Posts Tagged ‘bubbles’

Peel & Stick = Piece of Sh!t

September 24, 2019


We’re seeing more and more of this peel-and-stick, supposedly “removable” and “repositionable” plastic wallcovering. Unfortunately, many homeowners read the lofty claims by the manufacturers and think it will be a perfect alternative to traditional wallpaper. It is not.

The stuff is awful – I won’t hang it, and most of my friends won’t either.

First of all, you don’t NEED an alternative to traditional wallpaper – you just need quality paper and someone who will properly prep the walls and then properly install the paper.

Getting back to P&S, the stuff is virtually impossible to hang. Imagine a 9’x2′ strip of Contact Paper, trying to position that on a wall without it wrinkling or sticking to itself, and then trying to butt another strip up next to it. Not gonna happen. It also does not “remove easily” … well, it does, but it will tear your wall apart in the process.

These homeowners had some guys doing other work in the nursery, and they said they could hang the wallpaper, too. They weren’t experienced paperhangers, and they weren’t up to the battle against this P&S. Virtually no one is.

First, they should have smoothed out the textured wall. Second, most P&S products spec that the wall should be sealed with a semi-gloss paint, which needs to dry and cure for two weeks. As you can see, this adds time and labor charges to the job.

I’m not sure why there are gaps at the seams (top two photos), but better prep would surely have helped prevent this. The large wrinkles are due to the inflexiblity of the material and its unwillingness to twist or stretch into position. With the baby on the way, the homeowner dad got desperate and used nails to try to tack down the curling paper.

The baby girl arrived, the parents lived with this wall for a while, and, when life settled down, they contacted me. I counseled them to forget the P&S and to choose a traditional wallpaper.

They zoomed in on this butterfly pattern by SuperFresco. This material is one of the newish non-woven materials, which contain a component of fiberglass and thus don’t expand or shrink, and won’t tug at the wall, so fewer worries of seems popping loose. These qualities also make it possible to dry-hang the paper, by pasting the wall instead of pasting the paper. I usually paste the paper, but on a single accent wall such as this (no toilets or sinks or fancy moldings to work around), pasting the wall works beautifully. It also saved me lugging my heavy, bulky work table up to this townhome’s third floor. 🙂

Removing the P&S paper was easy – it is strong and held together while I tugged it off the wall … I could do it all from the floor, without even climbing the ladder. Unfortunately, it took much of the paint along with it. So much for the “removable” claim.

It was still as sticky as the day it was born – so I rolled it all up and stuck it to itself and tossed the whole mess into the trash. Done and gone!

I skim-floated the wall to smooth it, sanded smooth, vacuumed, wiped residual dust off the wall with a damp sponge, and then rolled on Gardz, a penetrating primer-sealer, that also is a great undercoat for wallpaper.

All that (especially waiting for the smoothing compound to dry) took several hours. I think it was about 6:00 before I started hanging wallpaper!

Thin non-wovens generally go up with pleasingly invisible seams, and this one did, too. I was surprised to discover more than a few large wrinkles and bubbles. This could have been because the paper got twisted during installation, because the wall was smooth but not flat, because of some uneven reaction between the substrate and the paste which caused off-gassing (burps!), or some other reason. But it meant that I had to go over the wall several times, checking to be sure all areas were firmly secured to the wall.

The finished accent wall looks great! It’s a gentler pattern and a quieter color, and doesn’t hit you in the face as the original floral pattern did. There’s a little bit of fun shimmer in the scattered pearlized butterflies, and the blue-grey wings coordinate nicely with the three grey walls in the rest of the room.

Finally, Baby Girl is ready to move into her own room!

Dark Papers – Visible Seams

September 10, 2019


Wallpaper is paper, and when paste is applied to the back, the paper gets wet and expands a little. When it hits the wall, it dries – and often that means it will shrink, even if just a tad. That will leave minute gaps at the seams. If the paper is dark and the wall or the substrate are light , you will most likely see white gaps at the seams.

Some manufacturers combat this by printing dark patterns on a darker substrate. This is what you see in the photo above. But it also helps to color the edges of the wallpaper with a corresponding color of chalk. (You can’t use ink, because ink will bleed and discolor the wallpaper.)

Sometimes you can go back and color in the seams with hobby paint or chalk, which sounds simple but actually takes some technique and finesse, to color the areas adequately and avoid staining the paper.

