Archive for June, 2018

Difficult Hang Today – Lots of Work to Get Good Seams

June 17, 2018



I don’t recall ever having seen a wallpaper product labeled “heavyweight paper” before. I wasn’t thrilled with this stuff. It was thick, and that made it difficult to work with. I prefer thin papers because they form to the walls better. This paper didn’t have any coating on it, so it is not any more durable than a thinner paper, so I don’t see the reason for the “heavyweight” treatment.

And any time you apply paste and the edges of the paper curl backward (Photo 1), you know you are in for a tough install.

The room was already prepped, and it was just 9 single rolls on an easy top of a dining room – no tricky moldings to trim around, no toilets to reach beind, no awkward spaces to situate the ladder in… It should have taken 5-6 hours. Instead I toiled for 12 hours.

I hung three strips, and wasn’t happy with the two seams between them. They pouched just a little and would not lie down flat. (Photo 2) With strong light coming in from the windows, the seams looked bad. There was no way of knowing how the seams would look once the paper was good and dry. But for now, I couldn’t stand the look, and I didn’t want to leave the homeowners with these pouchy seams.

I removed two of those strips, refreshed the paste, and kept them “open” by placing them in a plastic trash bag so they would remain useable (we didn’t have a lot of paper to spare). I ran to the truck and got supplies so I could double cut new seams (splice on the wall). I needed a special trim guide, and a special polystyrene padding strip to protect the wall so that the razor blade wouldn’t score into it (which could compromise the surface and lead to delamination of layers … too complicated to get into here, but you can do a Search and read previous posts on this subject).

From then on, instead of using the factory edges for seams, I double cut. Double cutting involves padding the wall behind where the seam will be, overlapping the new strip onto the old strip while carefully matching the pattern, and then using the handled straightedge and a sharp new razor blade to cut through both layers of paper. Then you peel back the paper at the newly cut seam and remove the two thin strips of excess paper that were just cut off. Then you remove the plastic padding strip.

Now you can put the edges of the freshly cut new seam back together. Because they were cut into each other, they will fit together perfectly. But because the padding strip has some thickness, the two newly cut edges are now a teeny tad wider than needed, so you’ll have to do some finessing to get the seam to butt together, instead of pouching up just a bit.

Because one strip of pasted paper overlapped onto another, once the excess paper strips are removed, there will be paste residue left on a 1″-2″ edge of one of the wallpaper drops. This has to be washed off with a damp microfiber rag, and you will have to rinse the rag and wash the wall several times to get all the residue off.

And all of this has to be done on a time frame, because while you’re working on one seam, the edges of the next are rapidly drying out, which is a whole new can of worms.

My finished double cut seams were perfect. (Photo 3)

But after I had worked my way around the room a bit, I looked back at the first wall, and saw that, as the paper dried, it shrank just a little. This left a visible gap between the two strips. (Photo 4) This gap isn’t visible from a distance, and it’s not visible if you look at the walls at an angle. But if you are standing three feet away and looking head-on, you will see the gap. I think it’s too much.

Oh, and, one more thing … the paper was easily marred if it was touched by any bit of metal. (Photo 5) Scissors, straight edge, trim guide, even the metal eraser housing on the end of my pencil would leave a grey mark if it happened to rub against the wallpaper. Most of these marks would wipe off, but not all of them. And wiping the paper leads to abrasion, so you want to avoid overdoing it. I worry about how the wallpaper might be marked up when the homeowners innocently go about hanging their art and mirror.

Considering what the homeowners paid for the wallpaper and installation, I think they should have a better outcome than this. This paper is manufactured by Thibaut. Thibaut makes many types of wallpaper, and most of them are lovely to work with, and they perform well. It makes you wonder why they would use this “heavyweight” stock, which produces a less-than-desireable outcome.

Smoothing Textured Walls

June 16, 2018


I like walls to be nice and smooth when the wallpaper goes up, first so the texture doesn’t show under the new paper, and second so the paper has an intact, flat surface to grab ahold of. When homes have textured walls, I skim float them with joint compound (which we calls mud) to smooth them.

To skim float, I use a trowel to spread the smoothing compound onto the walls. In the top photo, the upper portion of the wall has been skimmed, and you can see the compound drying around the edges and in high areas. It goes on grey, and when it’s dry, it will turn white. The second photo shows the box that the mud comes in, enclosed in a plastic bag, to retain its moisture.

