Posts Tagged ‘cellulose’

Stroheim Playful Geometric – A Tough Hang Today

March 24, 2019


This colorful and playful geometric pattern went in an elevated “nook” in an open play area in a new home in the Oak Forest neighborhood of Houston. It wakes up an otherwise all-white house, and coordinates perfectly with bright artwork in the room.

The paper is by Stroheim, and was somewhat difficult to work with, especially in a room that presented the challenges it did – wide window, and four cubbyholes around three fixed built-in shelves.

First, the paper had a selvedge edge that had to be trimmed off by hand, a straight edge, and a razor blade. This is tedious and took about an hour to trim eight single rolls.

Second, any time you have wallpaper whose ink smells like mothballs, you know you are in for a tough day. The ink absorbs moisture from the paste at a slower rate than the substrate, so the paper backing puckers (called waffling or quilting). This doesn’t go away, even after booking and sitting in a closed plastic bag for several minutes – so you end up with wrinkles and blisters on the wall.

One thing that helps with this is lightly wetting the surface of the paper with a damp sponge. This allows the ink to absorb moisture, and relax at the same time the paper backing is expanding and relaxing.

You will also notice in the photo that the edges of the paper are curling toward the front. This is, again, the result of uneven absorption of moisture from the paste. Unfortunately, this continues once the paper is on the wall. I had to keep going over the seams to make sure they were down and that edges were not coming away from the wall. No matter how much paste I put under the seams, or how tacky I let the paste get, it didn’t seem to want to grab those edges.

Once the paper is good and dry, though, usually the seams lie down nice and flat, and any blisters or wrinkles will disappear.

Clay-based paste has less moisture content, and could possibly help reduce the waffling. I hate clay paste, though, because it’s hard to wipe off woodwork and off the surface of the wallpaper, and because it works its way through the paper and casts a tan tinge on the paper.

One thing that will help with issues like these is a liner paper. A liner is a plain paper of a special material that is applied to the wall before the decorative wallpaper goes up. It’s job is to absorb moisture from the paste, which causes the paper to dry more quickly, and to “lock down” the seams quickly. So a liner has its place, but it does add an extra day of labor, plus the cost of the liner material.

Interestingly, the Stroheim instructions did not spec a liner; only a good quality wallpaper primer (which I did use). They also did not spec clay-based paste, but recommended three different types of clear pastes (vinyl, wheat, or cellulose), each of which is distinctly different and contains different moisture contents. I would think wheat or cellulose to be too thin and weak to adequately adhere this particular material.

I’ve hung plenty of their products and had no problems with waffling or curling seams; it’s clear that the company has a blanket set of instructions that they stuff into every roll, with no regard to the substrate it’s printed on or the type of ink that was used.

The other thing is, most of the time, you don’t know what you’re going to be working with until you show up at the job site. Even if you research the brand and pattern number ahead of time, there will likely be no mention of the type of substrate or the “mothball” smelling ink. If I had known, I would probably have suggested that this homeowner use a liner. Beyond that, it’s good to have your truck stocked with a variety of primers and adhesives.

Back to the difficult room … I always say that a window like that is easy for you to look at, but very difficult for me to get paper around, at least while keeping the pattern straight and properly lined up. That’s because papers stretch and twist when they get wet with paste, and can contort out of whack. And the wider the obstacle you are working around, the more the paper can go off-kilter. So you can start perfectly lined up on the left of the window, but by the time you get to the right side, the strip coming down from the top of the wall may not line up with the pattern coming across horizontally below, and the two edges may not butt up perfectly, either.

It didn’t help that the pattern had an irregular hand-drawn look, so I couldn’t use a ruler to make sure every horizontal line was equidistant from the window molding. So that window wall took about two hours in itself.