Painting the wall the color of the paper is a thought, but not as feasible as it sounds, because wallpaper wants to stick to wallpaper primer, not paint. And I’ve seen paint lift off the wall when the wallpaper dried and put tension on it – so, not using that trick again.

Paint with a clear wallpaper primer over it is another idea – but it adds an extra day (or two) and more labor and material costs.

What I did in this case, was to try different pasting methods. This wallpaper, from the Historic Homes Collection by Thibaut, is pre-pasted and engineered to be run through a water tray to activate the paste on the back of the paper.

This method works super with most of their colors. But, because the water tray adds a lot of moisture to the wallpaper, the amount of expansion and then shrinkage results in tiny gaps at the seams – not a big deal with a white or light-colored wallpaper. But with this black paper, it was showing too much white at the seams. Yes, a 1/64th” is too much, when you are looking at white between black.

So instead of running the paper through the water tray, I experimented with pasting the back of the paper. I knew this method would allow the paper to expand less, dry faster, and shrink minimally.

But wallpaper that has a thin layer of pre-paste on the back does not respond well to the installer applying paste to the back on top of the pre-paste. You are greeted with a thick, dry, gummy mess that is hard to manipulate on the wall.

There were also a lot of bubbles and blisters under the surface. Yes, you can be assured that these will disappear as the paper dries – but it sure makes you nervous while you are looking at them!

Spraying the back of the paper with water from a mister didn’t work, either, because the spray bottle spread water unevenly, water sloshed onto my work table, and there was nothing to enhance the “stickiness” of the manufacturer’s pre-paste.

After experimenting, what worked best was to apply paste to the back, full strength, and then quickly spritz the back with water and roll it around, to thin down the paste I had just applied, and to add enough moisture to activate the pre-paste.

The wallpaper strips with this pasting concoction were thick and muddy and difficult to maneuver, but the drier paste did lock down at the seams more quickly. I didn’t have issues with shrinking or gapping seams after I started using this pasting method.

Jungle Paneled Installation, Italian Product, for a Nursery

June 22, 2019


The top photo shows a sample panel of the wallpaper taped to the wall of the nursery. You can see the sharply sloping ceiling line to the right.

The mother-to-be fell in love with the jungle theme and the colors of this paper. She bought it on-line from an Italian company. Unlike most wallpapers that come in rolls, this product came in sets of panels, each of which was 27″ wide x 39″ long. In the second photo, you see the first three tiered along the left, and the next two strips positioned to the right. Other panels will be filled in above and below, and to the right.

Precious little information was available on how to install this product … and what there was came in Italienglish, which was little help. There was a brief on-line video, plus you could read the experiences of previous DIY clients in the customer reviews section. In such cases, you have to use the scant available information, along with your own experience, to decern an install method.

Turns out, this is similar to the old-school paper murals that come in panels and call for powdered paste. Except this company did not include paste (as most do), nor were the panels meant to be overlapped.

Luckily, I have sources for wheat, cellulose, potato starch, and other powdered wallpaper adhesives. These are mixed up on-site, are less aggressive as far as stickiness goes, and are more wet than the pre-mixed pastes used for most installations today.

More wetness, along with the particular type of paper these murals are printed on, means that the paper will absorb more moisture and can expand substantially. This is why most of these types of murals are designed to be overlapped at the seams. The seams of this product, however, were meant to be butted … which means that when that paper dries, it could shrink, and that could result in gaps at the seams.

Because the mural came in panels instead of continuous strips, the edges of the strips could not be lined up exactly perfectly, neither vertically nor horizontally. And this was exacerbated because each panel absorbed paste and expanded differently from the others, so there could be a difference in width or height between panels of as much as 1/8″.

This meant that there were some pattern mis-matches between strips. It also resulted in some seams overlapping. I left before the paper was completely dry, but I imagine there are areas where the some seams gap, too.

But I tend to overthink things, and fret about minute details that most people never see. The bottom line is, the accent wall looks fantastic, and will set a theme for the new baby’s room.

Note that this paper gets really wet when it’s pasted, and so you see a bit of blotchiness in the photos. This will disappear and the paper will be much lighter and brighter when it’s all good and dry.

The product is also not really technically a “mural.” But it comes in panels like many murals do, so I’m using that term for simplicity’s sake.

Besides the special paste, because this product was printed on a rather flimsy paper, I used a softer brush to apply the paste (as opposed to a roller), and I used a soft, long-bristled smoothing brush.
The video showed the guy using his hands to attempt to smooth the paper into place. If you looked closely, his finished wall had a lot of bubbles and wrinkles. My long soft smoothing brush was much more appropriate.

