Picking Wallpaper

by Josh on February 23, 2007 · 6 comments

in House History

Chewing your fingernails. Picking a scab. Why does anyone do these things? They don’t make you look any better, in fact you usually look worse than if you had just left everything alone.

I’ve recently discovered the house equivalent of fingernail chewing: picking old, peeling, painted wallpaper off the walls. It absolutely looks terrible, but the urge to pick is irresistable!

Here’s how it happened: the other day I noticed that the painted wallpaper in the dining room had a new crack in it, presumably caused by the temperature and humidity difference between the outside and inside air.

a tempting crack in the paint

Then, like a mythological siren, the crack drew me closer to see how cleanly the wallpaper had separated from the wall. Using a butter knife from the kitchen (too close a trip to provide the opportunity for second thoughts) I began to flake off large sections of wallpaper, leaving the original unpainted plaster exposed.

Paint paper plaster detail

I was amazed with how easily the wallpaper came off– and the sections were really big. In just a minute I had exposed a couple square feet of plaster– and made a real eyesore in one of our most public and (formerly) best-looking rooms. If we intended to remove all the wallpaper in the room, this would be progress. But, for now, we aren’t and it’s not.

Bare plaster beneath the paper

Once the wallpaper was down and I stepped away from my handiwork, I knew I had made a mistake. My family knew it, too. The three-year-old padded over to ask what happened to the wall. And what would Ms. Bungalow say when she returned from her errands to find I had defaced her favorite room?

But when you’re picking at peeling wallpaper, consequences aren’t on your mind. A psychologist might say that I was reconciling a dissonance: the wallpaper was both on the wall and detached from the wall, and I made it pick a side. Or my destructive act might have been an expression of pent-up aggression. Most likely, I have been reading too much Curious George lately.

Despite the cost in dining room ugliness, my curiosity paid off in at least two respects. First, I discovered that the plaster was never painted, so the bottom layer of wallpaper is the original finish for that room. Second, the backside of the wallpaper pieces I removed were maked “Vogue” and “Made in USA,” so even if I can’t separate the original wallpaper from the other layers I removed, I can use the name to research what the walls might have looked like back in 1923.

That’s the kind of information you’ll never get from a hangnail.

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