The woes of wallpaper

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips

My first foray into the woes of wallpaper came along with my first old house. Everything about the falling-apart place was perfect -- or at least appeared that way to a novice homeowner who was still entirely charmed by the idea of living in a 100-year-old house. (Oh, those were the days!) The only bothersome spot in the whole enchanted place was the wallpaper, which was downright hideous, truth be told.

"But we can just strip it!" I said, my voice filled with naive determination. "It will just take a weekend!"

Looking back, I now realize that many old house debacles include the word "just." "We just need to replace that one pipe there." "I just need to caulk that up." "It will just take a few days of work." Anytime the word "just" creeps into a conversation about an old house, you might as well assume trouble is brewing.

The great wallpaper fiasco

And so it was with that wallpaper, which appeared to be simple enough, until I actually lifted up a corner or two. There was another layer of wallpaper under that one, and that meant double the work. Still filled with certainty that I could handle this, I used the diluted solution that I had been instructed to spray all over the wallpaper, wetting it down enough that the solution would get to the adhesive and turn it into soft goo. The first layer came away with surprising ease, setting me up nicely for the shock that would follow.

The second layer refused to budge. My mother came to the rescue with an electric steamer -- or so we thought. The steamer brought down the paper itself, but now we had a liner underneath and more adhesive than we knew how to handle. That's when we got the big shock -- that the wallpaper had simply been applied to fresh drywall many years ago, without a bit of priming or protection.

That meant that we were now working with scraping all that goo from the drywall itself. The same drywall that I needed nice and flat in order to paint.

At one point I recall being up to my eyebrows (literally!) in adhesive gunk. I was covered with it. My hands were so sticky I was certain they would never become clean again. The wallpaper that I had been so sure would take only a weekend to remove was lying in tatters all over the floor. The fumes from the wallpaper remover solution had made me faint and dizzy.

And I had completed only one room!

At that point, I am not ashamed to say I sat down in the middle of all that ruined wallpaper and cried.

That was the first and last time I ever stripped wallpaper. Thoroughly defeated, I called in the professionals, who had the work done within a day. Whenever I needed wallpaper work done in any other home I have owned since then, the thought of doing it myself never crossed my mind.

There are some projects that lend themselves well to homeowner do-it-yourself aspirations, and then there are some that…well, just don't. When it comes to wallpaper, the professionals can have their way with it and I'll be happy to simply watch the magic happen.