screws and washers, move to a longer screw, such as ones that are 1 ⅝” long (or longer). If you are having difficulty bringing both sides of a crack into plane, try setting a washer or two at the center of the crack. This will help keep your washer installation true by grabbing the surface on either side of the crack and setting them flush. While fine-thread screws will offer more holding power in antique lumber, a coarse-thread drywall screw may offer more grabbing ability.
Thanks for reading. Hope it helps. ~jb
Up Next: Building a Trash Can Stand.
4 thoughts on “Hanging Wallpaper on a Feature Wall :: A Fix for a Cracked Plaster Wall”
Jb Bartkowiak thank you for sharing! What a lovely article and the photos are amazing too! I love how you put together these information on “Hanging Wallpaper on a Feature Wall :: A Fix for a Cracked Plaster Wall”. Easy to read, very relatable and great tips! Can’t wait to read more!
too kind Ralph. too kind.
This is everything I needed. Thank you for sharing as many details as you did! This will help me out a lot :D
awesome glad we could help. ~jb