Hang it up!

Wallpaper expert covers choosing, buying paper

Wallpaper expert covers choosing, buying paper

October 24, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Although some people have a knack and can take justifiable pride in the job they've done, wallpapering is not easy.

"It's one of the last things I would suggest doing as a do-it-yourselfer," said James E. Neikirk, owner of Neikirk's of Hagerstown.

The store on West Franklin Street boasts myriad wall coverings, in addition to window treatments, rugs and other decor. Neikirk no longer hangs wallpaper, but he provided some tips for individuals who wish to tackle the task.

· Choose the wallcovering that is right for the room you want to cover. Don't make the decision based totally on design or color.


"You need to match the paper to the job," Neikirk said.

If it's a hallway that gets a lot of people traffic, kids coming and going, consider a heavy-duty, fabric-backed wallcovering. And make sure you know the size of the wallcover rolls, Neikirk said. American rolls usually are 27 inches wide, and there's 27 feet in a double roll. They are priced as single rolls but come as double or triple rolls. European rolls measure 20 1/2 inches wide by 33 feet long.

· Measure the length and width of the room to get the perimeter. Measure the height of the walls. Multiply to get the square footage of the area to be covered. Divide by 25 (the amount of wall covering per single roll), suggests information on Al Abruzzese's Home Improvement Center, a Web site for do-it-yourselfers and homeowners, at on the Web. The Do It Yourself Web site at suggests measuring the length and height of the walls to find the square footage, then adding 15 percent for waste, to figure how many rolls will be need.

"Ignore windows and doors" when measuring, Neikirk said. Horizontal seams are not allowed, he added.

Although Neikirk acknowledged people might suspect him of wanting to sell more wallcovering, it's always better to overestimate than underestimate. Mistakes happen, and it's better to have some left over than to run out, he said.

· Take note of the pattern repeat, which refers to the size of the pattern that has to be matched to each panel of paper.

· Removing wallpaper from walls can be difficult - but it is key, Neikirk said. The paper must be carefully soaked. Steaming is not recommended. Neither is scoring for some walls. There are products containing enzymes that can break down the wallpaper paste. Some experts recommend using a hot water and vinegar or fabric softener solution and a garden sprayer to wet the paper and make it easier to pull off. There are wheels that perforate the paper and allow moisture to go beyond its surface. The danger is in what lies beneath the paper. The perforations can get to wallboard below the paper and damage it, too.

"It's just such a science," Neikirk said. Play with each room to see what works.

· Prepare the wall. Priming the wall to be papered with one of many available products is essential. In new home construction, walls often are sprayed with latex paint. They might look nice, but wallcovering paste can't stick to a glossy surface, Neikirk said. Primers feel almost rough to the touch, he added.

"Wall preparation is absolutely very important," Neikirk said. Wallpaper will suck down into every crevice in the wall. The final job is only as good as the wall preparation, Neikirk added. Cracks and dents need to be spackled.

· Hang it up!

"There are no straight corners," Neikirk warned.

Don't start applying paper in a corner. If the pattern is leaning an eighth of an inch to the right at the left end of the wall, it will be way off 25 feet later at the other end, he explained. Neikirk recommended applying the first panel a panel's width and a half inch from the corner. Make a plumb line to use as a guide to make sure the paper is hung vertically.

· Follow directions. Eighty percent of residential wallcoverings is prepasted, Neikirk said. After the length of paper is cut, it is placed in the water trough for the recommended amount of time. A large table - about 8 feet by 8 feet - is useful to lay out and "book" the wet wallcovering. Fold the top half toward the middle about a third of the length of the sheet, paste to paste, and the bottom to the edge of the first fold, according to information at

Allow the wallcovering to expand for the recommended amount of time on the table - rather than on the wall.

The biggest mistake Neikirk sees people make is to start their wallpapering experience in the bathroom or kitchen, figuring a small room will be easier. With a lot of cutting out - tub, shower, sink, door and tucking behind the toilet - a bathroom is the hardest room to paper, he said.

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