The Designer’s Guide to Selling Wallpaper to Clients
Everything you need to know about specifying wallcoverings for your projects.
Written by Erin Minckley, founder and designer of Relativity Textiles
To all of the pattern lovers in the world who advocate for papered and painted walls, vibrant style, and ornamented surfaces, high five. I’m not preaching to you, however, I’m about to give you sound advice from a seasoned professional that you can use to educate the non-believers, the stubborn clients who are averse to wallpaper. Here are some tips for getting their minds to change about the pretty surfaces you’re going to create for them and how it will significantly impact their rooms and homes for the better.
Why wallpaper? As an artist and painter, I use the walls as a starting point for the room when I design. I think about them as a backdrop, a way to tie a space together, or as a wall to tell a story. It’s not so much a ‘theme’ as it is a way of thinking through space and architecture while adding personality and emotional quality to a room.
Wallpaper has been around for many centuries, actually, since the age of mechanical reproduction. Don’t start snoring yet. It’s important to note that wallpaper was once a way to mimic the luxurious, intricately woven tapestries found in the homes of the royalty and elite classes. Paper both helped to decorate the space with a picture or pattern but also helped to insulate the walls. It covered little cracks in the brick and prevented wind from coming through. Likewise, some wall coverings are used for sound deadening and many help to muffle an echo in a large room.
Then came the glam, the glitz, the flock and fringe and orange and yellow of the 70’s. This was the hay day for wallpaper designers like me because the sky was the limit. People were adventurous with their style, whimsical, bold and they knew that fashion was at the forefront for adorning their walls.
The problem is, that’s as far back as our collective memory goes. I assume that if you’re reading this article, you’ve had the distinct privilege (or horrifying experience) of removing a paper from the 70’s in your own home or your parent’s home. That little claw thing! The scraper! The spray! And so much agony to get it off the wall.
Well, guess what? Things have changed (thank goodness) and technology has changed in the home and remodeling industry quite a bit since then. Wallpaper hasn’t changed much since the 70’s, but two major factors have: 1) The way things are printed, 2) The glue you use to get it on the wall.
It’s components are 50% recycled paper and it’s got adhesive already attached to the back of it. To apply to the wall, simply wet with water. Like an old fashioned stamp, you lick it and stick it. This wallpaper grabs onto the wall in 5 minutes and is good for 5-10 years. To remove the wallpaper, simply saturate it with water and it will come right back off. Note: No toddler tinkle is good enough to get this stuff off, so, don’t worry. It’s good in bathrooms and won’t peel off with a little steam from the daily shower. Once it’s down, wipe the wall clean with a soft sponge and you can either paint or apply a new paper right over the top.
Because it’s digitally printed, it’s not always the most durable paper and ink. It’s sort of wipeable (when you use water and a paper towel), though getting crayon off of here might ruin the paper. Heavy solvents are an absolute no-no. But, if you’re specifying wallpaper in a commercial environment or kitchen, you’d likely need a vinyl or Type 2 substrate (read on for more information).
Here’s my go-to tub of paste for easy install. You’ll need to check with your installer and the wallpaper manufacturer to see what they recommend as far as paste goes. But, this product was introduced to the market for those that are hesitating on the “permanency” of paper. You’re not getting a tattoo. It will come off in 2 years when your baby outgrows the nursery, or in 5 years when you’re ready to sell the home. It’s not ideal for apartments. That’s when peel-and-stick stuff comes in handy.
PEEL AND STICK TILES
These tiles are made by Hygge & West. It’s pronounced “Hooga” people. They’re based in San Francisco and have an array of fun designs to choose from for the more whimsical spaces. Now, I don’t really recommend you do this yourself unless you took “DIY 101” in college. If you’re handy, this might be a breeze. But, if the idea of changing the chain on your bike or making a macramé plant hanger gives you the hives, please don’t try this at home. Get your wallpaper installer from this list of qualified professionals.
PEEL AND STICK PAPER
There are so many products on the market that are deemed “Easy to Use” on the packaging. But, I’m here with a bias. I took “Advanced DIY” courses and still hate to install this type of material. It looks cheap, it’s hard to use, it’s not inexpensive, and therefore, I’m going to implore you to stay away from it. But, if you do decide to impulse purchase something fun from Tempaper, West Elm, or other vendors, please do yourself a favor and hire someone to install it. Ruining $500-1,000 worth of wallpaper is a quick way to aggravate your client or spouse.
