Sometimes ‘design plans’ just evolve… that’s for sure this case in creating a whimsical library. Here’s what happened and how I did it…
First, even though I don’t have a great picture of our attic stairway from before, here is a picture from the attic looking towards the stairway,
after it was insulated, and after the bats (eek!) were given the boot!
You can just make out the filthy dirty brownish plaster walls by the handrail. (the upper walls of the attic where you can see the spray foam insulation and new stud extensions would eventually get sheetrock, but I’ll show you the attic in future posts)
Once the attic was sheetrocked, I thought I’d just paint the attic stairway stairs.
I did the risers in a fun color, that actually matched the original maid’s room trim in the attic… again, stay tuned, I’ll explain that in a future post… The walls of the attic stairway got primed, and that’s how they’ve been for the last year, while I tried to decide what I was going to do…
But during that year of deciding, we’ve have a few falls… nothing serious, but enough to make us decide that no matter what I do on the walls, these steps needed to have something on them to try to prevent feet from slipping on the painted steps.
So before the carpet went in, the walls really needed to be finished somehow, so…
I painted them the same super neutral gray color that the whole attic is painted. “That’ll be fine.” I told myself. (there’s always something about that word, ‘fine’ isn’t there!?)
Surprisingly, (or not) the very next day after I finished painting the walls of the stairway that neutral gray color, while on a run to Menard’s to get some misc. hardware I found myself perusing the wallpaper aisle… The whole time telling myself, “The walls are done and I’m for sure not going to find some wallpaper at Menard’s for the stairway, I’m just looking for some inspiration for just some future project that doesn’t even exist yet.” Besides, for the last year I had been considering getting a Thibaut wallpaper that was over $100 per roll for those walls, and trust me, that choice would not be in the bins of this NW Wisconsin based hardware store!
But then I saw this:
This trompe l’oeil library bookshelf wallpaper border really kind of got my head thinking…
That’s the genesis of this design idea for creating a whimsical library.
Now onto the actual tips to do it:
Before you start to wallpaper, you must paint sizing on the wall.
True story: the very first time I wallpapered, 36 years ago, I read about how to do it, way, way before an easy search on google was available, and the pamphlet said to carefully size the walls… so I measured them twice!
No kidding! I had no clue! About so many things, but obviously about wallpapering too… and sadly the paper came/fell off the walls to show me how important sizing really is!
Sizing the wall will properly seal it so the glue adheres to it and holds the wallpaper up, but also is supposed to help in the removal of the wallpaper when you want a different look… however, I haven’t always found this part to be true, but I’m sure it helps. (you can get premixed sizing in the paint and wallpaper store) It paints on like paint and must be 100% dry before you proceed.
Next, get your tools:
For this wallpaper project the paper is pre-glued. (the glue is applied on the back of the wallpaper in the factory and comes to you dried, once you get it wet the back of the wallpaper gets amazingly wet, slimy and gooey!)
So for pre-glued paper, you’ll need a drip tray, you can just see the bright green corner of it in this picture. It’s about 6″ wide by about 3′ long and about 6″ deep. You’ll need to fill it about half full of warm water. I also lay a couple of large towels under it and extending out about 4′. This is what you’ll lay your wet dripping wallpaper on, so if you’re working on a nice floor, be sure to first lay plastic then the towels, so the floor doesn’t get any moisture at all.
The other tools are a wide blade putty knife, which is used for protecting the wallpaper when you’re trimming the excess.
And a vinyl smoothing tool, this is just that, for smoothing the wallpaper on the wall, carefully working the air bubbles out from behind the wallpaper.
And finally you’ll need a very, very sharp utility knife. Depending on the paper, you may need to actually have a new blade for every single cut, that’s why I love using a breakaway knife. It’s a cinch to keep a fresh blade this way.
You’ll also need a level, pencil and scissors. That’s for getting a straight plumb edge on the wall, and for cutting the piece of wallpaper from the roll. And lastly, a soft cloth and lots of rinse water for it will be necessary, (this is for wiping down the unwanted glue from the wall and wallpaper face)
Now, my project here is a bit unique… First it’s using several rows of borders… not your typical way to cover a wall with wallpaper. Plus, because of the pattern, instead of trying to find a plumb line, I decided to try to encourage the optical illusion of a shelf full of books, I needed to follow the actual base trim on the wall, regardless if it was level or not. So I didn’t use a level for this project.
