The Paper Chase

Wondering about wallcoverings? We help you sift through the options for materials, installation, and (when the time comes) removal.

 
Charisma by Candice Olson, vinyl, $39.90 per yard (54 inches wide), at Thybony.
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Q: I love the look of wallpaper but am afraid to make the commitment. What do I need to know before taking the plunge?

A: Visions of beautiful wallcoverings expertly complementing your rooms get interrupted by the not-so-pretty aspects: choosing from among a mind-boggling number of possible kinds, deciding whether to hire a professional or hang it yourself, and anticipating what might, someday, be the nightmare of removal. But many common reservations about wallpaper are outdated, and with a little know-how, there’s no reason to be afraid.

First, consider that there are three major types of wallpaper—paper, vinyl, and natural. Traditional paper is highly decorative and generally offers the widest range of patterns and the most refined colors, says Jenny Rossignuolo, owner of Urban Source (1429 W. Chicago Ave., 312-455-0505, urbansourcechicago.com), a design studio that specializes in imaginative wallcoverings and window treatments. Papers can be delicate; they work best in relatively low-traffic areas like a bedroom or living room, where there’s less chance of scraping and gouging than in, say, a mudroom or kitchen. Natural wallcoverings such as linen, grasscloth, and cork can be similarly vulnerable, so you might want to save them for rooms where the possibility of rips, stains, and splashes is low.

If you want to cover the walls in a room that sees a lot of action—especially if there’s water around—look into vinyl wallcoverings, which are scrubbable and resist moisture. “A lot of vinyl wallcoverings have really great three-dimensional textures that you can’t get with paper,” says Rossignuolo. Textured vinyl and its cousin, deeply embossed paintable wallpaper that can take on any color, are also ideal for covering minor imperfections on old walls. Vinyl-coated paper wallcoverings combine properties of both materials: They’re usually patterned, not textured, and can be wiped clean but not scrubbed, says Rossignuolo.

No matter what material you choose, expect wallpaper to be an investment. It can range from $30 to well over $200 for a standard 27-inch-by-5-yard roll, says D. D. O’Kelley, manager of the design studio at the local paint and wallpaper retailer Thybony (5424 N. Clark St., 773-561-2275, thybony.com). A 12-by-12-foot room with nine-foot ceilings calls for about 16 standard rolls of wallpaper—for a room of that size, O’Kelley estimates the cost of mid-range wallpaper at about $1,000. You don’t, of course, have to paper all four walls. Creating a single accent wall, or papering a nook in a larger space, might be a smart aesthetic (as well as financial) choice.

The condition of your walls also affects cost. “If your walls are old and crumbling, it’s going to require more surface prep,” says Ron Baumberger, director of marketing for applicators and decorative products at Sherwin-Williams. Be prepared to patch, sand, and prime your walls (or pay to have it done) for a smooth, matte surface for the best possible wallpaper application.

Should you try to do the hanging yourself? Some situations call unequivocally for a professional paperhanger. Finicky wallcoverings—hand-silk-screened paper, beaded paper, fabrics, foils, scenic murals—are best handled by a professional, says Jennifer Curtis of Curtis Enterprises (708-566-4047), a local paperhanging business. Old walls that require a lot of patching and priming are also best left to pros, as are rooms heavy with architectural details. Expect to pay roughly between $35 and $65 per roll for hanging, but rates vary widely depending on the height of your ceilings, condition of your walls, and trickiness of the wallcovering itself, Curtis says.

Springing for professional paperhangers might seem extravagant, but it can save you money in the end. “If you’re going to spend several hundred dollars on wallcovering, you want to make sure your installation is perfect,” says Rossignuolo. Taking matters into your own hands could lead to the need for an expensive redo, whereas if a pro makes an error, he or she should cover any extra expense, Curtis says. An expert can also tell you exactly how much to buy to prevent waste—a tricky proposition if the wallcovering, say, has a large pattern that needs to be matched. “That’s where the novices usually make their first mistake,” O’Kelley says. To find a professional hanger, check the website of the National Guild of Professional Paperhangers (ngpp.org).

Still feeling DIYish? Pattern-wise, keep it simple: An uncomplicated print on  heavyweight wallpaper is usually doable for amateurs. Also look for wallpapers with a small pattern repeat (the length of unique pattern on a wallcovering), as larger patterns can be difficult to line up correctly and might result in waste. (Baumberger suggests going with a repeat of six inches or less.) Textured vinyls and grasscloth can be forgiving to beginners, O’Kelley says, if there’s no pattern to match.
When it comes time to say good-bye to your wallpaper, you’ll be happy to hear that paper-removal technology has improved in recent years. The hell of stripping bare a wall covered with layers of paint and old wallpaper, or improperly installed paper, is becoming rarer. “Lots of people have experience with pulling off wallpaper and having it come off in little slivers,” says Rossign- uolo. “I can tell you firsthand how unpleasant that is.”

But if your wall was properly prepared beforehand (another way a professional paperhanger can save you a headache later), any paper should pull off smoothly, with help from a wallpaper-remover solution only occasionally necessary, Baumberger says. Thrillingly, manufacturers now design wallcoverings and adhesives to be removal-friendly. “The fear that people had about putting up wallpaper and then not being able to get it down has been addressed by the wallpaper industry,” O’Kelley says. “Most wallpaper now is manufactured in such a way that you can just start at the bottom and pull it off in a long strip.”

These days, there are even lines of wallpaper that are designed to be temporary, including EasyChange by Sherwin-Williams and Tempaper. “They have a new, nonwoven backing that holds the wallpaper up, and it comes off the wall especially easily,” says Baumberger. Such wallcoverings are also repositionable, allowing for trial and error during installation—a DIYer’s dream come true.

 

Have a design or renovation question? Just drop us a note at chicagohome@chicagomag.com and we’ll do our best to answer it. Sorry, we cannot take questions by phone, or guarantee individual responses.

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