Adventures In Decorating: How To Wallpaper

My Dad was always amazing at DIY.  He would try his hand to anything - painting, wallpapering, electrics, construction.  He was a Civil Engineer with a technical and mathematical mind that came in very useful when doing home improvements.  When we were small and living in Pinner, he created built in wardrobes in our rooms with glamorous inset dressing tables and light up mirrors.  Back in the 1970's and 80's, nobody employed people to come and decorate for them - it was virtually unheard of - so my dad would do it all.  On countless occasions he would suffer injuries in the process - my Mum always had a full medical kit on standby whenever she knew that a task was underway.  From an A&E visit due to a flattened thumb whilst fencing through to a minor electric shock after drilling through a live wire in the kitchen,  my Dad always pushed through and came up trumps.

 My Dad in his 70's decorating heyday.

My Dad in his 70's decorating heyday.

So it's unsurprising that now I have reached my 40's, I seem to have acquired a gung ho attitude when it comes to decorating my own home.  Historically, DIY has never been my strong point.  When Ella was two weeks old, I attempted to change a fuse in a plug and decided to check that it was working by plugging it in without the cover reinstalled, thus giving myself an electric shock.  I've mentioned before that my painting skills are insurmountably slapdash and my old Estate Agency boss, Simon Walmsley, once told me that I had actually devalued my home by doing such a shoddy job.  

 Joe attempting to hang a disco ball.  You've never actually seen a disco ball hung in my bar because it fell out immediately.

Joe attempting to hang a disco ball.  You've never actually seen a disco ball hung in my bar because it fell out immediately.

This shoddiness is compounded when I tell you that I am married to Joe whose DIY skills are even worse than mine.  Joe treats any DIY task with apprehension akin to having to undergo a major operation.  If I want to ask Joe to do something, I have to follow this procedure.  1.  Ask him five days in advance.  2.  Ask him again two days before the scheduled date.  3.  Ask him again the night before.  4.  On the day, place all tools in front of him complete with screws, rawl plugs and the drill.  5.  Stand with him for company whilst he does it.  Even when I follow every one of these steps, it still ALWAYS ends in extreme swearing, an argument, a total fuck up of the job in hand and often tears (mine).  So you can see why I have decided to take decorating matters into my own hands.

About six months ago, I decided that the wallpaper in our downstairs toilet was so shocking that I had to do something about it.  It was a thick flocked burgundy rose floral on cream and it literally used to give me palpitations whenever I needed a wee.  Nadia (of @artynads fame) once visited and told me that she felt like she was in the loo of a dodgy restaurant.  However, I'd never wallpapered before and didn't have the faintest idea of what to do.  So one day, Joe was at the gym and I decided to go for it.  I stripped off the wallpaper - luckily because it was so thick it literally came of in full pieces - and went off to B&Q.   I picked up three rolls of the Julien Macdonald Honolulu wallpaper which was on offer for £11 a roll and a pot of ready made wallpaper adhesive.  When I returned home I realised that I had forgotten a wallpaper brush, but I multi purposed an old shoe polishing brush that I found in Joe's wardrobe that did the trick.  What he didn't know didn't hurt him.

 My first attempt.  Wallpaper Julien Macdonald at B&Q.

My first attempt.  Wallpaper Julien Macdonald at B&Q.

Can I just reiterate that I had no idea what I was doing AT ALL. I had never even discussed wallpapering skills with anyone before, I had no idea of any process.  I simply made it up.  And do you know what?  It bloody worked.  It looked great.  There were a few dodgy bits but I started at 10.30 am and by 3.00 pm I had finished and my loo was transformed.    Spurred on, my next project was my study. I bought a map wall mural from B&Q made up of four pieces and proceeded to stick it up.  Again, a success.  It wasn't perfect but it looked good.  

 My second attempt.  Wallpaper from B&Q World Map Mural.

My second attempt.  Wallpaper from B&Q World Map Mural.

At this point, I decided I was ready for the big time.  By big time, I mean wallpaper that cost more than £11 a roll.  In previous blogs I have always said that when it comes to expensive wallpaper, always get someone who knows what they are doing to do it for you.  But in our current post Brexit economy where everyone and their dog is cutting back, then I've decided that it's worth a try doing it yourself.  Which is exactly what I did with my recent downstairs revamp.  If you follow me on Instagram, you will know that I have redecorated both my sitting room and my dining room and used wallpaper in both.  Firstly, I attacked the dining room where I used  The Loft & Us Feuilles De Luxe wallpaper along one wall.  My next job was the bar sitting room where I decided to do two walls in Farrow & Ball Bamboo wallpaper.  This was a much bigger job, using nearly double the amount of rolls that I had previously used in a project.  It also involved me going around a patio door and the actual bar which was tricky but very surprisingly I managed to pull it off.

 My third attempt.  Wallpaper by The Loft & Us.

My third attempt.  Wallpaper by The Loft & Us.

I tracked my progress whilst putting up the Bamboo on my Instagram stories and had the most amazing response. I literally received hundreds of messages, with many of these saying that they have always wanted to attempt wallpapering but they were too worried that they would balls it up.  So I've decided to compile a low down of key wallpapering procedures to encourage other people to give it a go.  NB:  Please note that I am not a professional decorator.  By any means.  Not even if you had never met another decorator in your life and all other decorators had been killed off by a viral epidemic and I was the only decorator left on the planet would you class me as this.  I am sure that my methods would not be approved by The Royal Institute Of Decorators.  But they worked for me so here goes.


