Wallpaper first appeared in the 16th century, in the form of black-and-white hand-blocked prints, and it remains a favorite way to bring color, texture, and personality to a home. Bold patterns and deep colors make any room seem more intimate, while light-toned papers with delicate prints convey a feeling of spaciousness.
Is It Hard to Hang Wallpaper?
Whatever effect a homeowner desires, achieving it demands equal measures of art and engineering, says painting and decorating contractor John Dee. For him, the smooth, seamless look and good adhesion that signify a top-quality installation begin with a properly prepared substrate and end with exacting attention to each room’s particular topography. Where walls are out of plumb, for instance, he cuts and overlaps the paper at the corners so adjacent patterns line up precisely.
Dee’s advice to novice wallpaper hangers: begin with small, easy-to-match patterns. “Work patiently and steadily, and you’ll get tight seams and a professional look.”
Here’s a tutorial on how to hang wallpaper.
Installing Wallpaper in 9 Steps
Step 1: Hanging Wallpaper Overview
Decorative choices range from delicate silks and grasses to sturdy vinyls and even wood veneer that can be sanded and finished like solid wood paneling.
Most of the wallpapers sold in this country are paper-backed vinyls. According to John Dee, these are easier to work with than more delicate and tear-prone plain paper, and generally come pre-pasted, eliminating the need to roll on starch-based adhesives. They can, however, be harder to cut and require bonding with vinyl-to-vinyl adhesive.
Tip: Silk, grass, cloth, and textured papers also require careful attention during installation: “You absolutely can’t get paste on their faces,” Dee says. “There’s no way to wipe it off.”
Step 2: Lay Out the Room
For wallpaper with a dominant element center it on the “focal wall”— the wall people first notice. Measure the width and height of this wall and mark its midpoint.
Cut a short strip of wallpaper. Place the dominant element over the midpoint. Mark the wall at the paper’s leading edge, the edge against which the next strip will hang.
Using a 4-foot level, draw a plumb line at that mark.
To estimate seam locations around the room, cut two more short pieces of paper and paste them edge-to-edge on the wall.
Mark where each leading edge. Continue marking around the room, pulling up and re-adhering the strips. Measure the wall height at the plumb line.
Cut the first full-length strip, with as much overhang as needed to place the dominant element at the midpoint mark.
If using solid-color wallpaper, leave 1 inch of overhang at the top and bottom.
Step 3: Prep the Paper
If the paper is not pre-pasted, roll out the first strip face-down on a 6-foot-long work table and use a 3/8-inch-nap paint roller to apply a generous, even coat of paste all the way to the paper’s edges.
To give the adhesive a chance to activate, gently fold over both ends of the strip, being careful not to crease the paper, so that they meet in the middle; this process is known as “booking.”
Make sure the paper’s edges are exactly aligned so that no pasted surface is exposed. Let stand for 3 to 5 minutes before hanging.
For pre-pasted paper, loosely roll up a strip with the adhesive side out and immerse it in a trough of cold to lukewarm water, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions, just until the paper is thoroughly wet (but no longer). Book the paper as above for 3 to 5 minutes.
Step 4: Hang the First Strip
Take the booked strip to the wall, then unfold and apply the top half, aligning one edge with the plumb line in Step 2.
For solid paper, overlap ceiling (or crown molding) by 1 inch. Overlap a patterned paper as needed so that the main design element is centered on the midpoint of the wall section.
First, smooth the edges of the paper with a damp sponge, then brush lightly from the center of the strip to its edges. Next, gently pull (do not push) a smoother across the paper to eliminate wrinkles and anchor the paper to the wall.
Unfold the strip’s lower half. Align and smooth it as above, overlapping the baseboard as needed.
Step 5: Trim Strip at Ceiling
Trim excess paper with a sharp razor knife held almost parallel to the wall. Guide the blade with a 6-inch putty knife to prevent tearing.
Wipe any adhesive off the paper’s face with a wet sponge, pushing lightly toward the edges. Then sponge-clean the woodwork and ceiling.
Measure, cut, and hang each subsequent strip, sliding them up or down on the wall to align the pattern and to butt seams tightly with no overlaps.
Step 6: Wallpaper the Corners
Corners are the only places where strips overlap. For an inside corner, measure from the corner to the top, middle, and bottom of the last-pasted strip. For out-of-plumb walls, add 1/8 inch to the largest measurement.
Using a level, trim a dry strip to that width, cutting the edge that’ll meet the corner. Hang the paper so the just-cut edge turns the corner and extends onto the adjacent wall.
Position the adjoining strip with its edge inside the corner, overlapping the previous strip; align the patterns.
Mark where the leading edge lands and draw a plumb line. Using the line as a guide, hang this strip.
For outside corners, trim the strip to wrap over the next wall by ¼ inch.
Hang the next strip so it overlaps the previous piece but lands short of the corner. This prevents the paper from peeling if someone brushes against the corner.
Step 7: Trim Around Windows and Doors
When applying paper to walls adjacent to windows and doors, allow the leading edge of the strip to overlap the trim.
From the paper’s waste edge to the corners of the trim, make diagonal cuts with scissors to allow the paper to lay flat on the wall.
Remove the bulk of the overlap with scissors. Smooth the paper as in Step 4, then use the smoother to push the paper snugly against the casing, the ceiling, and the baseboard.
Trim off any remaining overlap.
Step 8: Trim Around Window Apron
To trim around a window’s stool and apron, make a series of short cuts from the waste edge of the strip toward the corner where wall and stool meet. These narrow fingers of paper allow the strip to be shaped to the profile of the casing.
With a narrow putty knife, hold the paper on the wall and trim any waste with a razor knife.
Tip: Dee avoids seam rollers because they can leave depressions in the paper.
Step 9: Hang Headers and Footers
To hang headers and footers—paper above and below windows and above doorways—measure, cut, and book each strip as you go.
To keep these shorter pieces plumb, align each strip’s lead edge with a torpedo level.
Hang, smooth, and trim as many headers and footers as needed without going past the end of the window or door casing.
Then, hang a full-length strip of paper alongside the window or door by butting one edge of a dry, full-width scrap of paper against the last header or footer and marking where its opposite edge lands.
With a level, draw a plumb line on that mark from floor to ceiling.
Paste, book, and hang the full-length strip, adjusting it up or down as needed until the patterns match up.
When the patterns align, sponge and smooth each piece as in Step 4 and trim off any overlap.