After measuring out the length of the wall and adding a couple of inches for trimming, and in this case, trying to carefully make sure I had a full ‘book’ on the corner, again to encourage the believable trompe l’oeil effect, I’ve found over the years and years of wallpapering that the best way to get all the glue wet on the back of the paper is to roll it inside out then dip it in the tray, well more like, lay it in the water tray. Then slowly pull out one end of the border, folding the glued sides together as the moistened paper unrolled and I pulled it out. Once it’s all out of the tray, and folded glue sides together, it’s important to let the wet wallpaper rest a couple minutes. (this is called booking the wallpaper) During this process the wallpaper actually will stretch out a little bit and then slightly shrink back.
After a couple minutes, don’t wait too long or the glue with start to dry and the paper will stick together… but if you put it up too soon, the glue won’t have had enough time to activate… so you have to time it just right. Sounds harder than it is really, you’ll get the hang of it once you get going on it.
Now open one part of the folds and gently place the paper onto the wall, in my case this was running horizontally along the baseboard, (but in a standard wallpaper application, it would be from the top down, in that case, you’d start at the top, then once the top was positioned correctly, lining it up with your plumb line, you’d unfold the bottom half of the paper and adhere that to the wall.)
Once the paper was where it needed to be, (take much care NOT to pull the edge of the paper to line it up for placement! The edge of the paper will unknowingly stretch, and then when it dries, it’ll shrink back and you’ll get very unsightly gaps! Always move the wallpaper from the center, careful to move the full width of the roll to avoid those unsightly gaps.)
Smooth the paper out with a smoothing tool. Start in the center of the paper and carefully smooth out the air bubbles that are trapped in the glue. But be careful to not push too hard or you risk pushing out too much of the glue and the paper not sticking… or you could even ‘burnish’ the paper and wind up with leaving permanent marks on it.
Then it’s time to trim the excess wallpaper from the corner of the wall, where our ‘library shelves’ end. (remember how I cut the strip a couple inches longer?)
The best way I have found to trim wallpaper is with this method… I carefully and firmly hold the wide blade putty knife against the very edge of the wallpaper I’m keeping, protecting it from the razor knife edge, and then with the razor knife on the other side of the putty knife blade, I slice straight through the wallpaper, creating a clean cut exactly in the corner.
Once it’s sliced all the way down, then you can easily remove the unwanted scrap. But you’ll find this:
Glue gobs. It’s very important that with a soft damp cloth, rinsed over and over, you remove all the glue from the wall and from the face of the wallpaper, or once the glue dries on the wall, it can actually crack the paint, and can leave a permanent shiny spot on the wall or paper. BUT, you need to be careful that you don’t use too much water in your soft rag, or too much pressure when wiping the wallpaper, especially the edge, or you risk squishing the glue out from behind the wallpaper, or the water from the cloth dripping behind the wallpaper and thinning the glue out, and then the edges of the wallpaper will not stick nice and flat to the wall.
As with most things, practice really helps! If you can, start on a smaller project with easier paper to work with, like this vinyl coated, pre-glued paper, to get accustomed to working with wallpaper.
So basically, that’s it. Of course, depending on what type of wallpaper you’re installing, there are lots of different little tips I’ve found along the way, but this is pretty basic for your average run of the mill paper.
On our whimsical library wall…
after 5 full rows of border, (which equaled 2 1/2 rolls of border, at $5 each on clearance is a whopping $15!!!!!!!!!!!)
I couldn’t fit another full row of ‘books’ on the top, and as you can see, if I cut it off at the top, it completely blows the trick to the eye…
I think just a little dark brown paint to gently fall to the background is going to be best. I mixed a concoction of colors to try to blend with the dark background on the border.
Once the dark background was dry, I added a little dry brushing of a lighter color to create a bit of woodgrain to it. The color doesn’t match the border, but it totally does the trick to blend into the background.
I knew I hit the ‘trompe l’oeil mark’ when one of my granddaughters went upstairs to play in the attic and was surprised to see the stairway, so then came back down and said, “Grandma, I love your new bookshelf!”
Yay! She didn’t say the new wall or stairway, but it did exactly the effect I was hoping for, it created a look of a bookshelf… What you don’t see, yet, it the top details of the bookshelf to create a whimsical library (that, I’ve carefully cut out of this picture… ha ha…) you’ll have to check back for that. This post is enormously long, so I think it’ll be best to split it up into two parts.
But stay tuned… then I’ll show you the carpet and the really, really fun finish to creating a whimsical library… the top wall and ledge detail was such fun, adding a personal and historical detail to this space! *** Click here to see the post with those details!
Hmmm…. got you thinking? I hope so, that is the whole point of this blog, to encourage you to think and step out and do some fun and beautiful and just basically some good design in your own space.
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