27 January 2009

The wallpaper from enfer

We have several home improvement projects planned for the coming year — a new window for the north wall of the living room, possibly new glass block windows over the stairs, and so on. We'll hire those done. But our biggest project is one we want to do ourselves. That's taking down the wallpaper from hell that we have been living with for nearly six years now.

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I really wonder how they managed to put wallpaper
on the ceiling — not to mention why they did it.

It won't be easy, and that's why we still haven't done anything about it. The whole atrium-type space over the staircase is papered with it — including the ceiling. That extends to the hallway upstairs that leads to the master bedroom, W.C., bathroom, and the landing off which there are doorways into the living room and kitchen.

Here's a close up of the wallpaper from hell.

It's going to be a very big mess. Taking down wallpaper isn't that hard, actually. You buy a special solvent at the hardware store, mix it with some warm water, and sponge or brush it onto the paper. It melts the glue between the paper and the wall, and the paper almost falls off.

On the ceiling! Go figure...

The really messy part is preparing the walls for a new treatment, especially for paint. You have to sand the plaster to make it smooth, and that produces clouds of fine white dust that goes everywhere. In your hair, up your nose — into your food, if you aren't very careful.

We'll have to empty the pine china cabinet and an old buffet full of wine and liqueur glasses, and then move the furniture to other parts of the house. We'll have to move my desk and computer, along with the day bed, armchair, and television I have in the entryway. I'm discouraged already.

Here's what the entryway looked like
when we moved in
The hardest part of the work, however, will be getting the wallpaper off the highest part of the ceiling, over the stairs. It's probably close to twenty feet high. We'll have to build or rent some kind of scaffolding. A ladder won't work, because below that tall ceiling is the staircase. Trying to balance a ladder on it would be too dangerous.

After we removed the wallpaper
I suppose we could hire it done, but that costs money. And then we wouldn't have the satisfaction of having done it ourselves — that sense of accomplishment that makes you feel a little less lazy and worthless.

I started this blog in October 2005, right after we had finished sanding and painting nearly all the rooms in the house — while we lived in them. We did the master bedroom in 2003 because the wallpaper in there was in such bad shape. We did the guest bedroom in 2004 — it had ugly wallpaper too.

And after painting — that's Collette
our dog who died in March 2006
And then we did the living room, a two-month project, in the spring of 2005. We spent many, many days wearing masks and sanding off a textured surface that had been applied to the walls. Some of it was peeling off, but in other sections it was very tenacious. We put four coats of white paint on the 450-square-foot ceiling, in addition to painting the walls.

And then for good measure — we were on a roll — we sanded and painted the walls in the W.C. and the main bathroom. What a year!

And here's where I have my desk and
computer, right by the front door.
Oh, and we did the downstairs entryway too, where I have my computer and spend a lot of time. Here are some before and after pictures. It had the same wallpaper from hell on the walls — that's how I know it won't be hard to get unstuck. That was in August 2005. And then we started blogging in October.


  1. I was really amazed when we bought our house that we didn't have wallpaper across the ceiling. It was the first house we looked at in France where the walls were papered, but the ceiling wasn't.

    I suppose you could think yourself lucky that the wallpaper isn't a lurid 1970's psycadelic faux Filmore East jobbie...

    Good luck with the work. I am SO disappointed I will be too busy on our place and can't offer to help ;¬)

  2. Man, that IS some awful wall paper! But what a project to tackle. At least it will give you something to do during these blah winter days...

  3. I have never seen anything like that...oh my word, I would get started on in right now. Ok a lot of hard work, but just think when it is done!! :-)

  4. We use a steam wallpaper stripper - these are relatively cheap to buy. Saves on noxious chemicals.

    You should hire a scaffold tower with adjustable legs to stand on the stairs - you need a safe working platform at that height.

    In Palluau, we have 2 bedrooms and a hallway done with grotty textured wallpaper that needs stripping, although it seems to be doing quite well falling off on its own! I've been putting this job off for too long.

  5. I've seen wallpapers much worse than yours: large bouquets of flowers in incredibly ugly colors. And very busy too! Compared to these, yours is somewhat subdued.

  6. It is amazing how much better a room can look after you cange the walls. We had work done at the house last week that included some painting. Our kids' bathroom had a dark aqua marine blue-green color on the walls along with a dark midnight blue. The previous owner was going for a little mermaid look for their girls, and went so far as to hang fish from the ceiling, afixing shells to the wall, and glueing reds to the wall. We hired some one to fix this for us. A few coats of a light green color and new tile made a huge difference. The room is now bright and looks so much larger.

  7. In our second home in Burbank (Ca),
    we had a room with 3 layers of wallpaper and a coat of khaki green paint on top. It looked very toxic. I tackled that project myself. We hired a company to take down the cottage cheese ceiling. It was hard work but I took it in stride.
    Good luck! Just take your time and it will be done eventually.

  8. This is a huge job you are looking at! I don't even want to think of the ceiling :( But you'll love it when it's done!

  9. That pine cabinet on the upstairs landing is a beautiful thing.
    Good luck with the paper--it's not a job I envy. Is there any point in thinking you could just paint over the stuff?

  10. CHM, the reason I say this is le papier peint infernal is because it is glued not just to the walls, but to that ceiling so far above the big staircase, more than the look of the paper itself. It was in good shape when we moved in, but now it is really looking dingy.

    All: any volunteers to come help sand and paint? I'll cook while you work.

    Nadege, yes, those horrible "cottage cheese" or "popcorn" ceilings in California. Those are worse than having old wallpaper on the ceiling.

    Emm, that pine cabinet was an impusle buy one day when we first arrived in Saint-Aignan. It wasn't expensive and it is very handy as well as nice-looking.

    Claude, I think our work is cut out for us. It's a March-April job, I think.

  11. Or secret in Richelieu 37 is to use a product called 'Dissoucol' which we spray on the wallpaper with a garden sprayer at double recommended strength. Then all wallpapers seem to come off. Our problem was a heavy fabric-based wallpaper that had been adhered with a special French 'doesn't-come-off-even in-the-damp' wallpaper size, that was seemingly unaffected by water or steam. One can get it at Weldom if there is a branch close.
    Get a platform for the staircase; lots of accidents falling from precarious ladders - really.

  12. That's good advice, Henri Proust. The paper we have to take down is the same as the paper we took down in the entryway back in 2005. It wasn't a lot of trouble — it just fell of with the spritzing of a little water. Accessibility is the issue. We need to go to an equipment hire (rental) company to see if we can get a platform or some kind of scaffolding (our neighbor the mayor said to ask for un échafaudage de peintre, and she used to work at the equipment hire company).

  13. great to see the glass of wine by the computer and also an informal shot of colette, what a nice doggie.
    i don't envy you the work but the entry way looks so much better now it can't but help inspire you.

  14. Why don't you make it a late February job? Like that it will be over when you come back from NC.

  15. CHM, Walt said on one conditon: that you come and help him.

  16. Okay, I'll help him "de la voix et du geste". "Fais-ci, fais-ça; ne fais pas ci, ne fais pas ça."


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