I really want to love the new trends in wallpaper. I really do. Unfortunately though, my ability to love has been broken by a wall covering trauma from my past.

I could have recovered if it were only the dated floral print that mocked me. I could have moved on even if I had to spring for an entire case of scoring tools or rent a steamer. I might even have grown stronger in the end if I had learned to accept the use of chemical solvents. But no, I cowered in defeat–a broken, humiliated failure. I had to make a choice that would forever influence my regard for wallpaper and my impression of myself as a do-it-yourselfer: strip or cover.

It all began when my husband and I moved into our first home, a cozy little cottage that stood waiting for our TLC. The ugly wallpaper was one of many items on our list of things to change, but it was a minor one that didn’t even faze us when contemplating the purchase. Little did I know that one simple improvement project a few months later would help define my character as both a homeowner and a human being.

“Little did I know that one simple improvement project a few months later would help define my character as both a homeowner and a human being.”

When some of the more significant repairs were out of the way, like rebuilding the leaking roof, replacing the mismatched linoleum with slate tile, and painting the whole exterior, it was time to tackle a few superficial projects that were intended to provide me some quick gratification. The wallpaper had to go and I was raring to tackle the job.

Armed with a scraper, razor knife, spray bottle, and the unbridled enthusiasm that only a first-time homeowner can possess, I went after the nearest lifted seam. With great pride, I tugged the edge of the paper and awaited the satisfying peel that was to come. It didn’t. I came away with barely a scrap of hideous floral in my hand. I tried again, with the same results.

I stepped up my game: I sprayed. I scored. I soaked. I waited. I screamed unkind things. I scratched at the offending paper with my fingernails and pure grit. Finally, after trying everything I had access to at the time, I got ahold of a handful of paper and pulled, warring with myself over the compulsion to make the perfect peel and the need to exact revenge on the wall. With slightly more force than necessary, I pulled free about one square foot of wallpaper… with drywall paper firmly attached to its backside. My jaw dropped as my gaze shifted from the limp scrap in my hand to the bright gypsum revealed on the wall. It was at this point that I realized I had to choose my own adventure.

“It was at this point that I realized I had to choose my own adventure.”

My husband jumped in to help, but the paper was not budging. The previous owners had applied it directly to the drywall. No primer, no paint, no sizing, no nothing. As a testament to their home improvement prowess, the few drywall joints we were able to uncover were seamed with masking tape.

Removing all of the paper would take days, and I would undoubtedly gouge my walls to a point that visitors would mistake my house for an abandoned hovel. A complete skim coating with joint compound would be needed just to bury the scars.

My next option was to tear the drywall down and start fresh. I really didn’t want to go down that road, and I knew the mere mention of it would earn me “the stare” from my husband. The final choice was to leave the wallpaper in place and texture over it.

“The final choice was to leave the wallpaper in place and texture over it.”

It went against every ounce of my better judgement, but I just didn’t see a viable alternative to the third option. The labor, time, and expense involved in repairing the walls properly were just not reasonable, so I opted for the best compromise I could live with.

After securing or removing what little paper I had managed to loosen, I traded my wallpaper removal tools for drywall knives and joint compound. I knew the paper would always be under there, mocking me, but I resolved to make the most of the job ahead and try not to look back.

In the end, my troweled knock-down texture looked pretty smart painted white against my reclaimed slate floor and honey pine trim. The project didn’t turn out like I had originally envisioned, but I still won. I just have this lingering fear of wallpaper to resolve….

How Cover to Irremovable Wallpaper

It’s always best to remove wallpaper before applying a new finish to your walls, but if you face a traumatic encounter like mine, it may be necessary to leave it in place. If you decide to go this route, be sure to take a few important steps to ensure the best possible results.

1. Remove or secure loose paper.

Loose seams or torn bits of paper will work loose under new paint. It’s a law of nature; no matter what means you employ to remove the paper intentionally, it won’t come loose until you paint over it.

2. Prime the surface.

Check with the experts at The Home Depot paint desk to find the best primer for the type of paper you need to cover. You need something that will stick to both the paper and your new paint or texture, and what works for one may not work for another.

3. Repair blemishes.

Use spackle to fill minor dings and holes and joint compound for seams or larger problem areas. Even if the horrifying print of the paper camouflages them now, imperfections will translate through your new finish. If you decide to go all-out, skim coat or texture the entire wall surface.

4. Sand the surface.

Use a sanding sponge or 120 grit sandpaper to smooth the surface or patches as needed. Give any exposed primer coat a quick scuff while you’re at it.

5. Prime the surface again.

When patching or compound has dried fully, prime raw surfaces again to give your final finish the best chance of success.

Apply two coats of your finish paint of choice. Be sure to cut in twice for every coat you roll, and allow a full day’s drying time between coats if you can.

Accept the fate of your wallpaper and get on with your life. Maybe in a few years you’ll be ready to try hanging wallpaper yourself. If you do, just remember not to apply it to bare drywall. Future generations will thank you.


About The Author

Amy is a freelance writer and editor with a background in residential construction and remodeling. She is long on home improvements ideas and short on time to try them out.