Change Perspective, Change Dimension

March 20, 2019


When looking at this wallpaper pattern from a reasonably close distance, it looks like elongated diamonds. But look at it in an alcove from a distance, and you see a horizontal striped effect.

A good reason to always look at the pattern in a room-set photo before purchasing, so you can see what it looks like played out on a full wall.

Either way, I like it. And it really makes this tall room look taller.

This wallpaper is by York, in their SureStrip line, one of my favorite papers to hang. It’s a thin non-woven material, is designed to strip off the wall easily and cleanly, and comes pre-pasted. This time, instead of their silly squirt bottle suggestion (which provides splotchy and inadequate coverage), or rolling diluted paste onto the back (which reacts with the pre-paste and forms a thick, gummy mess that dries too fast and traps air bubbles), I used the old-fashioned water tray method. I find this wets the paper and the paste better, and makes for a smooth surface, and the paper does not dry out before I get it to the wall (as it does when pasted the traditional way). I then rolled a thin layer of paste on the wall, to augment the pre-paste, eliminate blisters and bubbles, and reduce the chance of shrinkage.

This powder room is in a new home in the Timber Grove neighborhood of Houston. The interior designer is Stacie Cokinos, of Cokinos Design. She works mostly with new builds, or with homes undergoing major renovations. Her look is clean and open and calming … and I am seeing a little farmhouse look creeping in here and there.

Before There Can Be Paper, There Shall Be Liner

March 13, 2019


Usually, a smooth wall coated with a good quality wallpaper-specific primer is the best surface on which to hang wallpaper.

But with certain papers, particularly high-end or delicate materials, or in certain room conditions (humidity), a liner paper is called for.

A liner is a thin paper, made of either non-woven or pulp, often called “blank stock,” which is hung on the wall before the decorative wallpaper goes up. It has a couple of jobs…

– provide a smooth “velvety” look
– “lock” the seams down quickly and tightly
– help tame papers that want to “waffle” or “quilt” – do a Search here to learn more
– wick moisture from the paste away from the paper, helping to reduce the chance of staining or blushing – do a Search here to learn more
– absorb moisture in humid areas (bathrooms) and help prevent seams from curling

There are “bridging liners” which are supposed to cover cracks, gaps, bumps, ridges, and the like. In my experience, they do NOT live up to their hype. Once the paste dries, they pull tightly against the wall, and any bumps or grooves will still show. If the wall has imperfections, the best solution is to skim-float the wall and sand smooth.

Hanging on liner paper is different from hanging on a primed wall. The liner grabs the paper so quickly that you don’t have the opportunity to manipulate seams or fine-tune areas that need special attention. And you won’t be able to reposition a strip even five minutes later. It does help reduce bubbles or wrinkles.

A liner will increase the cost of the job, usually by more than double. There is the cost of the material itself, as well as the labor to install it. The liner has to dry overnight, so you are looking at at least one day’s additional labor, plus the cost of the liner.

From Humid Houston to the Sunny Shores of the Mediterranean

August 22, 2018


If you’re stuck in the city but long for the warm shores of an exotic land, what do you do? How about using a scenic wallpaper mural to fool the eye into believing you’re in Paradise?

I hung this on a wall in a garage in inside-the-Loop Houston near Montrose and downtown. It will be surrounded by automobiles, bicycles, lawn equipment, and all manner of “garage stuff” – but, boy – what a view! The homeowners plan to have a big party later this year, and will use the decorated garage as an extended dining area.

This is the typical, old-school, 8-panel photo mural that has been popular for decades. After the “palm trees swaying over a tropical white sand beach” scene, Mediterranean themes like this are the most popular. But these days, you can get just about anything, even custom made from your own photos, and sized to fit your wall.

Most of these murals are 12′ wide by 9′ high, but this one was 13′ 8″ wide by 8′ 3″ high. It was smaller than the wall all-around, so I placed it more or less in the center, and also balanced on the stairs to the left (not pictured).

The mural comes in eight panels, and is hung with four panels across the top, and four across the bottom. Unlike regular wallpaper, where the seams are butted, these seams are overlapped by about 1/4″. The top photo shows just four of the panels (two top and two bottom), rolled up and laid out on the floor. It’s essential to plot and double-check like this, before you grab pieces and paste them and go to stick them to the wall.