Start Small & Cheap

Begin with a small room, like a downstairs loo.  And start with a cheap but solid wallpaper.  The B&Q one that I used was a good quality thickness that didn't tear, almost like anaglypta.  Something heavily embossed is good for your first attempt.  Do not start with a thin fragile paper as this will only end in tears of frustration as it will be too thin for you to be to move it about on the wall once it's up (I've done this before whilst trying to paper behind my shelves and it's hopeless).  Do not try and guess how much wallpaper you need.  That's what the people in B&Q are there for.  Measure your wall height and length and take these measurements to them.  Don't worry if there are windows or doors in the length, ignore them as they don't make any difference to the amount of rolls.


Prepare Yourself

 The before shot.  Do a quick white paint edge to your walls top and bottom before you start if you have a dark wall.

The before shot.  Do a quick white paint edge to your walls top and bottom before you start if you have a dark wall.

You will need a wallpaper brush, big scissors, stepladders and some wallpaper paste.  For my first attempt, I used ready made wallpaper paste in a pot which cost about £9.  This is a good idea for a small area if you have never wallpapered before as you have enough to think about without worrying that you have the paste consistency correct.   At this point, I should say that you can buy wallpaper (and paste) that is paste the wall and wallpaper (and paste)  that is not.  I don't understand the difference and always paste the wall.  It seems to work.   Also it means you don't need to use a pasting table.  


Don't Panic That You Are Going To Fuck It Up

A prime factor which stops people trying to wallpaper themselves is the fact that they are worried that they will fuck it up.  DO NOT WORRY.  It will be fine.  If anything goes wrong, it can be remedied.  You are starting with a cheap wallpaper so if you have to buy another roll then it won't break the bank.  Trial and error is the only way to go.  Also, bear in mind that you are doing it yourself so you are not having to pay a decorator a daily rate to do it for you so you are actually saving money.    Have confidence in yourself.


No Pressure

 Wine.  The perfect decorating accompaniment.

Wine.  The perfect decorating accompaniment.

Be easy on yourself.  Simon Cowell is not standing next to your stepladders judging the X Factor Decorating Olympics.  It's only wallpaper, it's not rocket science.  The only person you should be listening to is you and you are more than capable of working it out.  Do not think, I can't do this.  Think, I can do this and it's going to look great.  Turn the radio on and relax.   Think of all the wine you can drink in celebration when you've finished.


Let's Begin

Start from a left hand edge on your wall.  Most wallpapers roll downwards so hold the wallpaper against the wall, leave a four inch length at the top and a four inch length at the bottom to allow for movement and then cut.  Paste the wall and be generous with it.  Stick the wallpaper on.  Start at the top left hand corner and smooth outwards using your hands, pushing any bubbles away so that the wallpaper lies flat.  Fold the top of the wallpaper down so that it sits at the correct point on the wall, next to the ceiling or coving.  Pull the paper slightly away and use the big scissors to cut along the fold.  Press back to the wall and make it smooth in position.   Do the same at the bottom of the wallpaper next to the skirting board.  Voila.  This piece of wallpaper that you have so beautifully put up will hold the design pattern repeat for the rest of the wall.


Keep Going

Hold the wallpaper roll to the right of the piece that you have pasted on the wall.  Match the roll pattern - this may mean that you have a lot of wastage at the top but that doesn't matter.  Again, leave a four inch (or more) gap at bottom and cut.  Paste the wall and put the wallpaper on, making sure the pattern is perfectly matched.  If you've taken my advice and used a thick paper, you will find that it's easy to move around on the wall and put into position.   As before, use the big scissors to cut along the top folds and press down into position, smoothing away any bubbles.  Pay particular attention to the meet line in the middle and use your finger to add more wallpaper paste to make sure it's securely stuck down.  It doesn't matter if you get this on the front of the paper, once it's dry you'll never notice.


What To Do When You Hit A Socket

 My fourth and most recent attempt.  Wallpaper Bamboo from Farrow & Ball.

My fourth and most recent attempt.  Wallpaper Bamboo from Farrow & Ball.

Again, don't panic.  Match up the paper as before and paste to the wall, the paper will rise over where the socket is.  Once it's on the wall, use your scissors to cut in from the shortest side and around the socket as best you can.  If you find you've cut it too short, then don't worry - fill in the gaps using the bit that you cut out of the middle.  Quite frankly, if the wallpaper is heavily patterned no one will notice anyway.  Don't sweat the small stuff.


And really, that's about it.  It's no more complicated than that.  You may find that there are a few bubbles once it's dried.  You can pop these with a pin and flatten them or do what I do, put a picture over the top of them and brazen it out.    But most of all, don't be scared to give it a go.   Keep telling yourself, what's the worst that could happen?  If it's not perfect, it doesn't matter.  Start on a small space and as you gain in confidence, work your way up to the big guns.   You can do it!  And when you do, make sure that you tag me so that I can see what a bloody amazing job you've done.  Happy wallpapering.


PS:  This blog post is in memory of my Dad who would have been 71 on Tuesday and who would have said that there was more likelihood of Bruce Forsyth being appointed Prime Minister than me ever writing a post on wallpapering.