Just Paint Over the Wallpaper

I want to keep the focus on the brown bungalow so I won’t go into too much detail about why we were frantically painting a bedroom days before we moved an embarrassing amount of “cherished” objects to our new/old home. The problem, concisely identified, was this: the room was two-toned brown, trimmed in belts, and the person soon to be occupying this room was not at all thrilled with the decorating scheme.

Really, it was fine. I reasoned painting the room would take at most a day and we could get it done with plenty of time and effort to spare for other moving tasks.

The fact I like to paint fueled my optimism. For me painting-induced monotony is calming and the effect of a beautifully painted wall is instantly gratifying. In my head, this would be a quick, painless project that would make the rest of the move a little easier. I wasn’t dreading it at all.

To understand why this small, reasonable project turned into a big, ridiculous project, it is important to know that wallpaper was involved. Also, you may need to know that, probably because I like to paint, and maybe because I am a frustrated perfectionist at heart, I am judge-y about the way other people paint. I don’t like drips all over the trim, and I don’t like shortcuts. To me, painting over wallpaper has always been the kind of thing “those” painters do. Out of principle and, yes, judgi-ness, part of my painting identity has been wrapped up in being a person who does not paint over wallpaper.

Not completely unrelated, I kind of hate wallpaper. I spent many weekends when I was younger than now, before kids and major work responsibility, removing wallpaper from the walls of a smaller bungalow. It actually wasn’t that bad because I would do it on the weekends when T was gone with his band, but it left its mark. When we left that house, I judged every other house by how much wallpaper I would have to remove before I could paint.  The house we finally settled on at that life stage had been built during a time when wallpaper really wasn’t the thing to do, so I had spent many years not worrying about wallpaper or its removal techniques.

In fact, enough time had passed that I wasn’t intimidated by the wallpaper in the brown bungalow. On the surface it only had three rooms with wallpaper: two bathrooms, and the upper quarter of the walls in this bedroom, just above the belts. I decided these minor obstacles could be overcome.  But, I had obviously forgotten about removing wallpaper from old walls.

Also, to my dismay, once we closed on the brown bungalow, I realized several rooms actually had wallpaper that had been painted over.  Being judge-y regarding this particular issue, I mentally added these rooms to my future projects list and re-dedicated myself to removing the wallpaper from this bedroom before we painted because painting over wallpaper was just not something that should be done.

As many less naïve than I already know, removing wallpaper from old walls is exhausting, thankless work. The job in this bedroom was no exception.  I stood by helplessly as my dedication to this soap box was slowly smothered by brown, marbled wallpaper that came off in 1/8 inch strips if we were lucky.  I swear we tried every trick sympathetic souls shared with us, but that wallpaper would not budge.  Half-way through, two days in to this one day project, T and I looked at each other and said, “We should have just painted over the wallpaper.” At that point, it was too late, though.  It was half-way on and half-way off.  There was nothing to do but push forward.


Miraculously, three days in to our one day paint project, the top quarter of our wall revealed smooth, white plaster, kind of a beautiful thing. I do not know why this particular plaster had never been painted, if the walls had always been covered in wallpaper, but they were finally bare, ready for their first coat of paint.


What I do know is by the end of that third day this project wound down to an acceptably-done point, taking all of my need for a perfect paint job with it.  The wallpaper, trim with crown molding, eight pane windows, all had conspired to help me accept good enough, and we were out of time.


As for those other wallpapered walls, the ones that someone else painted over, they will stay exactly as they are.  Suddenly, I understand, sometimes, just painting over the wallpaper is the right thing to do.



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