These murals are printed on a somewhat flimsy, plain paper type material. They come with special powdered cellulose paste. I’ve always used the provided paste with these murals. But since this was going in a garage and would be exposed to heat and humidity, I wanted something a bit stronger. The instructions mentioned that, alternately, a traditional pre-mixed wallpaper adhesive could be used. So I used my go-to, Sure Stick Dynamite 780 paste.

The 780 is not as liquid as the cellulose, so it wetted-out the material differently from what I was accustomed to. It is also more aggressive, so it was a bit harder to unfold the booked sheets; too much tugging could cause the delicate paper to tear.

The cellulose paste always causes bubbling. (These disappear as the mural dries. But, still, they are unsettling.) I was happy that the pre-mixed paste did not produce any bubbles, and also allowed the paper to be more stable, with fewer wrinkles and waves. The paper did expand once it got wet with the paste, as much as a full inch per panel, so even with the 1/4″ overlap at seams, it ended up being nearly 14′ wide.

This is a paper mural, and not very durable. The homeowners plan to use a sealant, or perhaps will cover it with huge sheets of Plexiglas, to protect it. How it holds up in the humidity and heat of Houston remains to be seen. They had a similar mural (different scene) up for close to 10 years. I didn’t hang it originally, but I did some touch up and repaste a few years ago. Eventually, though, it succumbed to the elements and had to be removed. This time around, I’m hoping that my use of a wallpaper primer, along with a stronger paste, will help keep the mural nice and tight to the wall for many years to come.

Badly Curling Edges on Quadrille’s “Sigourney” Wallpaper

July 18, 2018

Digital Image

Digital Image


This “high end, designer wallpaper” by Quadrille (called Sigourney) has heavy inks that smell like moth balls. As is common with these papers, when wet with paste, the ink absorbs moisture and expands more than the paper backing, which is what causes the curing of the edges and the wrinkles (called “waffling”) which you see in the first photo.

Once the paper is on the wall, those edges can continue to curl backwards, resulting in gapped or open seams, or seams that are tight but just don’t look good. And the interior of the strip will continue to hold a few wrinkles and bubbles.

This paper had a selvedge edge that had to be trimmed off by hand with a long straight edge and a razor blade, before the strips of paper could be pasted and hung on the wall. I found that my carefully hand-trimmed edges did not butt together nicely, not did they adhere tightly to the wall, and they left little gaps and curled seams.

My solution was to overlap the subsequent strips of wallpaper and splice them together. This gives pretty much perfect seams.

However, it is time-intensive and somewhat complicated, involving many steps and some special equipment. No photos, but in a nutshell, you trim the selvedge edges of the wallpaper in a way that allows you to match the pattern on one side, and then leaves a little more than that on the opposite side. You first pad the wall under where one seam will go with a thin strip of heavy plastic that is 3″ wide (we WIA members call it a Boggess strip, after the WIA member who invented it), to protect the wall. Then you hang one strip, allowing one edge of it to land on top of that plastic strip.

The next strip is pasted and hung, positioned so that it overlaps the previous strip along the outer edge, while making sure that the pattern matches. Next you take a straightedge (I use a wonderful one (not pictured), invented and manufactured by a WIA member, and a sharp, new razor blade, and cut through the two layers of wallpaper, paying heed to press hard enough to cut through the two layers of paper, but not so hard as to damage the plastics strip, and definitely not hard enough to score the wall. A cut into the wall could result in delamination of the layers of the wall, and irreparable curling at the seams.

Once the cutting has been done, the excess layers of wallpaper need to be pealed away, then the Boggess strip removed, and then the two sides of the wallpaper strips should be eased together and smoothed down tight, with the edges of the strips wiped clean of any residual paste.

Next, the rest of the strip of wallpaper should brushed into place on the wall. This Quadrille paper may look wrinkled and waffled on the wall, but any little wrinkles or bubbles that may remain on the wall will dry and flatten out in very little time – just a few hours.

The whole plot, cut, trim, paste, book, position, place Boggess strip, trim paper at crown molding, trim at chair rail, trim at overlapped seam, smooth seam shut, wipe seam clean of paste residue, scenario resulted in very nice seams, but took a whole lot of time and materials and focus. I probably spent 40 minutes on installation alone (not including measuring or trimming) for each strip.

While this wallpaper’s challenges could be met, and the finished room looked fantastic, I would much prefer to hang a good quality mid-price-range wallpaper, with seams trimmed at the factory, and made with regular ink printed on traditional stock, that performs nicely and with minimal time spent.

