Wallpapering an old farmhouse presents special challenges. The plaster walls are anything but straight, level and/or smooth. Here’s the story, when I bought this old farm, the walls and ceilings were painted a very popular colour of seafoam green in the main living area. After I spent months AND MONTHS with a heat gun in my hand stripping paint, I decided to paper the walls. My ceilings are ash and my wainscoting is also in ash so I only had to paper the portion between the wainscoting and ceiling. Back in 1989, I papered these walls in a large floral and had matching seat cushions and draperies – it was very 80’s! in an old farmhouse chic kind of look. Back then, I had big permed hair and shoulder pads, since I no longer have the big permed hair OR the shoulder pads, I decided my farmhouse also needed an updated fresh look.
While bored in the cold nights of winter, I got on a ladder and satrted to peel the old paper off. Because I had gone through this process once already, I peeled just one layer, the layer that I had applied in the 80’s. Originally, I must have peeled off ten different types of wallpaper – the old stuff that was real paper, and multiple layers of paint in between the wallpaper. I tried a lot of products from the hardware store, but the thing that worked best for me, was a spray bottle (an old windex bottle will work just fine) filled with water and a little dish detergent. The soap helps the water saturate the paper, I used a flat spatula to scrape the paper off without damaging the plaster underneath. Once I got the paper off, I stood back and admired my plaster repair handiwork, it still looked great! I washed the walls down with a slight vinegar and water wash to remove any soap residue. Another thing about these old houses, at least where I live, any tradesmen that were hired, have signed their names under the work and it’s like a piece of the past when you uncover someone’s name from the 1800’s. I have found names and dates as far back as 1892. I signed my name and date and proceeded to hang the new paper.
In this room, with the walls all out of square and repairs done, it was really hard to choose a paper that could work with what I have. Let me back up a little – in the hallway, I chose a paper that is a paintable paper. I chose the paintable paper because it hides a lot of flaws. The hallway isn’t square and I have had to repair some plaster cracks in there also. Plaster cracks come from the house shifting and in my old Victorian masterpiece, the cracks are part of the history of this house, so I don’t mind them. The house is structurally sound and after 150 years I consider everything about this house “patina” and beautiful. With the paper hung in the hallway, I then used a very stiff sponge roller and painted just the high part of the wallpaper so the background is still the white of the original paper. It looks like the old velvet wallpapers. My hallway is kind of dark, so the colours I used keep it light.
Now back to the living room area – I wanted a paper that had a large damask print. I wanted it light (er) in colour – with wraparound porches and wood walls, it can get very dark in there. I found a paper that wasn’t to far off the mark and it was sort of a foil – which I thought was a great idea – for light reflection. Let me tell you right now, if you are planning to wallpaper an old farmhouse, or any house, in a foil wallpaper, you better have perfect walls to start. With foil, your walls have to be straight (mine aren’t), they have to be flawless (mine aren’t), and the room had better be square (mine isn’t). I felt a bit like Lucille Ball up there on the ladder trying every which way I could to get that paper to hang properly. I even went to the hardware store and bought paper liner. The employees at the hardware store didn’t even know what I was asking for – but one wallpaper manufacturer sells wallpaper liner. I tried that and that didn’t work either. I don’t think it would have helped if I had just gone right over the old paper because there were so many edges that were lifting. I put the paper up, stood back and decided I can live with it for a year, but this winter when those cold nights find me bored, I’m certain that I will have my ladder out and papering that room with a paintable paper!