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Digital Image

Digital Image

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In it’s 10 years of life, this under-the-stairs powder room had had many incarnations. At one time it was painted Blah Builder’s Beige. Then it was a very dark red, and then an Only-a-Family-With-Kids-Will-Understand Bright Orange. Finally, to make the house attractive for the real estate market, someone slapped on a coat of medium-toned tan. It was boring, dark, claustrophobic, and unimaginative.

The new homeowners, a young married couple, had brighter visions. She wanted something bright, open, fun, but still sophisticated.

Searching on-line, the homeowner found a leopard print by Spoonflower, a company that I like, but that has a good number of caveats to be aware of. Their papers are thin and not very durable, so won’t hold up well in a powder room where they might be splashed with water or soap. Their papers expand when wet and shrink when dry, so are overlapped at the seams. This eliminates gapped seams, but leaves you with vertical ridges the height of the wall, along every seam. Coupled with their atypical and complicated measuring and packaging systems, which even professionals like me have a hard time deciphering. Cute patterns, but it’s a baffling and uncertain product.

I was thrilled that the homeowner listened to my comments, and took my suggestions to contact my wallpaper source (below). She ended up with a product that had all the visual appeal, but none of the fragility, nor the overlapped seams or complicated math with resulting huge waste factor.

We vacillated on whether or not to put paper on the ceiling (the sloped part below the stairs). The slope is “kinda” part of the walls, but also “kinda” part of the ceiling. I think the homeowner’s choice to paper the ceiling was right. Additionally, it works because the pattern is non-directional, and there are no major elements that would be eye-jarring if they got cut off at the ceiling (like cutting off the head of a man or horse in a scenic pattern).

Even though the pattern was forgiving, the room was difficult to paper. Part of that was the ceiling, because you cannot match a wallpaper pattern on more than one junction (corner). After that, pattern mis-matches occur in just about every junction. And this room had a whole bunch of junctions. That meant that I had a whole bunch of corners that had dots getting cut off abruptly, where they met the adjoining wall. To minimize the look of this, I trimmed in the corner along the blank white areas, but used my scissors to cut around the areas where a “dot” crossed the junction point. This eliminated an abrupt cut-off dot, and let your eye see only intact dots.

The other challenging factor in this powder room was the rounded corners. There were only two of them, one vertical and one horizontal, but they added about two hours total to my working time.

Walls are never straight, and corners are never straight, and these rounded corners take the prize in un-plumb and un-straight. It’s not that the framers and drywallers are doing anything especially wrong; it’s just that it’s difficult to keep these elements perfectly true to plumb / level.

Unfortunately, wallpaper does not cloak the wall like paint does. Wallpaper comes in strips that are straight. In a room with straight corners, you simply cut the paper and start the new wall with a new strip of wallpaper. But you can’t do that with these new-fangled rounded corners. So, when I wrapped around a rounded corner with a strip of wallpaper, it was straight on the left side, but when it worked its way around the rounded corner, it became warped and wrinkled and twisted on its right edge. If you could have put that left edge against a metal straightedge, it would have looked something like a boomerang – bent to the left at the top, bent to the right in the middle, and then bent back to the left again at the bottom. And all this results in wrinkles.

I spent about 30 minutes working wrinkles out of the right edge of this strip of wallpaper. So there were no eye-offending wrinkles. But the right edge was not straight. You could not notice – until I went to hang the next strip of wallpaper against this very crooked strip of paper. It met at the top, overlapped at the middle, and then gapped at the bottom.

I wrestled with this for another 20 minutes, and got the seams at eye-level to butt together nicely. But as the seam moved down the wall, it began to overlap. I could not get rid of that wrinkle and its resulting overlap without cutting a “relief cut” (similar in sewing terms to a “dart”) into the paper. That would be too noticeable. So, I overlapped the strip to the point where there were no more wrinkles or stress points. Then I took a new, sharp razor blade and cut along the overlapped seam, then removed the cut-away portion, so the two edges would fold (splice) together and butt perfectly together.

I guess I could have avoided this if I had just let the seam overlap a little. The bottom 2′ of wall, next to the pedestal sink, it would not have been very noticeable. But I hate overlapped (“wired”) seams, and didn’t want these people to have any in their powder room.

The other thing about rounded corners not being straight is that the paper will not cling to the rounded edge tightly. So, besides throwing the subsequent edge off-plumb, those danged bull-nosed edges will often result in gaps and air pockets and untight areas on top of the corner / edge itself. This room had some of these near the bottom 2′ of the wall along the rounded corner (not pictured).

Again, most people do not notice what I notice. The overall finished look is a beautifully updated room that is light and bright and fun, and will transform once again, when the new light fixture and hand-towel holder are in place.

Oh, and I almost forgot – the homeowner’s original selection of wallpaper by the boutique company Spoonflower, with it’s warts and whatnots, would have cost $900+. The choice she ended up with, from a time-tested and trusted company, Thibaut, cost $400+.

This wallpaper pattern is by Thibaut Designs, and was bought at a discounted price from Dorota Hartwig at Southwestern Paint on Bissonnet near Kirby. (713) 520-6262 or dorotasouthwestern@hotmail.com. Discuss your project and make an appointment before heading over to see her.

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