How To Remove Wallpaper & Hang Drywall

In our last post we took you through a step-by-step guide for painting dark wood paneling and cabinets in our 1960's kitchen and hallway. This week we'll continue with the next step: removing "wallpaper," hanging new drywall (yeah, you read that correctly), and trying to salvage a paint color nightmare. The key to home improvements is knowing when to say when, or — once you're in over your head — staying the course, no matter what. This is a story about the latter.

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Entering the Unknown
There are many methods for removing wallpaper, mostly dependent on what your wallpaper situation is. We would suggest beginning with the least invasive and go from there. A tip from This Old House said to use a spray bottle with a 50/50 mix of liquid fabric softener and water to soak the paper. This works like commercial wallpaper removers by causing the paste to release from the wall. In our case there was no soaking in — probably the first sign something was not quite right — but once we started pulling, the wall covering came off in big sheets very easily because it was vinyl, not paper. This tuned out to be the easiest step...unfortunately. More on ways to remove wallpaper here and here.

Staying the Course
What we found underneath the vinyl wall covering was a mixture of thick wallpaper paste, old plaster, torn wallpaper with plaster over it and generally a big uneven mess. No matter how much scraping and cleaning we did we realized we’d have to, at minimum, skim coat the entire wall to make it smooth enough to paint. But even then we worried that it would not adhere properly to the old wall and we’d be in an even worse situation. So, partly for practice and partly because it seemed simpler, we chose to hang new, thin sheets of drywall to make a nice, smooth new wall. If you’re gonna do it, do it right.

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Easy as 1, 2,...
It’s should be as easy as measuring, cutting, and screwing it to the wall — that is unless there’s brick behind your wall. Not only would our screws not go in, there was also nothing to securely anchor the wall to. A quick trip back to Home Depot for shorter screws and construction adhesive and we were back in business. We applied the construction adhesive on the back of the drywall in quarter size mounds (blobs hold better than lines because they act more like screws with large contact points). Our shorter screws held the drywall in place until the adhesive dried. We used 3/8” drywall because it was the thinnest we could get but 1/4” would have been adequate. More on hanging drywall here and here.

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Patience Makes Perfect
This is the part that takes a little finesse. Apply drywall tape between the joints, then mud over the whole thing to create the illusion of a continuous, flat wall. This takes time and patience as you progressively build up the wall. We did three passes — allowing each layer to dry completely before continuing (we did 1 per day). The first pass is 4” wide to embed the tape, the second is 6” wide and covers the tape, and the third is about 10” wide and feathers out across the wall. Do the same for the screw holes, inside and outside corners.

Having the proper tools definitely makes a difference even if it’s only in confidence. We bought a stainless steel mud pan and a 3 1/2”, 6”, and 10” wide knife. You can sand lightly between coats and do the major sanding at the end — this was the messiest part. We sealed the room off with plastic drop cloth, wore a mask and immediately cleaned the walls and floor to minimize dust covering the rest of our apartment.

Don't Cut Corners!
Caulk the joints between the trim and drywall to avoid cracking where the two materials can expand. It is important to prime new drywall because it seals the paper — otherwise you end up painting the mud and it soaks into the drywall paper. The walls we didn’t replace had to be cleaned multiple times with a sponge and warm water to get the wallpaper paste off. We primed them, also, to seal them and keep a consistent base.

Cost of buying, hanging, mudding and priming new drywall: $110 ($70 without tools)

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Paint: Do As We Say, Not As We Do
Now that you have beautiful, wallpaper-free, freshly mudded walls, TEST PAINT COLORS. Yes, yes, we here at AT make mistakes, too, and this is Wes & Kayla’s. We’ve been lucky with paint in the past and haven’t always painted test swatches. This is a window-less hallway with a single overhead light and we should have been more cautious. We’d like the hallway to be “yellow” — what we now know is that rich, orange yellows (like Ralph Lauren’s Mango Gold) can be OVERWHELMING in confined, window-less hallways. Half a coat in and we realized we now had a hallway only Big Bird could love...

Help Us Fix Our Paint Color!
On the left you will see the current color of our hallway. Here’s what we hate about it: its too orange, too saturated and too bright (it glows). Here’s what we would like: a “yellow” that is pleasant, colorful but softer (without looking like a nursery school). We have left the closet unpainted wood on purpose, for now. After more research, we’ve decided the solution is to go greener. Our favorite options are on the right.

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You can see a more flattering Mango Gold in Jason and Ryan's Colorful Combination.

Mark Chamberlain wrote a Color Therapy post on Sweet Pear here.

Re-edited from a post originally published 1.13.08 by Wes & Kayla Schwartz

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Maxwell left teaching in 2001 to start Apartment Therapy as a design business helping people to make their homes more beautiful, organized AND healthy. The website started up in 2004 with the help of his brother, Oliver.