To help speed the drying process along, I set fans up blowing on the walls, as you see in the second photo. I have three fans, and they will be positioned differently for maximum air blastage. Having the air conditioner cranking away and the house fan on also help to circulate air and pull humidity out of the air. In small powder rooms where the door can be closed and the climate supervised closely, I get a space heater going, which also helps pull humidity out of the air. For stubborn areas, I get out the heat gun – it’s like a hair dryer on steroids. 🙂

Once the mud is dry, I sand the walls smooth, then vacuum up the dust that falls to the floor, then wipe residual dust off the walls with a damp sponge, and then finally prime the walls. For this application, I use Gardz, a penetrating sealer which soaks into the joint compound and binds it together, and which is also a good primer to hang wallpaper on. Sorry, no photo of the Gardz or of the finished wall – but you can Search here to find previous posts.

Counting Shadows On The Wall

June 15, 2018

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Here is a paper that has been in a master bathroom in a home in River Oaks for many years. This wall faces a wall of windows.

The dark areas you see in the photo are where a piece of art was removed from the wall, and, below that, where two towels had hung on towel racks (the rods have been removed and you are looking at the support brackets).

The picture and the towels kept sunlight away from the wallpaper, while the unprotected areas faded due to exposure to sunlight from the window.

Some wallpapers are dubbed “fade-resistant.” This one was not. This particular brand is printed on what we call pulp stock, which is usually a British product, and the inked layer has no coating, so it is not likely to hold up well against light or water or abrading or the likes.

I also think that the previous installer’s methods might have influenced the fading of the paper. The paper was hung directly on Sheetrock, with no primer. The drywall could have leeched into the wallpaper, causing discoloration. A primer would have prevented this.

The installer also used clay-based paste. This stuff is really sticky, but I think it’s icky – it is slimy and hard to wipe off woodwork, and it has a tan color that I have seen work its way through wallpapers, including grasscloth, many, many times.

If paste stains are bleeding through wallpaper, perhaps they are pulled more, or perhaps less, toward a source of light -and it could differ if it’s sunlight or a light bulb, too. And an obstacle such as a framed picture or a towel hanging from a bar a half an inch away from the paper block some of that light, and that could all have an effect, too.

And remember that towels are often damp, and that dampness hanging next to, or even touching, the wall, could cause changes to the paper and the paste and the surface below.

Just musings. When I look at existing wallpaper, or strip off some other installer’s work, I always am fascinated by the surface, the methods, etc.

Rubbery, Problematic Smoothing Compound

June 15, 2018


I was stripping wallpaper by peeling off the top vinyl layer and then soaking the paper backing to reactivate the paste so the paper could be removed from the wall – and ran into this.

It looks like the previous installer smoothed the wall (which is good), but used a latex spackling compound instead of the more typical joint compound. The latex became wet from the water I was using to soak off the wallpaper, and began to pull away from the wall.

This is all bad, because it leaves a bumpy mess on the wall that will show through the new paper. But worse is that it is an unstable surface for the new paper to try to hold on to. When wallpaper paste dries, the paper shrinks and puts tension on the surface below, particularly the seams. If the surface is not solid, the layers can actually come apart (delaminate) resulting in curled or gapping seams.

This is not “loose paper,” and cannot simply be glued back down. The different layers inside the wall are actually coming apart, and will require a lot of work to make the wall sound again.

Once the paper was off and the wall was good and dry, the layers seemed to adhere to each other better, and the wall felt more solid. The way I treated it was to roll on a coat of Gardz, which is a penetrating sealer that binds things together. It did a good job. Then I skim-floated over that with joint compound, which, when sanded, would leave a nice, smooth surface.

One more coat of Gardz on top of that, and the wall was sound and ready for wallpaper.

Sassy, Shimmery Update On A Classic Damask

June 14, 2018


Here’s a fun twist on a classic pattern for an under-the-stairs powder room in the Rice Military / Camp Logan neighborhood of Houston. A damask is a well-loved, traditional design. But this navy blue color, along with the very shiny silver Mylar material, bring it into the Modern Age.

This was a non-woven material, and the instructions said you could install it using either the paste-the-paper or paste-the-wall method. I chose to paste the paper, because it makes the material more pliable. It was also nice that the sink / vanity was not in the room yet, so it was much easier to cover that wall, and eliminated the chance of creasing or scratching the delicate Mylar surface.

The material did expand in width a bit (1/4″), which is unusual for a non-woven. One of the selling points of these newish substrates is that they are supposed to be dimensionally stable and are not supposed to absorb moisture from the paste. Pasting the material gave it a chance to expand before I got it to the wall, which is good. If I had instead pasted the wall and hung the dry paper onto the pasted wall, it might have expanded and caused pouched or overlapped seams.

