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the wall made of everything

Hi all -

I was all excited to get started with painting in our circa 1900s condo, until I took a real close look at the walls. It's a hot mess. Buckling, seams showing, cracks everywhere, and I'm not sure where to even begin.

So, the most recent layer is bright red-orange paint. Underneath that, 4 layers of wallpaper throughout the ages (which is kind of fascinating). Beneath that, a papery layer which looks kind of like drywall paper. We were told by our realtor that at one time this was popular to put on top of plaster so one could easily paper or paint it. And underneath that, plaster (I think). All 7 states of decay are currently on display throughout our house. I've gotten into the bad habit of grabbing on to a pieces of chipping wall and pulling them off to see what layer will be unearthed.

A few questions -
1.) I'd like to do this right. Should I get rid of everything on top of the plaster, repair the damaged parts, and prime/paint over that?
2.) What is this paper layer? Is it actually some form of drywall? Was our realtor pulling our leg? It sounds kind of intriguing, putting a layer on top of the plaster so the plaster is left alone. Is this something I could get a hold of now? Would it even be worth the hassle? I can post some pictures if my description doesn't make sense.
3.) Any hints on how to get rid of paint-covered wallpaper?

I'm feeling a little in over my head here. Thanks for any advice!

Re: the wall made of everything

I'll take a stab at #2. I have seen a stabilizing paper put up over badly cracked plaster to give it a smooth surface. The stuff I have seen was actually a fiberglass mat that was installed just like wallpaper.

Re: the wall made of everything

as far as the painted wallpaper goes remove it as any wallpaper, i had painted some in our home then decided to strip it and texture the plaster then paint. it is a messy job but i wet it down and started scraping good luck sounds like a fun job

Re: the wall made of everything

Thanks guys! I'm now planning on stripping off everything to the plaster, will consider the stabilizing paper depending on the condition of the underlying plaster, then texturize, prime, then paint! It sounds like a big job, but I think removing this oppressive paint job will be a soul-cleansing exercise.

Of course, now I found fluffy black mold around the windowsill underneath all of the wallpaper. That would be layer #8. :) We're quickly learning the many joys of being homeowners. Thanks again for your help!

Re: the wall made of everything


What was used a hundred years ago was a layer of canvas. This was done to control hairline spider cracks. It would also facilitate easy removal of layers of paint built up over the years. One could simply grab a loose edge and pull everything off, leaving bare plaster. Years ago, when my work was primarily on plaster walls in Chicago, we would often be able to simply scrape all the layers off with a flexible 2 1/2 inch spackle knife. The heavy build up of papers actually makes zipping the wallcoverings/paint easier. The knife actually becomes razor sharp after "stropping" it on the plaster.

It does not surprise me that you would find some mildew under the paper. Old fashioned wheat paste made great fodder for fungus. Just wash those areas down with a clorine bleached solution, 3 parts water to 1 part bleach. Wheat paste will readily wash off the plaster.

There are heavy duty fiberglass re-inforced wall liners. You might also consider commercial grade vinyl canvas wall coverings.These are available in a multitude of textures and patterns. Their strength would aid in controling small cracks.

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