Or Racking Up Bad Karma Like It’s Going Out of Style
Let me get this out in the open right off the bat: if you’ve ever put up wallpaper in a house and then left it for the next owners to deal with, this post is going to get very uncomfortable for you. Because I have a lot of anger toward that kind of sociopathic behavior and it’s about to come out.
A few years ago, my husband and I purchased a house that I later found out the locals refer to as “the wallpaper house.” It’s not a misnomer.
Every room in this house was plastered with crazy floral wallpaper. I mean CRAZY. Think pink magnolias sandwiched between mint green stripes on a textured black background. It looked like a Victorian gardening catalogue projectile vomited in there. And that was the just the layers you could see.
There was only one room in the house with a single layer of wallpaper. Every other room had multiple layers of decades-old paper. And it’s not just the paper I’m complaining about. There’s also the glue. Nowadays wallpaper is mercifully applied with some kind of weak adhesive. It seems to hold the wallpaper up just fine, but when it’s time to tear it down you don’t have too much of a problem. Not true for the old kind. All the wallpaper in the house (again, layers and layers) was permanently and eternally held in place with the kind of glue they used before anything had been invented to remove it.
I don’t think anyone can claim ignorance of the ungodly staying power of old wallpaper glue. You all knew what you were doing when you slapped it up there, and I do not forgive you.
Needless to say, the first order of business in fixing up the house was to free it from its mummy wrappings of ancient wallpaper. I knew that removing wallpaper was a pain, but I figured it would be like any other unpleasant chore, like cleaning the gutters or steam cleaning the carpets. You’re not looking forward to it, but it will be over after one or two painful days. This is not exactly how it went down with the House of Wallpaper.
Now, I’m going to tell you about how we tackled this problem, and I know some of you little Helpful Helens are going to chime in with your corrections and your suggestions about how we should have done it like this or like that. I’m going to stop you right there and say I went through hell to get this wallpaper out of the house and if there’s an easier way, I don’t want to hear about it now.
After storming Home Depot to buy one of everything on the wallpaper removal shelf, we were ready to launch our Death to Wallpaper campaign. We scored the walls with this medieval tool that looked like a sea lamprey’s mouth–a ring lined with vicious teeth–then sprayed them liberally with some kind of glue-dissolving enzyme that may be known to cause cancer in the state of California. Gloves donned, we attacked the soggy walls with high-priced chisels and waited for the wallpaper to slide off in wide swaths. But you know that didn’t happen, right?
The wallpaper did not budge.
It didn’t matter that it was wet. It didn’t matter that we had soaked it in toxic chemicals. It didn’t matter that we scraped it with the intensity of a convicted felon tunneling out of prison. It would not give. After emptying a second full bottle of chemical spray on the walls, we were finally successful . . . and one pencil thin strip of wallpaper floated to the hardwood floor.
We persevered and finally, finally released a palm-sized section of little blue flowers only to see . . . what’s this? Earth-toned bouquets of wheat tied with lengths of hemp string. Ah, another layer of wallpaper and we’ve apparently unearthed the 1970s. Next I expected to find the wallpaper version of the bridesmaid dress my mom wore in 1966, and hey, there it was! We got all the way back to what I would say was a tasteful art deco pattern of yellow fans that was probably from the 1920s or 30s. If I hadn’t been so anguished over the utter destruction of my fingernails and the fact that I was having trouble breathing, I might have enjoyed this little peek into textile history.
The worst part of this misadventure was that every time we left the room and came back in, it was surprising and disheartening to see how little progress we’d made. You’ve heard of the six stages of denial? There are also six stages of wallpaper removal, and they’re similar.
Stage 1: Denial. This can’t possibly be as hard as everyone says it is. I’m sure we’ll be done in just a couple days.
Stage 2: Anger. I broke another nail, my lungs are burning from these chemicals, and if I have to stand with my nose two inches from this stinking wall for one more minute, I will lose my mind. What kind of person puts up this much wallpaper?!?!?
Stage 3: Bargaining. Maybe we can leave it like this . . . half up, half down. The strips hanging off the wall can be like a modern art installation, right?
Stage 4: Depression. This wallpaper has absorbed my life essence and now occupies the dark abyss of my soul.
Stage 5: Acceptance. This work site is our home now. We will never leave and we will never reach the end of this nesting tunnel of wallpapers. It’s fine, this is fine.
Stage 6: Hope. This spray is flammable, right? *reviews insurance policy*
2 thoughts on “Wallpaper Hell”
When my parents, brother, sister, and I moved to our house in west San Jose, my room was the only one with wallpaper. My mother said it had to go (wood grain, installed so it looked like an animal pen). We ran a vaporizer night and day and still it came off in painstakingly fingernail-paring sized pieces… I had blocked from my mind how long it took! I blame you for opening up this horrible childhood memory!!
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Sorry for the trauma! The only other really bad wallpaper memory I have is redoing Megan’s bedroom when I was about 14. Aunt Kathy said she could redecorate but she had to get all the wallpaper down herself. 🤣