New ways to wallpaper

There are literally thousands of ways to decorate your walls  from paint and painted treatments, to wood and textured finishes and a seemingly limitless choice of manufactured wallpapers from hundreds of companies around the world. Selecting from among these options can be daunting and may not satisfy your aesthetic and personal needs. One family came up with some inspired ideas and unusual solutions for several bathrooms at their family's beachside summer home. They wanted to personalize the spaces with a wall treatment that would give meaning to the home, add some humor and a lot of color.

Instead of going off to the wallpaper store, they started looking around their home and thinking about fun ideas that would work well on the walls. In each bathroom they came up with an expressive solution that involved using materials already in their homes. Here's what I mean.

The first bathroom they tackled was the powder room off the front entry hall. It's the bathroom most often used by guests, those staying for the weekend, and those visiting for a beach day or lunch.

The house had been newly rebuilt following the death of the grand mere several years before. When she died, they were charged with clearing out the old house and discovered among other things an enormous pile of "New Yorker" magazines from the 30's, 40's, and 50's. Not only were the covers beautifully illustrated, this particular collection was limited to dates from June through September, so all the covers were themed with boating, sailing, picnicking and the like and were therefore perfect for this summer retreat.

A wise friend suggested having each of the covers color-copied so the originals, perhaps of value to collectors, could be preserved. Though the New Yorker now creates its own form of wallpaper from their past covers and cartoons, they would never be able to get this particular collection of images together and since they weren't selling the copies, the copyright laws wouldn't be of concern. They worked with a local copy shop to get the colors and size consistent and chose a heavy paper stock so the sheets wouldn't fall apart when the wet paste was applied.

Before putting paper to wall, the primed sheetrock was prepared with a sizing solution which can be purchased at most hardware stores. This preps the walls to receive the wallpaper paste and gives a bit of tooth and stickiness that will provide greater adhesion.

Working from the right of the doorway where most people will look when they go to turn on the lights, the three-person crew of mother, partner and daughter-in-law (it can be done by one person working efficiently) laid out their plan placing each decade in a row, with dates ascending as you go up the wall. Corners were no problem since each sheet measured only 8.75" x 11.5" (the size has since been reduced) and bent easily to form fit. Continuing around the room, cutting and adjusting for the vanity mirror, towel racks and lights, they ended at the doorjamb with partial covers that no one would notice since they are behind the door. At the top of the room there was a gap remaining, so they had some of the more colorful covers recopied only at the top and strung a row of magazine titles around the room. This provided a strong graphic feature and ended up looking like it was part of the original plan.

The preferred method of application was a regular wallpaper paste mixed to the consistency of runny batter. It was applied to the back of each sheet with a paintbrush and flattened onto the walls with a barely damp sponge. Each sheet was carefully overlapped about an eighth of an inch to make the wall as flat as possible, but still have total coverage. If they had attempted to butt up each piece to the next, the seams could have exposed raw wall. Even the most experienced wallpaper hangers generally overlap a tiny amount for this reason.

When all the sheets were in place, two protective coatings of polyurethane were applied and the room was done. It's become an excellent conversation piece and family members report that each time they go in they find another cover that they never noticed before.

With the success of the powder room in hand, the team went on to tackle an upstairs bathroom where the original wallpaper was hung improperly and was peeling. The presence of the shower in this bath created additional humidity, intensified by the climate near the shore, so all the wallpaper was literally lifting itself off the walls and could not be repaired.

In this room they chose a nautical theme since there are a number of sailors in the family. An old book of nautical charts was torn apart and a few larger maps were purchased to provide the needed coverage. The charts are illustrated in a limited range of colors from tans to blues to some purple and green. Their consistent look and coloring was a benefit since their graphic design varied from sheet to sheet with the changing island and landmasses throughout the Northeast.

Again the team started to the right of the door at the light switches and tried to keep a regular pattern based on the actual geography of the region, going west to east. In this way viewers could see a logical progression of the information as if they were reading the room in a clockwise fashion. Similar techniques of sizing, applying wallpaper paste and smoothing over with a damp sponge were employed. Several coats of the water-based polyurethane were applied with attention to the fact that the shower had contributed to the lifting off of the former paper.

The graphic appearance of the charts is more energetic than the magazine covers, but the consistent colors give cohesion to the room overall. If you are choosing a busy pattern like this, try to control the color palette, or the graphic elements, so the room is not too busy and unsteady to be in.

The third bathroom was another distinctive expression for this family with an added personalizing feature brought in at the last moment. This room is adjacent to the kids' "bunk room" that over the years would house several generations of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The illustrated covers from favorite children's books that filled the shelves were used for this inspired bath. Classics such as the Little Prince and Babar were used along with special favorites of each of the children. Though the family had plenty of books to choose from, the wall coverage required additional sources so the local library was used to obtain many more.

As with the magazine covers, the book covers (and in some instances title pages and a few special pages from classics such as Alice in Wonderland), were color copied by a local shop. The machine they used has an automatic button for enlargement or resizing to 8.5" x 11". This was utilized to provide a consistent size when possible but the wide-ranging layouts proved a challenge to format.

The diversity of styles from all the covers, along with the varying sizes, made the design tricky. But this seasoned crew approached the room with enthusiasm and was soon plastering sheets in a quick and methodical fashion. Cut outs were made and corners accommodated as in the previous rooms. Along the top another line of titles was applied which helped ground the sometime busy design. The coup de gras occurred over the shower enclosure where Dr. Seuss's The Book of Me was personalized with photos of each member of the family. Now when people go in to take a shower they look at familiar people as well as well-loved stories to bring back childhood memories.

You too can dream up an unlimited number of ideas for how to personalize your walls: sheets of music, old album covers, comic books, or photos. Almost anything can be copied for application. Try to look at the color combinations and graphic effects that will dominate the design to lay out an attractive room, but the sky is the limit, so let your creative juices flow.

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