Rather than spend a third consecutive weekend sanding away on the spare room floor, Eric and I decided it would make sense to strip wallpaper for a change of pace … the wallpaper my parents helped me hang back in 1984. It was sure to be a messy job and we’d want to finish-sand the floor after we created a mess on it.
Wallpaper can be removed in a number of ways. Based on a friend’s experience and what we read online, we made a plan: We’d use a perforating tool to pierce its skin with a million tiny cuts, then, while it was still smarting, squirt on a 1:1 mixture of hot water and fabric softener until it lost its 30-year grip and slid to the floor, defeated.
I probably don’t have to tell you that it didn’t quite happen that way. Oh sure, the first couple of pieces pulled off quite nicely, as if to tease us, but then things got rough.
This paper was not going to go quietly. We pulled away large chunks of the printed surface layer, but the adhesive underlayer still clung to the wall. Sometimes it made me dizzy and I couldn’t tell if we were removing the flowered part or the green part or the white part. If this looks confusing, just remember, we wanted the walls to be green.
We squirted more water/fabric softener. The rain fell outside, and the air grew equally damp inside. Our hands were wrinkled, but Downy-soft. Double-soaked, the underlayer came off in maddening little shreds. I used my thumbnail to coax it off. At some point I wised up and switched to a putty knife. This is not a job to do if you want to maintain your manicure.
Sometimes I pulled hard and got more than I bargained for. Oops. I’ll have to do some spackling and plaster repair.
Then we came to the section where, thirty years ago, my dad had insisted on using traditional brush-on paste because he was skeptical of new-fangled pre-pasted paper. Of course, dampening only one side of the paper made it buckle on the wall … which finally convinced him that following the instructions was a better idea. (I remember soaking the paper in the tub like it was yesterday.) I don’t know if this section of paper was any harder to remove, but it did leave twice as much paste behind. Suddenly I was thinking of Cream of Wheat smothered in milk and raspberry jam. Wallpaper paste is made out of wheat, right?
But, we got it done in one day. Or rather, we got the bulk of the paper off in one day. The next step sounded a lot easier: wash the wall with soap and water to remove the remaining paste residue. HA! I developed a system: Swab a section of wall with a wet sponge. Swab it again. Scrub in circles with a stiff-bristled brush until the paste dislodged. Wipe with a wet sponge. Again. Again. And again. I worked on one side of the room, Eric worked on the other. This washing went on for three days. Well—we work during the day … so more like one day and two evenings. But it felt like three whole days.
In this photo, the walls are milky-looking with dried paste residue.
But at long last, the room was clean … and green!
So what’s with the story with the emerald green paint? When I bought this house, it was spotlessly clean and recently repainted … but the previous owner made some odd color choices. The living room was totally beige: walls, woodwork, and ceiling. With the olive green wool carpet it felt like standing on a bed of spinach, covered with cream of mushroom soup. I repainted it a taupe-y shade that held a hint of mauve at night. Hey, give me a break—it was the 80s, and I was too young to know better! The kitchen was shell pink—an odd shade for a kitchen, but its warm glow grew on me and I kept it for years. Above wallpapered wainscoting in the bathroom, the walls were a stomach-cramping shade of ochre. And my bedroom ceiling (above some amazing pink and gray vintage rambling rose wallpaper) was Pepto-Bismol pink. Compared to all that, the green room wasn’t so bad.
As soon as the clean walls dried, I slapped on some color samples. The lighter one (top), which Eric had favored, washed out to off-white. “It’s too light,” he admitted. The amber color that I liked (bottom) looks pretty good. I’d like to go a little bolder, but I know that won’t fly. “It’s too dark,” says Eric. It’s hard to capture the true color with my camera.
This is the color I’m going for. Yeah, it would also help to have a Richard Neutra house … maybe in my next lifetime—fat chance! For now, I’m satisfied to have finally heard Eric say those three little words: “It’s too light.”