How to Wallpaper Feature Walls

Man and woman holding stripey wallpaper against a wall to test how it looks

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A feature wall is a single wall that’s given special treatment to make it the room’s focal point. Whether it’s a splash of colour, an intricate design, or a textured finish, this wall stands out from its neighbouring walls, becoming an immediate eye-catcher.

Preparation is a fundamental step in wallpapering, often determining the longevity and finish quality of the end result. Just as a painter wouldn’t lay colour on a soiled canvas, wallpaper requires a pristine, well-prepared surface. Here’s an in-depth look into the preparatory stages:

Preparation

Preparing the Wall

Cleaning: Begin by cleaning the wall with a mild detergent and water solution. Remove any residues, cobwebs, or dirt patches. For greasier spots, especially in kitchens, a degreasing agent might be necessary. Rinse the wall with clean water after cleaning and let it dry completely.

Repairing Holes or Damages: Use wall filler to fill any small holes, dents, or imperfections. For larger damages, you might need to patch it with a piece of drywall. Once repairs are done, sand the area to ensure a smooth finish.

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Priming: A primer creates a uniform surface, helping the wallpaper adhere better and ensuring its colour and design appear true. Opt for a primer specifically designed for wallpaper. If you’re dealing with a very dark wall colour and plan to use a lighter wallpaper, consider a tinted primer to ensure no colour bleed-through.

Measuring and Marking the Wall

Begin by determining the starting point. For feature walls, it’s often best to start in the middle, working outwards, especially if the design needs to be centred.

Using a level, draw a vertical line from the ceiling to the skirting board to ensure your wallpaper hangs straight. This line will serve as your guideline.

Calculating Wallpaper Needs

Measure the height and width of the wall. Multiplying these will give you the total square footage.

Check the roll label for how much coverage the wallpaper provides. Subtract windows, doors, and other large cutouts, but always order a bit extra for pattern matching, mistakes, or future repairs. A safe bet is to add 15-20% more than your initial calculations.

Planning the Wallpaper Layout

Centring Patterns: For wallpapers with a distinct central motif or design, consider the room’s focal point. You might want the most attractive part of the pattern centred over a fireplace or directly behind a sofa, for instance.

Matching Seams: Wallpapers come with repeat patterns. It’s crucial to understand this repeat to ensure design continuity across seams. Depending on the repeat, you might have to trim the wallpaper’s top or bottom to get a match, which can lead to wastage and is why ordering extra is essential.

Accounting for Windows and Doors: While these areas will not have wallpaper, they influence pattern placement. Ensure that any key elements of the design aren’t awkwardly cut off by these fixtures.

Wallpapering Process

The actual act of applying wallpaper can be both an art and a science, requiring a keen eye for detail, a steady hand, and an understanding of the material. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of the wallpapering process:

Cutting the Wallpaper

Sizing: Using your measurements, cut the wallpaper strips, ensuring you leave an additional 3-4 inches at both the top and bottom for trimming later. This extra length accommodates any wall irregularities and aids in pattern matching.

Pattern Matching: For designs with a repeat, remember to align the pattern. This might mean cutting off a section at the top to ensure the pattern on one strip aligns seamlessly with the next.

Applying Adhesive

Pre-pasted Wallpaper: If using this type, it already has dry paste on its back. Activate it by rolling the cut strip in a water tray or using a sponge, allowing it to soak as per the manufacturer’s guidelines. Then, fold it over itself (book it) to let the adhesive activate. Ensure it doesn’t stay folded for too long to prevent the paper from sticking to itself.

Paste-the-wall Wallpaper: Some wallpapers require you to apply the paste directly to the wall. Using a brush or roller, spread the adhesive evenly on the wall, covering a bit more than the width of one strip.

Standard Wallpaper: If your choice is neither of the above, apply adhesive to the back of the wallpaper using a pasting brush. Ensure an even coat, paying special attention to the edges. Afterwards, “book” the wallpaper by gently folding the pasted sides together, allowing it a few minutes to become tacky.

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Hanging the Wallpaper

Starting Point: Align the top of your wallpaper with the ceiling, making sure you have the extra 3-4 inches mentioned earlier. Now, match the paper with your vertical guideline, working from the middle and moving outwards to smooth any bubbles or wrinkles.

Smoothing: Use a wallpaper smoother or a dry brush, working from the centre to the edges, to push out any air bubbles and ensure the wallpaper sits flush against the wall.

Trimming: Using a sharp utility knife, trim the excess wallpaper at the top and bottom. It’s best to use a straightedge to guide your cuts for precision.

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Navigating Obstacles

Outlets and Switches: Before beginning, ensure electricity to the room is turned off. Loosen the screws on outlets or switches. Once you reach them, make diagonal cuts from the centre of the outlet to the corners. Trim the excess and tuck the wallpaper behind the fixture. Tighten the screws back once done.

Achieving Perfect Seams

Overlap Technique: When two strips of wallpaper meet, overlap them slightly. Then, using a wallpaper seam roller, gently roll along the seam to ensure a good bond.

