Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wallpaper Wars

I used to know how to hang wallpaper. It's simple, really: measure, cut, paste to the wall, repeat. There are rules for hanging wallpaper straight, rules for going around corners, both inside and outside types, and rules for getting paste off everything else in the room. I recall those rules quite clearly, and I followed them yesterday as I covered up my paneled bathroom - yes, paneled - that's how they put them together in the doublewide factory - anyway, that's how I set out to turn my bathroom into a showplace. Well, not really a showplace; it is, after all, a bathroom. But it needed some tile, some porcelain, some pretend-granite and some wallpaper. To the untrained eye, wallpaper would seem the least challenging of the materials I chose to install. That's why they call it the untrained eye.

Florida turns out to be the land of paneling and the land that forgot wallpaper. The wallpaper shops of yore are all dusty and bare, and the guy with the orange apron at Home Depot was struck dumb by the concept of gluing paper to a wall. Lowe's had a few books of patterns, including the ones with sailboats and hunting rifles and cartoon characters. I ordered something without sailboats, and it arrived in due time.

To stick my paper to the wall, my choices were Roman's Golden Harvest Pre-Mixed General Purpose Paste or spit. I considered spit, since the paper itself was pre-pasted - just add spit - but the pre-paste never works and would take too much spit anyway. I bought the Golden Harvest for $15. The price stuck in my craw, assuming a craw is what I think it is, because I know that wallpaper paste, at its core, is concocted of water and flour. It is just paste, in the purest, first-grade art project sense. I paid the man and left without telling him how consternated I was.

I arrived back home unjustifiably optimistic. I had already slobbered several pounds of spackle onto the paneling. Spackle is God's gift to people who hate paneling, proving thereby that even God hates paneling. I opened my first roll of paper and got to work. I measured - twice, of course - and cut the first stripe, patting myself on the back for recalling that wallpaper strips are called stripes. I cut this particular stripe half-an-inch short. Crap. Two bucks a square foot I paid for that stripe.

Hanging wallpaper is not like riding a bike. You forget. Not the easy rules - those you remember - but the neuromotor stuff that moves the bike down the road and moves the wallpaper from the roll to the wall . The hands refuse to do what the brain commands. I cut stripes of wallpaper too short, too narrow, upside down, and left-handed instead of right. I got paste in my ears. Belatedly, I remembered that some wallpaper is impossible to match. Matching is where you make sure the little sailboat on one stripe lines up with the little sailboats on the other stripes, if you were sensible enough to buy the sailboat paper. Anybody can line up sailboats.

I did not buy sailboats; I bought a roomful of overlapping colored blocks, all of which look like one another but few of which actually are like any of the others. Trying to match blocks from stripe to stripe resulted in a sort of geometric dyslexia. Wallpapering rules and formulas - and lots of sticky paper - lay in ruins on my bathroom floor. I coped - if you can call it that - by assigning a name to every block on the wall. I traveled from the bathroom to my work area muttering magic incantations for where to cut the next stripe. "Big-tan-block-above-small-greyish-block-beside-mid-sized-light-beige-block." I learned to incantate tan from two shades of beige. I made mountains of $2-a-square-foot scrap. I said some bad words that boiled the water on Clearwater Beach.

My bathroom looks swell, mostly because anything looks sweller than paneling. But the room is cluttered with the ruins of my self-esteem and the smoking wreckage of my neuromotor system. Now I know why Florida folks don't wallpaper. They have too much regard for their own sanity.


  1. You're not done until the ceiling matches the walls :)

  2. I could do another article on what it took to paint the ceiling. It took 3 coats, even though it did not look bad when i started. The fiber ceiling panels bled like a stuck pig.