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.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole February 23, 2007 at 9:42 am

Oh no! We have some visible seams on our walls (all of them), and I just imagine myself doing the same thing.


Leslie February 23, 2007 at 10:16 am

OMG this made me laugh so hard with the memory. Two houses, almost two decades, and two relationships ago, we had planned on stripping the dining and living room wallpapers when we finished some other projects, probably mid-summer. But one day in late April when I was home alone, this one gap just called to me and the progression was “oh, wow, look how much came off just with my bare hands!…. oh wait, that piece is stuck, let me get the wallpaper scraper… WOW this is going to come off without even having to wet or steam it!! Oh, wait, no, there are still lots of patches that aren’t budging…” Before you knew it I had one full wall of my living room looking like the house equivalent of really nasty road kill.

Partner was furious. I didn’t understand WHY she was so overreactive, since we were planning on getting around to finishing the project within a couple of months, and we were certainly used to living in chaos. A week later, I finally understood, as I came home to find my house filled with 30 good friends and family, some who had travelled from far out of town, for my surprise 30th birthday party. Most of the pictures of that party have that terrible looking wall as the backdrop.


kassie February 23, 2007 at 11:40 am

I started to pick at some wallpaper. After an hour I had made only about a square foot of progress. That’s when we decided to tear down all the walls and rehang drywall. 2 months later and I’m still without a living room.


peter February 23, 2007 at 12:56 pm

Ooh the number 23, bad luck! Just kidding. You’re lucky that the wallpaper comes off so easily. I wish the 7 layers of paint on my walls would do that. But we have been forced to plaster over/sand them over. Good luck


Derek February 23, 2007 at 2:38 pm

It seems it’s irresistible to almost everyone. My kids picked at the kitchen nook paper, and it looks horrible now. We removed the wallpaper in our hallway, and it took over 2 years to get around to refinishing the walls, with so many other projects on the go. You forget how horrible it looks, until you have guests. Our 1927 bungalow didn’t have paint, except in the kitchen, and the bedrooms maybe. The trim was painted in the living room, and shellacked in the kitchen too? Which seems so backwards to me.


Josh February 23, 2007 at 5:40 pm

Wow, it seems I’m in good company with this wallpaper thing. Makes me think there could be support groups for obsessive/compulsive disorder devoted entirely to people picking peeling paper. (Bonus +4 alliteration score!)


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