This wallpaper pattern is by Exclusive Wallcoverings, a British company, and was bought from my favorite source for good quality, product knowledge, expert service, and competitive price – Dorota Hartwig at Southwestern Paint on Bissonnet near Kirby. (713) 520-6262 or dorotasouthwestern@hotmail.com. She is great at helping you find just the perfect paper! Discuss your project and make an appointment before heading over to see her.

Air Bubbles from Latex Paint

June 13, 2018

The walls had a light texture covered with latex paint, so I skim floated over the walls to smooth them. When the wet smoothing compound got onto the wall, the latex paint absorbed moisture, expanded, and created these bubbles. It’s called “off gassing.”

After the mud dried and was sanded, most of the bubbles disappeared, but some rings were still visible. When I primed with Gardz, a water-borne penetrating sealer, many of the bubbles raised their heads again.

I will have to see if they dry flat over night, or if I will have to use my putty knife to knock them off in the morning. I don’t want bumps showing under the new wallpaper!

Disguising the Kill Point

June 13, 2018

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Digital ImageI hung this beautiful tan peacock pattern on a pearlized background in a powder room in the Clear Lake / Seabrook area of Houston. The “kill point” is the last corner in a room, and you will virtually always have a pattern mis-match at that point, so I plan the layout so that falls in an inconspicuous place. Usually, that’s a door that is set close to a corner.

But in this powder room, all four corners were very visible. I didn’t want to end in one of those corners, because that would result in a half a peacock butting up against a cut-off tree branch, for the entire 8′ height of the wall.

So I put the kill point over the door, where the strip was only 10″ high. A 10″ mis-match is better than an 8′ mis-match, but I still didn’t want to end up with a chopped up peacock. So I fiddled around a little, played with the pattern, overlapped two pieces (with wax paper protecting them from paste), and spliced the two pieces together, using a curved cut instead of a straight cut, so I could cut around the tree branches and leaves, instead of cutting them off abruptly.

You can see that the pattern motif repeats itself, but that is not too noticeable, in the grand scheme of things, and looks way better than the alternative.

Interestingly, I did a similar trick earlier in the week with another kind of paper, and the technique was entirely different. The other paper was thin and could be overlapped and have appliqués applied to it. This paper, a thick non-woven with a textured surface, could not be overlapped, so a splice was the best route.

This wallpaper is by Ronald Redding for York Wallcoverings, and was sold by Ethan Allen’s Friendswood (Baybrook) location. Betcha didn’t know they had (free!) design services, did you?

Flaw of the Day – Red Splashes, Blue Dots, and Banged Edges

June 13, 2018

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Digital ImageThe red ink (how do you get red ink on a paper that has only tan on a white background??!) ruined an 8′ drop of wallpaper. In addition, I found a number of little blue dots (hard to see, in Photo #2) throughout the rolls, which rendered a good number of feet of paper unusable.

And, my never-ending rant – banged edges (also hard to see, in Photo #3). On some strips, I could trim off the damaged edges. But on others, I had to throw away a lot of paper, until I got edges that were unblemished. Why can’t they just put a little bubble wrap in the bottom of the box, before turning it over to the “careful” guys on those delivery trucks?!

Visible Seam on a Non-Woven Paper

June 12, 2018

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Digital ImageWallpaper manufacturers are printing more and more patterns on non-woven substrates, a somewhat puffy and tear-resistant material. These papers generally don’t expand when they get wet with paste, and don’t shrink. Another feature is that they can supposedly be stripped off the wall easily, in one piece, simply by pulling.

When I put up the first strips in this powder room, I marveled at how nicely the paper went up, and how totally invisible the seams were.

Then, as the paper dried, I noticed fine lines showing at some of the seams. That means that the paper probably did shrink a little, and because it’s a dark color, the color of the backing shows up. This is disappointing. The client didn’t seem to notice, so (so far) all is good.

This is a Kenneth James design, #FD54432

Colorful Mural for a Little Girl’s “Big Girl” Room

June 12, 2018
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This little girl is about to have a new baby sibling, so she is moving out of the nursery and into her “big girl room.” This large, colorful floral pattern was printed as a 4-panel mural, rather than traditional wallpaper on a roll. The 3rd photo shows one set rolled out on the floor, so I can check the panel placement, make sure the left side will match up to the right side of the next set, and determine how much to cut off of which end (the mural is 9′ high and the walls are 7 1/2′ high).

It took two sets to get from the right wall to the window, but then the mom had to buy a whole ‘nother set, just to do the part above and below the window, and a 5″ wide strip down the left side of the window.

This pattern is by Lulu & Georgia, and is made by Sure Strip. It is a pre-pasted product, and was a delight to work with. In addition, it is designed to strip off the wall easily, once the young lady outgrows her “big girl’s room.”