For extra precision, use a straightedge and a sharp knife to cut through both layers of the overlapping papers. Remove the excess strips from beneath, and you’ll have a perfectly matched, nearly invisible seam (watch the video below to see this technique in action).

Post-Wallpapering

After the meticulous process of putting up wallpaper, there are a few post-application steps that can enhance the longevity and aesthetic of your feature wall. Proper care at this stage ensures that your wall looks seamless and remains in pristine condition for years to come.

Seam Sealing

Utilising the Seam Roller: A seam roller is a handy tool to ensure that the edges where two wallpaper strips meet are bonded perfectly. Gently roll over each seam, pressing just hard enough to seal the papers together without pushing out the adhesive or damaging the wallpaper.

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Caution with Embossed or Textured Wallpaper: If your wallpaper has raised patterns or designs, be gentle with the seam roller to avoid flattening the design. In such cases, it might be better to use a soft cloth to press down on the seams manually.

Adhesive Cleanup

Immediate Action: Adhesive residues can become harder to remove if allowed to dry. As you work your way across the wall, keep an eye out for any spots where adhesive might have seeped out from beneath the wallpaper.

Using a Damp Sponge: A sponge moistened with clean water is effective for cleaning up excess adhesive. Gently blot or wipe the affected areas, taking care not to rub or apply too much pressure, which could damage the wallpaper or cause it to peel.

Changing Water Regularly: If you’re cleaning up adhesive from a larger area, ensure that the water is changed frequently. This prevents smearing sticky residue all over the wall.

Inspecting Your Work

Final Check: After sealing the seams and cleaning up, step back and inspect the entire wall from different angles. Check for any bubbles, misaligned patterns, or areas where the wallpaper might not have adhered properly. Small bubbles might dissipate as the adhesive dries, but larger ones may need attention.

Bubbles and Imperfections: If you spot a bubble, you can use a pin to prick it and then gently press it to release the trapped air. For larger issues, you might need to carefully peel back the affected area and reapply the adhesive.

Drying Time

Allow Proper Drying: It’s essential to let the wallpaper dry naturally. Avoid the temptation to hasten the drying process using heaters or fans, as uneven drying can cause the wallpaper to shrink or warp.

Room Ventilation: While you shouldn’t directly blow air onto the newly applied wallpaper, maintaining good room ventilation can aid in the overall drying process. Keep windows slightly open, if weather permits, to ensure a continuous flow of fresh air.

So that’s the process out of the way. What about choosing wallpaper? Let’s have a quick look at that.

Choosing the Right Wallpaper

When choosing wallpaper on a feature wall, you’re making a significant design statement, and the choice of paper will significantly influence the room’s overall ambience. Here’s a deeper dive into the elements to consider:

Patterns and Themes

Bold Patterns: Geometric designs, large florals, or abstract motifs make a pronounced statement. They tend to draw immediate attention and can create a room’s focal point.

Subtle Patterns: Gentle and understated patterns, like small repeating motifs or soft gradients, can lend a touch of refinement without overwhelming the space.

Thematic Choices: From vintage to modern, nautical to tropical, and everything in-between, thematic wallpapers can define the story of a room.

colour Spectrum

Vivid Hues: Bright and bold colours like scarlet, royal blue, or emerald green can invigorate a space, infusing energy and enthusiasm.

Neutral Tones: Shades of beige, grey, or off-white can create a calm, soothing ambience. These hues can also serve as a backdrop, allowing other design elements in the room to shine.

Dark colours: Deep colours like charcoal, navy, or rich burgundy can add drama and sophistication. However, they might make a small room feel more confined unless balanced with the right lighting and decor.

Textures and Finishes

Textured Wallpaper: Be it raised patterns, grasscloth, or flocking, textured wallpapers add depth and a tactile element, making walls touch-worthy.

Metallic and Glossy Finishes: These reflect light and can add a shimmering quality to a wall, especially in a room that gets ample natural or ambient light.

Matte Finishes: A flat finish can provide a more muted, classic look, often letting the design itself be the star without any sheen.

Room Specifics

Natural Light: In rooms flooded with sunlight, consider wallpapers that won’t fade easily. Light can also play with textures and finishes, so think about how the sunlight will interact with your chosen paper throughout the day.

Wall Size: For larger walls, it’s crucial to understand the repeat of a pattern, ensuring it doesn’t become monotonous. On smaller walls, even a bold choice can be less overwhelming since the surface area is limited.

Room Function: In a bedroom, you might want something calming and serene, while a living room or hallway might benefit from a bolder choice. For rooms with humidity like bathrooms, ensure the wallpaper is suitable for such environments.

When choosing wallpaper, it’s often recommended to get samples. Place them on the desired wall, and observe them during different times of the day, and under various lighting conditions. This step ensures that the design and colour you choose will resonate with your vision for the space.

Tools and equipment needed

  • Utility knife
  • Decorating scissors
  • Straight edge
  • Plumb line
  • Pasting table
  • Pasting brush
  • Smoothing brush

Click on the following link to find a full list of all the home decorating equipment to paint and wallpaper the rooms of your home.