Then there was the wall on the right, with the four cubbyholes in between the three shelves. I had to get two strips of paper on the backs of each of those cubbies, keep the seams from curling, and keep the pattern straight, continuing to four more strips on the wall to the right (the inside side of the wall you see on the right of the photo next to the door molding), so that all four of those strips would line up with one long piece coming down from the ceiling. Oh, and did I mention the extremely unlevel ceiling? This wall in itself took about three hours.

Actually, the irregular hand-drawn look of the pattern helped immensely, because the pattern didn’t have to line up exactly perfectly. Also, the way it was printed on the paper, the design motifs didn’t cross a seam, so that allowed me to raise or lower a strip slightly, to keep the pattern where I wanted it, without disrupting the look of the design. In fact, it was possible to not follow the correct pattern match, and the eye really couldn’t detect it. I could also cut strips vertically to narrower widths, to suit the area I was working in.

There were a few other tricks I pulled out of my hat, in lining up the design after coming around the window and shelf walls, to plumb up the pattern after turning a corner, and to disguise the very unlevel ceiling. The kill point (last strip meets up with first strip) turned out amazingly undetectable, with very little tweaking from me.

In the end, the nook turned out fantastic, and is ready to host children’s performances, reading marathons, or just gazing out the window.

The interior designer for this job is Stacie Cokinos, of Cokinos Design. She works mostly on new builds and on whole-house remodels, and is a great resource for finding and coordinating all the details – tile, plumbing and light fixtures, rugs, furniture, lamps, accessories, paint colors, and, of course – wallpaper. 🙂

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Wallcovering for Geologists, Weathermen, and Oil Drillers

August 18, 2016
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Today’s job was challenging and tedious, but a whole lot of fun. The homeowners worked in the oil patch, and love these seismic charts. Some show places they have worked, and one even shows the family property! They wanted the maps to cover the walls above the wainscoting in their powder room, in a large Victorian 1904 house in Montrose (Houston).

These were real maps, not wallpaper, so I had concerns about what adhesive to use, whether the material would tear when it became wet with paste, if a razor blade would cut it – or shred it, how much it would expand when wet, whether it would shrink when dry, and if ink marks on the paper (both printed and hand-written) would bleed. The homeowners provided me with a stack of maps to experiment with.

In the first photo, the maps are spread out on the dining room table, with the maps most important to them on the left, the maps with moderately significant features in the middle, and then a whole stack of maps that could be cut up to use as filler. They had worked out a few diagrams of where they wanted certain features, and also put yellow sticky paper with notations on the maps. In addition, the homeowner and I spent a lot of time talking about the various elements of the maps and what features were most important to the couple, placement, expectations, feasibility, etc.

Keeping their wants in mind, I plotted out where to place the various maps. It’s more complicated than it sounds, because they were not all the same size (in neither length nor width), the dimensions of the walls had to be taken into consideration, filler material had to be cut to bridge gaps, and “more interesting” sections had to be placed in prominent areas (the family estate went on the back wall – the first wall you see when you walk in).

Some of the maps were very similar, and I thought the walls looked better when there was something dividing the patterns, so I cut 2″ wide strips of filler (choosing material that had a contrasting pattern) to place between maps. You can see this in some of the photos. I also liked the look of a strong line at the point where two maps met, so, if the map didn’t have a printed line at the edge, I used a Sharpie to make one. This gave a lot more definition to the edges of the maps.

I learned the hard way that – regardless, of what they look like – lines on seismic maps are not straight, they are not parallel, and they are not perpendicular. Plus, you can plan on the paper stretching and warping. So, since I was starting from the chair rail and moving up, and I wanted specific things to run horizontally along the top of the chair rail (numbers, words, lines), it was really tricky to, at the same time, get a vertical line to run upwards equidistant from a vertical line on the adjoining map.

I know that sounds complicated. It was! It’s the kind of thing that takes a lot of time and plotting and measuring and trimming, but once it’s up on the wall, all you see is “a bunch of maps – that happen to look pretty straight.” The second photo shows my table with maps, homeowners’ sticky notes, my straight edge, razor blades – and me getting ready to trim!