Why are some wallpapers called “T2”? Wallpaper has its own safety regulations. I found out that there is one place that does ALL the fire rating for wallpaper in the USA. You have to mail them a piece of your paper and they’ll tell you about its qualities for residential and commercial environments. For example, the burn rate, how far out the flames go when it’s on fire, the fumes it produces, etc. Wild, right? I’m sure you’d like to know that T2 is less likely to be a safety hazard to the guests of the homes you design.
COMMERCIAL GRADE PAPER
Type 2 is a stronger paper, it’s been tested to be more resistant to sun damage and fading; it’s more wipeable; it’s got different fire rating, and it’s suitable for hotels, restaurants and other high traffic environments. These qualifications aren’t always front and center on the manufacturer’s website, so unless you need to know if it’s up to code, don’t worry about the distinction. But, do know that if you need a paper to be printed on a T2 substrate for your project, many small vendors will gladly have their design printed custom for you on a more versatile ground. Just ask!
Though I’m mentioning this in the end of the article, it’s perhaps the most important step along the way. If you don’t prepare your walls correctly, a few things might go wrong, and I’m speaking from sheer experience here. Once, I was on a job site installing paper in a new build restaurant. I’d flown to Salt Lake City from Chicago to deliver a custom wall mural and hang it for an old friend and designer. The contractor had “prepped” the wall with a coat of primer and a coat of latex paint. I hung the first drop of paper at 20’ off the ground… and then it happened. The wall came down with the wet slimy paper. The paint had been saturated by the glue, and it went through the primer and even soaked the paper front of the drywall. The sheetrock began to crumble and everything just fell to the floor.
An analogy I often share is that latex paint is like a jar of marbles. It has inherent gaps in it, at a microscopic level. To prime that wall with a wallpaper specific primer would be like filling the jar full of sand. It helps to seal the wall and creates a barrier so that the glue and water used in hanging the paper will not penetrate the wall/drywall. It also gives a bit of a shiny/slippery surface for the wallpaper to sit on, which is helpful when you need to move the paper around a bit to match your pattern.
Sanding and patching. People ask me, “But do I really have to fill all the holes and sand the texture on my wall if I’m just going to cover it with paper?” To which I say, “absolutely”. You will see every dimple and crease through that paper. If you’re too lazy to sand and prep (or your wallpaper installer/ painting contractor tries to skimp) you’ll for sure see the texture of the wall right through the pattern once it’s dry.
There are some thicker papers on the market for those tough southern California and Texas walls with orange peel look that won’t reveal the wall textures as much. You can also try hanging a “Wallpaper Liner” first. It helps to diminish all the dimples exposed but can’t hide them completely. Again, your installer should know if this is an option that will work for your walls, so ask them. It will however nearly double the labor of install, so be aware of the costs involved in hanging a liner and a paper because you’re basically hanging paper twice.
HOW TO CALCULATE WALLPAPER?
There’s a real mathematical algorithm for this that usually boggles people’s minds. But, I strongly suggest that all of you talented visual learners draw a picture. You need to know the total width of your walls in inches and the total height.
My website and some other vendors will help you do the math.
But, in most cases, your installer should be doing a site visit, taking their own measurements, and telling you what you need to buy. You should know that most installers will encourage and/or advise you to order MORE than what you actually need. “Why do they do that?! It’s already such a costly product, I don’t want to waste an extra roll!” you might be saying. But, in about half of the cases I’ve been involved with, either the installer mis-measured, the designer mis-measured, or the drawings were off. In this case, you might be stuck ordering that additional roll after the fact.
Two things are complicated about that. One, the rolls could’ve been made to order so it’s not going to be exactly the same color. Many times, when you try to match a prior order, it’s not 100% accurate (both handmade and digitally, it’s nearly impossible to color match to 100%). The other issue is that timing is going to be impacted. Let’s say your installer is scheduled next week and you just figured out you’re short. The product won’t arrive for another 4 weeks now, because maybe it’s not in stock or the print shop is busy or the designer/company/showroom is on vacation…Now you’ll have to wait another month to get the paper installed. It’s always better to be in possession of one additional roll, that you could use for another project rather than being short (obviously, if budget allows).
WHAT CAN I DO WITH MY LEFTOVER WALLPAPER?
Most companies will not take returns of wallpaper that you didn’t use, unfortunately. But, we have a couple of ideas for you so you can make that paper count:
3: Wrap some holiday gifts with it or make DIY ornaments like we did with Claire Staszak from Centered by Design, featured in domino.
4: Cut it up and use it for thank you notes with a pretty little pop, like we do in our office. (We have a lot of waste! It’s sad but true.)
5: On Chairish and Etsy, I’ve seen a lot of posts where people are selling the wallpaper to other designers with small projects. This is a way to get your money back. Chairish will take 30% commission on your sale so price it accordingly.
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