Home Decorating Tips for Do It Yourselfers

• Preplanning

Before beginning any home decorating project, it would be an excellent idea to think through what it is that you want to accomplish with the improvement.  What are your ultimate goals for color, style mood, lighting, and furniture use for each room of the home?  You may already have a good idea what you like, especially if you have lived in the space for some time.  If you haven’t been in the home very long or you haven’t really chosen a direction to go yet, try to focus on your likes and dislikes in terms of color and overall flow through the various spaces.  Your colors need to work together.  They don’t necessarily need to “match” but they should coordinate, and not compete against each other either.  If you are not sure what works together, ask friends who are good with colors and style, inquire at the local paint store, or call in a professional decorator.  I would be able to help with all these questions if you like, but it would be better to have put in some thought before we met. 

Once you have a direction, try to focus on each room individually.  What style suits the space best?  What colors would be good to use?  What colors would make the room look larger or smaller, or warmer or cooler, depending on your desires?  You may wish to use a solid color of paint, or you may want a broken color technique.  If you want a specific pattern on the wall, you may want a wallpaper, or a stencil effect 

Generally speaking, a wallpaper will be more durable than paint.  It probably will have enough pattern to hide some flaws in the wall if that is a problem of concern that isn’t easily fixed.  If solid color painting is chosen, the walls will need to be smoothed out fairly well.  If a faux finish or broken color technique is chosen, they may do an adequate job of hiding flaws, depending on what is chosen. 

• Wallpapering

If you currently have wallpaper on your walls and want to change the look, it is always best to remove the old paper first.  Why?  There are several reasons.  First, if you hang new paper over an old paper, the new paper may cause the old paper to bubble up underneath.  If you seal or prime the old paper first, you may avoid bubbles, but when the paper is eventually stripped, the original paper will be very difficult to remove.  There are times when the old paper is so difficult to remove (like when the paper hanger didn’t size the walls first) that the paper may have to be painted into the wall to become a permanent part of the wall, never to be removed.  This should be considered a last resort scenario.  Secondly, if the paper needs to be repaired sometime in the future, having an old paper underneath will make a simple repair much more difficult.  Finally, if your new paper is thin, the old pattern may show through, or begin to “bleed through” if it becomes wet. 

Many people have questions about wallpaper stripping.  It isn’t the most fun project.

Removing wallpaper is sometimes easy if it was a solid vinyl.  If it leaves a paper backing, it should be easy to strip if the wall was properly prepared first.  If the paper has a vinyl “skin” that isn’t solid enough to pull off in a single sheet, removal could be more time consuming.  The best way to get it off is to go through the following steps.

  • Cover your floor with plastic sheeting and tape it down.  The tape will eventually come loose, but will hold long enough to keep your floor as dry as possible, and cleaner than if you didn’t try.
  • Use a “paper tiger” tool to score the paper.  Be careful not to damage the wall.  Pushing too hard could puncture the wall with thousands of holes that will need to be patched. 
  • Use a garden type pump up sprayer to wet the paper with a fine mist of hot water.  Using a hand squeeze type spray bottle will work, but take a lot of time.  Keep wetting the paper until the old paste begins to release the paper.
  • Use a two to three inch scraping tool or putty knife to scrape off the paper.  Use of a razor scraper by an inexperienced person could do a lot of damage to the wall requiring patching.
  • After the paper of off, make sure to wash the wall completely to remove all the old wallpaper paste.  Failure to do so will cause the new paint film to flake off.  If you are putting up new paper, you need not wash off all the old paste.  Simply remove most of it and make sure the wall is smooth.  When done, carefully roll up the plastic trying to keep the excess water from draining out the sides.  Let the walls dry out overnight before continuing.
  • The next day, do any needed wall repairs, patching, spot priming, wall sizing, etc.  If the old paper came off without a problem, you probably could hang paper without any further preparation.  If you encountered trouble, you should size the wall before new wallpaper is installed.  If you are painting over a stripped wall, you may want to consider two coats of paint to assure a proper film of paint.

Of course, I can do the job for you, giving you the pleasure of missing out on all the drudgery.  But really, stripping paper is not a skilled job.  Anyone can do it with proper care and by following the steps.  If you hit a snag, or the drywall begins to tear, stop and call an expert before you ruin your wall.

• Painting

If you have decided to paint your walls, I recommend using plastic sheeting to cover your flooring rather than cloth drops.  Cut it to size and tape it down.  Cloth drops can leak if a paint drip is stepped on and can easily by kicked away from the wall or tripped over.  Remember to cover your baseboard molding with tape carefully sealed along the wall line.  If you intend to leave it on a long time, use the type that can be removed without leaving masking residue.  Try not to use the tape as a crutch for speedy cutting in. Tape with a lot of paint on it can tear the wall paint when it is removed.

For the roller, choose a thicker roller cover than you think you need.  A common error many homeowners make is to use too short a nap for a roller cover.  A short nap is OK for some oil applications or if a very smooth finish is desired, but for most purposes, use at least a 3/8 inch nap, and a ½ inch in better.  For a rough surface like concrete blocks, use a one inch nap, or more.  A longer nap will give you the advantage of covering a bigger area before having to reload your roller. Having more paint in your roller also leaves a more even paint film decreasing the likelihood of a thin paint film with poor coverage, streaking, or leaving small missed spots (holidays).  When doing a ceiling, use an extension pole for your roller, rather than working from a stepladder, and moving it every few feet.  Finally, instead of using a shallow paint pan, buy a five gallon bucket and a painting screen at your local paint store.  It holds much more paint at a time and is much less likely to be stepped in and spilled.  For the walls, use a short handle extension for your roller.  It is easier to paint with and increases leverage with less arm and wrist fatigue. Make sure you have enough paint to complete the job with enough leftover for future touch-ups. Always box your paint before you begin.

The practice of pouring all cans of the same color paint into a large five gallon pail and intermixing. The smaller cans are then refilled to be used as needed. This practice assures that all the paint is exactly the same blend. Otherwise, there could be slight variations between cans which could possibly show up on the wall as a slight color shift. It's the same principle as making sure all your wallpaper is the same run number to avoid possible color differences between rolls.

Many people love to watch the TV channels that specialize in do-it-yourself decorating projects.  I like to watch them too.  Some of the ideas are pretty good.  Some are pretty misleading; cutting out hours spent masking special angles to do a technique, making a project seem easy.  Before tackling one of these jobs yourself, count the cost in experience, preparation, color choices and time spent doing the job.  If you want to do it as a craft project, go for it.  If you simply want it done, you may want to hire the job out. 

Another bad example is set by most of these programs.  When beginning to paint, start by cutting in around the ceiling, wall sides, and baseboard.  Then begin rolling at one side of the room steadily advancing to the other.  Do not start in the middle of the wall rolling up and down while a friend cuts in somewhere else.

The point is, decorating can be fun, so enjoy the process whether you do it yourself, or hire others to do it for you.

Wright Interiors • 630-554-9006 • 49 Eagle View Lane • Oswego, Illinois 60543
© Roger L. Wright, 2005