Walls and ceilings are never plumb, and wet wallpaper likes to twist, so we paperhangers like to say that what’s at eye level is most important. Usually, I start hanging paper at the ceiling. But in this room, with it’s paneling hitting the wall at nearly 5,’ that’s pretty close to eye level, so that became the focal point. Meaning, I plotted the design at the bottom edge of the paper to line up with the top of the wainscoting.

This looks great, but it’s awkward to position, because, while gravity works with you when you are dropping a strip of wallpaper from the ceiling downward, it is definitely working against you when you are trying to work from the bottom upward. The most difficult sheets to maneuver were the largest, which were about 40″ wide by 30″ high.

I really thought that I wanted to use a wheat or cellulose paste with this material. These are both used less commonly, and come as a dry powder that needs to be mixed with water. Wheat paste is what wallpaper was hung with decades, and even hundreds, of years ago. It hydrates the paper nicely, is slippery, and does not create much tension between surfaces when you unbook the paper.

But when I did my tests, I found that my usual pre-mixed vinyl adhesive, diluted, worked very nicely. What worked best for these maps was to lightly sponge the back with water, then roll on a light coat of paste, which I diluted by sprinkling on a tiny bit more water as I spread the paste across the back.

I was pleased that the paper didn’t tear when I unbooked it (“booking” means folding the pasted sides together, and letting it sit a few minutes to relax, absorb paste, expand, etc.). But it didn’t like being unbooked and I didn’t like wrestling with it, so, except for the largest pieces, I tried to keep the paper flat and unfolded. The maps didn’t dry out like real wallpaper tends to do, so leaving it open and unbooked was not a problem.

The maps also responded quickly to the moisture of the paste – or perhaps it was the light sponging with water before pasting that helped. But I found that the material did not need to sit or book for much time at all.

This meant that I could move along a little more quickly. And it also meant that, as long as I brushed carefully and in the right directions, there were no wrinkles or bubbles. Usually I use smoothing brush with short, stiff bristles. But on this paper, a more delicate, longer bristled brush was better. I used a plastic trapezoid smoother, too, especially on the edges.

When the material was wet, it was a little difficult to trim, because it wanted to drag and tear. But a very sharp razor blade, and either a lot of pressure or a very light hand, depending on the situation, resulted in nice, clean trim lines.

I chose to overlap the seams. I wanted to avoid double cutting, because the process of double-cutting (splicing) seams can be hard on delicate paper (tears, stretching, stress on the wall). And the paper was thin enough that overlaps would not show much at all.

See that bull’s eye in the second-to-last photo? The homeowners tell me that is very exciting to oil-patch people. It designates the highest point, and thus the exact spot where oil is to be found.

Logos like that in the last photo were also important to the homeowners. I positioned some in key areas of the room. And, when I could not make that work with the walls’ dimensions, I improvised by cutting the logo off and pasting it over a different part of the map.

Although the job was tedious, in both the plotting and the installing, it went very well, and the clients were thrilled with the finished room.

Mixing Powdered Paste

May 29, 2016

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Certain papers call for special adhesives. “Back in the day,” all wallpaper was hung with powdered paste. Today, some papers still do better with these types of paste. Some of the options are wheat, cellulose, or potato starch based. They are less tacky, more slippery, and less likely to stain delicate materials.

“Back in the day,” paperhangers used a wire whisk and a lot of elbow grease to mix these pastes with water into a smooth consistency. My modern day trick is to use an immersion blender. It’s much faster and really gets rid of the lumps!

After mixing, the paste must be allowed to sit for a period of time, to completely absorb the water, and then be stirred again, with more water or powder added as needed.

Eco-Fix is a potato starch based paste that can be bought from Bradbury & Bradbury (http://bradbury.com/). Wheat and cellulose powdered pastes can be purchased from Bob Kelly at paperhangings.com. I always try to keep some on hand, for the rare occasion when a job calls for this type of special paste.