“Many homeowners immediately think of the messy wallpaper installation and time-consuming removal process of our parents’ day,” said Brittany Ellis, owner of online wallpaper store the Pattern Collective.
“This is not the case anymore. With proper wall preparation, such as using a primer specifically for wallpaper, steamers and messy chemical strippers are things of the past. With many of the wallpapers today, removal can be easier than installation.”
Much like adding a new coat of paint, decking your walls with a punchy floral or a groovy mural can completely transform a room. Do one accent wall, several bedrooms, or just tart up your dining space with a Chinese toile, Warhol-esque flowers or indoor clouds.
Finding the right wallpaper
To get started — and get inspired — visit a local paint and wallpaper shop or big-box home improvement outlet and look through sample books.
Order samples of a few patterns before committing. Then, as you would with paint, tack options on the wall you’re thinking of bedazzling to see how they look at different times of day and whether they clash with existing furniture or fixtures.
Choosing a color, scale or pattern is highly subjective, but DiGuiseppe advised that “papers with larger repeats are best for big spaces. Also be mindful of any irregularities in your space: crooked corners or uneven ceiling lines. A stripe or plaid would not be the best choice in that case, as it would highlight those flaws.”
But wallpaper isn’t just for walls. “You can wallpaper the ceiling, line the back of bookshelves or cover a piece of furniture,” Ellis said.
For bathrooms, kitchens or other spaces subject to moisture or heavy use, look for scrubbable or contract-grade papers. This means they are either vinyl made to look like paper (nicer looking than that sounds) or paper infused with polymers, vinyl or other materials that can withstand shower steam, paw prints and other daily challenges.
How much wallpaper do I need?
For those of you who are bad with numbers, bad news: To figure out how much paper you need, you will have to do some careful math.
Different brands are sold in different increments, depending on where they come from. You will get different coverage from a standard-size U.S. double roll (usually 21 inches wide by 33 feet long) than you will for a European one. To further confuse things, some fancy-pants companies sell products by the yard, square foot or meter. Add in pattern repeat and matching issues, and you might find yourself banging your head against a wall, not covering it in a nice fish print.
If you overestimate how much you need, you can usually return unopened rolls. If you underestimate, you can always order an extra roll and finish the project later. But both tasks are hassles.
The price of a pretty wall
The flat, hard truth: Putting up wallpaper will almost always be more expensive than painting a room. Prices for a double U.S. roll can run anywhere from $25 to over $400 each, though $50 to $150 a roll is about average. That double roll will cover approximately 60 square feet, meaning you will spend hundreds of dollars just for the five or six rolls needed to redo even a smallish room.
To save money, you can look for discontinued or vintage paper. But know that older wallpapers can be brittle and split as you work with them.
You can also opt to wallpaper just the top half of the walls, adding a chair rail (if you don’t already have one) to separate the bare wall below from the paper, a classic look in a dining room.
Hiring a pro
While hanging wallpaper (or even ordering it) might seem easy to DIY, we really recommend seeking a pro for all but the smallest, simplest jobs. While wallpaper won’t trash your place the way it used to, it will still test your patience.
A professional installer will save you from ruining expensive paper with clumsy hanging and make quick work of a highly technical, specialized job. Expect to pay from $3 to $8 per square foot for installation, depending on the complexity of the job and whom you hire.
As with any service pro, get price quotes from at least three companies. Ask each how much paper you’ll need and for a fixed price to hang it. Ask to see photos of their work and for names of recent clients for references; then contact them.
Many painting operations hang wallpaper (visit Checkbook.org for customer reviews, see free access link below), but make sure they have workers with several years of experience. “Since wallpaper has made such a strong comeback, many contractors and other tradespeople have started adding ‘wallpaper hanger’ to their repertoires without the proper training, which can lead to disaster,” Ellis said.
You can also get recommendations from staff at local wallpaper stores or interior design centers.
Jennifer Barger is a contributor to Washington Consumers’ Checkbook and Checkbook.org, a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. It is supported by individual members and takes no money from the service providers it evaluates. You can access Checkbook’s ratings of local service providers free of charge until May 10 at Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/wallpaper.