Contractors and Painters Should NOT Prep Walls for Wallpaper

July 14, 2018


This home in the Meyerland neighborhood of Houston was flooded during Hurricane Harvey, and has been redone, and is now ready for final touches, like decorating, i.e. – wallpaper!

The first three photos show how the contractor left the walls. It’s hard to conceive how anyone could think these walls are “ready for wallpaper.”

What you are looking at is where the contractor ripped off the top, inked layer of the original wallpaper. Most of them don’t realize that there is a backing layer of paper that is left on the wall, that should be removed, too. Simply soaking this with a wet sponge will reactivate the paste and allow the paper to be removed easily, and with no damage to the wall (esp. if there is a good primer underneath the paper). Read my page to the right “How to Strip Wallpaper” to see how this should be done.

Instead, this contractor left the paper backing on the wall. Some of this porous backing is exposed. Other areas have been covered with the paint that was used on the woodwork. This solvent-based paint “raises the grain” of the surface it’s applied to – see all the hairy fibers from the wallpaper backing that have gotten stuck in the paint and raised up? Some of them are more than 1/4″ high. They create a gritty feeling on the surface, like really coarse sandpaper.

The surface is uneven, and the bumps will show under the new paper. The unevenness also means that areas of the paper will not be able to contact the wall, so there will be gaps and air bubbles and poor adhesion. The backing of the original wallpaper has been exposed, and when new, wet, pasted wallpaper gets placed on top of that thirsty paper backing, it will absorb moisture, expand, and bubble.

I had three missions. 1.) Seal the surface 2.) Smooth the surface 3.) Prime with a wallpaper-appropriate primer.

I rolled on a coat of the penetrating sealer Gardz to seal the surface, so that my following treatments would not cause the paper backing to bubble. When that was dry, I skim-floated the wall with a coat of joint compound. In the areas where the hairs were 1/4″ high, the skim coat was pretty thick, and took a good while to dry. Once that was dry, I sanded it smooth, then vacuumed the dust of off the floor, used a damp sponge to wipe residual dust off the walls, and then followed up with another coat of Gardz. It will soak into the joint compound and dry hard, forming a stable surface for the new paper to adhere to.

The last photo shows the wall once I finished.

Wallpaper in Midwest Living Magazine – Don’t Try This at Home!

July 10, 2018

While I’m happy to see another magazine promoting wallpaper in a decorating feature, I have to say that there is some abruptly alarming misinformation being passed along in the May/June 2017 issue of Midwest Living. In a story about revamping a home office (pg. 46), the homeowner strayed “from convention, saving time and money by painting directly over the grass-cloth wallpaper.”

Folks, this is a horrible thing to do! You might “save time and money” now, but when it comes time to get that mass of hardened painted fiber off the wall, you will have a dickens of a time, and most likely tear the wall to shreds in the process. $$ to get the wall repaired and intact again.

In addition, and more important for the immediate use, painted grasscloth just looks bad. As a solid color, it lacks the variations of shades that give the material its allure and appeal. Painted grasscloth, especially when painted with a flat finish paint, just looks dead.

Logistically, water-based latex paint is likely to cause the natural grasscloth fibers and its paper backing to absorb moisture and swell, creating bubbles in the material. These bubbles will not disappear when the paint dries. Any hairs or loose grass fibers will get caught in the paint, dry, and harden, usually sticking up at unsightly angles.

My Solution for Yesterday’s Cantankerous Wallpaper

June 27, 2018


Here’s what I ended up doing with the Norwall pre-pasted, paper-backed, solid vinyl wallpaper that was featured in my previous post. This brand is known for curling seams, as well as seams that just don’t lie down nice and flat, but appear to be “pouched” just a tad. I experimented with several pasting techniques, hoping to get nice, flat seams.

… It didn’t do well when I pasted it with full strength paste, as it got gummy and dried out too quickly. And it didn’t do well when I pasted it with diluted paste. Nor was it happy when I ran it through a water tray as per mfgr’s instructions (and then rolled a thin layer of paste onto the wall); it went up great and looked good … but look back at it after 10 minutes and discover that it has bubbled. What worked best was to wet it in the water tray and then unbook the strips and let them hang to dry out for 10-15 minutes or more. This left enough moisture for the paper to grab ahold of the paste I had rolled onto the wall, but eliminated the excess moisture that was causing the off-gassing and bubbles.

I wet a bunch of strips at a time… I had them hanging over the shower rod, on the towel bars, over the door, and the small ones got set on the toilet to dry.