Yes, we know, wallpaper is infamous for being a nightmare. Just hear us out.

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A fresh coat of paint can breathe new life into a home. Even a splash of color on an accent wall can significantly alter the mood of a room, but paint is not without limitations. Unless you’re Michelangelo reincarnate, you probably aren’t trying your hand at intricate heavenscapes or slick geometric patterns. (OK, Michelangelo wasn’t into slick geometry, but you get the point.) 


So, what are you to do if you crave more visual interest than good ol’ paint can provide? Easy: wallpaper.


We know, we know…*groan*. You’ve likely heard the wallpaper application horror stories and can’t help but recall the brown-ish floral patterns of yesteryear. Good news; the times, they are a-changin’! This ain’t your old Aunt Libby’s wallpaper. 


Designs today are limitless and fresh. Want to drench your walls in luxurious marble? There's wallpaper for that. Exotic palm leaves? You betcha
What’s more, wallpaper products (there are a few different types) are easier to use than ever. There are still some rules to keep in mind, though. Here are the most important do’s and don’ts to guide you in your papering journey.

 

Brightly colored geometric wallpaper behind gold pendant light and grey curtain


First Things First: Tools

Home improvement project success often depends largely on whether or not you have the right tools. For specialty projects like wallpaper application, you may be reluctant to purchase tools  you’ll probably never use again (unless you’re really into wallpaper). 


Luckily, buying those gizmos new is not your only option! Check with your neighbors first to see if they’ve got what you need, which is: 

 

Adhesive

Many wallpaper types are pre-pasted, but for those that aren’t, you’ll need to pick up a reliable adhesive. There are several factors that affect which type of adhesive will work best for you--including the composition of your walls, the type of paper you’ve selected, and more--so be sure to do your research.

 

Roller

This one isn’t critical, but it will make your wallpaper application look a little more professional. Wooden rollers like these help smooth out gaps and curling, and streamline seams between sheets. 

 

Smoothing Brush

Smoothing brushes are key to beautifully bubble-less wallpaper--but only when used properly! Once the wallpaper is adhered to the wall, slowly work your way from top to bottom with the brush, using soft-to-medium pressure as you go. 


If you run into a particularly large bubble, it’s best not to try to work it out with the brush. Instead, peel away the paper from the wall to allow the excess air to escape, replace the paper, and continue smoothing.  

 

Plumb Bob

Plumb bobs (also called “plumb lines”) are common measuring tools in wallpaper installation. Since wallpaper comes in multiple sheets that must be meticulously aligned in order to create a continuous effect, you need to attach each sheet perfectly vertically. 


A plumb bob consists of a long, durable string with a small weight attached to the bottom. The non-weighted end is fixed at the top of the wall, and the weight is left to swing freely. When the weight settles into one spot, you can be sure that the string is falling in a vertical line. You can then trace it using a pencil or chalk, and carefully affix your wallpaper along the line you’ve drawn.

 

Cutting Tool

There are a few options for cutting tools, including specialty cutters like these or a shiny, new X-Acto knife. You’ll use cutting tools to downsize large swaths of paper or to trim excess covering that may hang over once it’s adhered to the wall. Whatever tool you decide to use, make sure that the blade is sharp to avoid frustrating gaps and tears.

 

Odds & Ends

Other tools you’ll want to have on hand include a measuring tape, pencil or chalk, a wallpaper tray (if you need to prepare adhesive or soak prepasted paper prior to hanging), and a large table or space to lay out and cut your new wall coverings.

 

Mural-like watercolor wallpaper featuring vivid blue and white sky backs soft white pillow-back sofa

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The Don’ts

Don’t: Buy Wallpaper in Bulk Before You’ve Tried It

Many homeowners buy a room’s worth of wallpaper before they’ve tried a sample, only to find that the quality isn’t up to snuff or the color doesn’t complement the room the way they expected.  Ordering and comparing samples requires a little more patience, but it can save you a lot of frustration in the long run.

 

Don’t: Think More is More

This is particularly dangerous if you’re papering walls in a small space. A particularly busy pattern might look great on a single large gallery wall, but in a cozy home office? Maybe not so much. 


You can do a couple of things to help visualize if your favorite wallpaper will work in your space:

  • Tack your sample(s) to a wall to get a feel for them over time

  • Pay attention to what else is in the room: is there a lot of furniture? Knick knacks? Other colors or patterns? The more cluttered the space, the simpler the wall paper should be.

All of that said, if you’ve really fallen in love with a busy print but don’t know where to use it, consider a small, seldom-used space such as a closet or a laundry room. You’ll still get to enjoy it when you see it, but it won’t be constantly within your field of view during day-to-day living. 

 

Don’t: Use Wallpaper on Textured Walls or Cracks

It’s wallpaper, not a Band Aid. Applying wallcoverings over cracks, bumps, or otherwise excessive texture will create sunken spots and unsightly lumps. 


The same is true for screws and nails. It doesn’t matter if they appear completely flat to the wall, they will show under wallpaper. Make sure to remove them before you get to work.

Closeup of light blue and white wallpaper in geometric print

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The How To

Prepare

Make sure your walls are smooth, clean, and dry. If they are damaged or heavily textured, patch up holes and cracks and sand down the bumps to create an even canvas before applying your wallpaper. 

 

Measure

Start with an easy area. If possible, choose a large wall with few obstructions, such as outlets or windows, and start taking measurements:


1. Measure the width of each wall where you’ll be applying wallpaper. Add the widths together to get the total combined width. Don’t worry about subtracting space for doors and windows. It’s better to have a little extra wallpaper than not enough.


2. Measure the height of the walls.


3. Multiply the height times the total combined width. That’s the square footage you’ll want to take to the wallpaper shop!

 

Apply

Now that you have the right amount of wallpaper, it’s time to start applying! Be confident. 


Spread out your paper on a table or other hard surface*, measure according to the height and width of the walls, and use a pencil to mark the back of the paper where it needs to be cut. 


Cut away! Since wallpaper often comes in rolls, you may want to fight curling by smoothing out the paper and anchoring it on either side of the line you’ll be cutting.


*Use a surface you don’t mind scratching, or place something between the surface and your paper to avoid damaging what lies beneath.


Using your plumb bob, draw a vertical line on the wall and make sure it’s straight. You’ll use this line as your guide when applying your wallpaper. 
What happens next will depend on what kind of paper you’ve selected--non-pasted, prepasted, or self-adhesive.

  • Non-pasted: this variety requires you to purchase, mix, and apply paste separate from the wallpaper. Here’s a guide on applying non-pasted wallpaper. This version has become less popular in recent years because of the extra steps involved, but if you’re after a specific or antique print, this might be your only option.

  • Prepasted: prepasted wallpaper comes with adhesive on the back, which is activated by soaking it in water. Here’s a guide on applying prepasted wallpaper.

  • Self-adhesive: exactly what it sounds like--peel-and-stick wallpaper. Doubt you need much help here, but if you’re curious about how self-adhesive wallpaper works, here’s a guide

Cut

If there’s any leftover paper at the bottom of the wall, use a ruler to create an indent so you can cut away the excess with your cutting tool. 


Repeat the process until the room is done! Then step back to admire your impressive handiwork.

Soaring, bright home entry with white French doors, curved transom, dark hardwood floors, black and white chevron wallpaper

Don’t relegate yourself to boring, solid paint! Given a little patience and attention to detail, wallpaper is an easy way to infuse your home with an aesthetic that is uniquely you.


It might feel a little intimidating at first but, with the right tools, anything is possible.

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