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My wallpaper cheat sheet

Complete with a special guest appearance from my mom

Dark green wallpaper covers a bedroom, which is decorated with a dresser, art, and a wall sconce.
William Morris wallpaper, as seen in this New Zealand House Calls tour.
Photography by Bonny Beattie

Welcome! This weekend I have a cheat sheet on hanging wallpaper with a special guest appearance from my mom. I’ve also got chubby furniture, plus, a humble request for any readers who want to help Curbed get onto the main stage next spring at SXSW. —Kelsey

The great wallpaper caper

In my very first Editor’s Notes, I mentioned that I’d been scouring my sources for wallpaper for the bathroom in our D.C. apartment. The apartment gets a ton of light, and the bathroom has beaded boarding paneling halfway up the wall, with terra-cotta floor tile glazed royal blue. So while the existing wallpaper was in fine enough condition, its navy background and busy pattern weren’t doing the room any favors.

Lucky for me, I have a husband who supports some of my more labor-intensive decorating ideas, and we decided on a small-scale bathroom makeover. First, we picked a wallpaper pattern from Hygge & West that we both loved from among the dozens of samples I tested. That was the easy part.

Kelsey Keith’s mom removes dark patterned wallpaper from a bathroom wall.
BEFORE: My mother preparing to remove the old wallpaper. So small, so mighty.
Minimalist wallpaper sits on top of a piece of fabric on the royal blue tile of the bathroom.
I’ve been eyeing Hygge & West’s Underwater World paper since my first Editor’s Notes.

I would not have attempted such a bold move as an amateur except that my mother volunteered to lend a hand. The house I grew up in, in Tennessee, had a variety of wallpapered rooms (my favorite being the entryway, whose grasscloth wallcovering later made it into my dollhouse when we moved in the sixth grade). My mom—who had three children and a full-time job, mind you—hung it all herself. When did she find the time? How did she line it all up without someone to help her eyeball it? Divine the truth from these helpful hints, mostly gleaned from the expert, my mother:

  • This sounds obvious, but measure the surface area—in inches—of the walls you’ll be papering. Most websites that sell wallpaper have a built-in calculator you can use to estimate how many rolls you’ll need. Don’t try and figure it out yourself without using one of these, because attempting to wrap your feeble mind around matching large-repeat patterns and how much paper one roll holds is a losing endeavor.
  • Only buy pre-pasted wallpaper. My mom told me this, I didn’t heed her advice, and we ended up applying paste to the back of each sheet, which basically doubled our installation time. (It took us 12 hours to do a bathroom. Lesson learned.)
  • Read the FAQs well before the weekend you decide to install it.
  • Here’s the supply list she recommended: utility knife with extra blades, a level, a tape measure, sponges for smoothing out the paper with water and/or additional glue paste, a plastic smoother to get out the air bubbles, a putty knife to cut the edges off, a pencil, a step stool or ladder, and a plumb line specifically for wallpaper hanging—which can be a bit tricky to find. You’ll also need a big bucket, or a bathtub, to soak your pre-pasted paper in before affixing to the wall.
  • If you have to strip existing wallpaper, like we did, add in liquid wallpaper stripper, a plastic spray bottle, a scraper or two, and a scorer, plus whatever spackle and sandpaper you’ll need to patch holes and level the wall surface underneath.
  • YouTube is your friend! My mom, the old pro, woke up early to binge DIY videos to make sure she had all the steps down.
  • Be meticulous. For example, you’ll need to use a plumb line to set a precise vertical benchmark on each new wall. If you just line up each piece of paper to the last one, you could end up hanging subsequent pieces on a diagonal (especially if you have old, wonky walls). Another example: Getting air bubbles out requires an eagle eye and some elbow grease, and you have to do it when the paper is still wet or you’re screwed. Make sure all the edges are properly adhered, too, or you’ll find yourself in shabby chic territory in a matter of weeks.
  • The TL;DR: Enlist a buddy to help you, preferably someone who’s actually hung wallpaper before. Between the lining up and the sticking it to the wall and the cutting the edges and the working around windows and door frames, I still do not comprehend how my mom managed such a task solo.
The original painted blue wall in the bathroom is on display while the dark patterned wallpaper is being removed.
DURING: Halfway through the removal.
New minimalist white wallpaper covers the wall of the bathroom, which has beaded boarded paneling and royal blue tile.
AFTER: One finished corner of the bathroom

This week in tabs

  • This week’s episode of Consider It on Facebook Watch gets into what the city of Baltimore is doing to combat hyper-vacancy—and features senior reporter Patrick Sisson, who’s written about the phenomenon for his weekly Property Lines column on Curbed.
  • One of my hobbies is identifying decor trends (sometimes very micro ones) before the memo gets passed around widely. Rattan, athleisure-as-furniture, you get the idea. By spring 2018, that moment was all things chubby. Now Diana Budds has done the real work: Her feature story this week teases out exactly why shoppers, Pinners, and designers are all gravitating toward a more rounded look. Let’s just say there’s more to the cuteness than meets the eye.
  • Not sorry for all the Curbed links; there’s a lot to read this week! I’m loving our House Calls August program, in which writer Samantha Weiss-Hills unpacks how to shop for specific items featured in some of the most gorgeous rooms we’ve run on the site. This week it was dining rooms; tune in next week for shoppable bathroom goods.
  • I’m in the Bay Area this week, and itching to get out of town and visit some architecture-forward wineries. Which I could easily do, now that Curbed SF has published its insiders’ guide to visiting Napa and Sonoma, with a focus on design, families, hiking, houses, small towns, and not even (necessarily) drinking.

Shameless plug

Some of you may live for SXSW, and some of you don’t care for it at all (or prefer to keep Austin weird—and believe me, I get it). But if I may ask you for a solid: We’ve put together an unmissable roster of pros to talk about something near and dear to the Curbed heart: Vision Zero in our cities. Every single day across the Curbed network, our editors unpack how to take action in your cities, and putting your vote behind people working hard to protect walkers and cyclists and, really, all citizens is an excellent way to start. We just need a few votes to get Alissa Walker on the main stage at SXSW, in conversation with San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Los Angeles Department of Transportation general manager Seleta Reynolds, and NACTO executive director Corinne Kisner. Vote here to help make it happen!

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