This decorative wall treatment is a simple weekend project that creates a lot of impact and charm in an area at a reasonable price. The basic steps to this technique include colorwashing the walls, hanging wallpaper, and installing decorative trim molding for a chair rail. Also included is a decorative "bonus" project at the end of the tutorial.

Tools needed:

Utility knife
Scissors
Putty knife
Spackle (or white toothpaste to fill nail holes)
Sand paper (fine grit)
A bucket of clean water
A terry cloth rag (recycle an old dishtowel or washcloth)
Masking tape
Drop cloth
Latex paints (I used a French Blue semi-gloss for colorwash and Ironstone white gloss for paper and trim)
Paintable, embossed vinyl wallpaper
Chair rail molding
Wall paper tray
Paint brush
Paint roller
Tape measure
Pencil
Yard stick
Level
Measuring tape
Miterbox and saw
Finishing nails
Hammer
Drill with small bit the size of the finishing nails
Wood filler
Nail set tool, awl, or thicker nail

Mysts of Avalon small bulletPreparing the Wall Surface

 

Ideally, the surface wall for this project is already in good shape. If it is not, you must clean and prepare the walls to accept the paint treatment. For colorwashing, you want to literally wash a darker color over a lighter color with a wet rag. So, remove any pictures, wall hangings, switchplates, outlet plates, and register covers. Fill all nail holes with spackle. Sand down any rough spots and wipe away any dust or dirt. Protect the flooring and woodwork by laying drop clothes and taping off any door or window trim or areas. In my case, the walls and ceiling of the long hallway that I wanted to decorate were already white, so I didn't need to put on a base coat, but if you are changing the color scheme completely, use a roller to base coat the wall with at least one coat of the lighter colored paint.

I began transforming my stark white hallway by taping off the trim around the doors. I decided to go ahead and paint the ceiling using this technique, so I did not tape off that seam. If you want to paint the ceiling another color, take the time to tape it off, as well as use a piece of cardboard to shield the ceiling while you are washing on the color at the top of the wall.

I marked 36 inches from the floor all the way around the wall surface, using a yard stick and pencil. I used the level to ensure the lines were straight before drawing a horizontal line around the area to connect the marks. The wallpaper goes below the line and the colorwash is above the line, while the molding is going to elegantly divide the two treatments.

Mysts of Avalon small bulletColorwashing the Walls

 

In this example, I chose to color wash a French blue over the base white paint for a galaxy-like effect, see Figures 1 and 2. I've also used a light blue over white, which gives the appearance of soft clouds. Using shades of taupe or gold provide a beautiful parchment effect.

After gathering a bucket of clean water and soaking and wringing out the terry cloth towel, apply three or four strokes of paint to a 2 foot area using a paint brush. Then, use the wet rag to swirl the paint in a circular motion. Work quickly to cover the entire surface in this manner. The paint dries darker than it is when it is wet, so don't keep applying paint to the same area. In fact, work hard to rub some spots almost clean of the new paint color. This shading looks fantastic when the paint dries.

Figure 1: The Colorwashed Walls

Figure 1: The Colorwashed Ceiling

I chose to paint the register cover and outlet covers with the solid colors used on the walls so they would blend in to the treatments.

Mysts of Avalon small bulletHanging the Wallpaper

 

Using sculpted vinyl paper that looks like old pressed ceiling tiles is one of my favorite treatments right now. Painted white, it looks very cottage and shabby chic, but painting the paper black or gunmetal gray is a very elegant look in a bar or library for that English pub flavor. This is a simple alternative to the wainscoting that Pottery Barn is making so popular again, because wallpaper is easier to trim and hang and is less expensive than wood. I paid $8.99 for one roll and had plenty left over for my decorative rosette hardware project. This paper would also be great to use on a recessed ceiling capped off with crown molding in a formal dining room.

The sculpted wallpaper pattern that I chose has a tile design with a grid that was easy to match up with a frequent repeat pattern. I chose a place to start the bottom of each piece in the design that I would use at the baseboard for each section of paper. From there, measure the desired length (in my case 36 inches) and cut the wallpaper. Using the measuring tape, measure the width of the wall paper and divide that by the number of inches of the pencil mark on the wall to find the total number of identical strips of wallpaper necessary.

Submerge a cut piece of wallpaper rolled with the design on the outside of the roll into the wallpaper tray filled with warm water. I like to leave the tray in the bathtub in case of spills. Wait a full minute before removing the wallpaper roll from the water. When you do lift out the roll, let the water drain and then gently unroll the paper and fold it with prepasted sides (not the design sign) together. This is called "booking" the wallpaper for shrinkage and it makes the adhesive stickier when the paper is straightened out again.

Take the wallpaper up to the wall, unfold it, and carefully line up the bottom of the paper pattern with the floor or baseboard. Use a clean, wet sponge to gently smooth the paper up the wall to the pencil mark and smooth out any air bubbles, see Figure 3. Repeat this process for the entire wall area below the pencil marks being careful to match the pattern against the piece that was just hung and working out all air bubbles and matching seams. Frequently rinse out the sponge, to remove any paste residue before beginning the next section.

This sculpted vinyl wallpaper is not very easy to trim using the utility knife once it is pasted to the wall, so it is best to measure accurately and cut out any smaller pieces or corners with scissors before it is hung. If you do run into an area that runs long, gently peel back the paper and snip it with scissors or use a putty knife to hold the paper in place while scoring with the utility knife to prevent a tear.

Figure 3: The Wallpaper Grid Pattern Makes
Matching Seams Simple

Mysts of Avalon small bullet Measuring for the Chair Rail

 

Once the paper is hung, it is time to begin measuring for the molding. I only had one outside corner edge and still did not feel comfortable mitering corners with the hand saw, so I bought a prefabricated "cheater's corners" at the home improvement store.

Next, I took the time to prime and paint the wood before pre-drilling the holes for the finishing nails in both sides of the corner piece. I was able install it by positioning the bottom of the cheater's corner at the exact height where the chair rail divides the two treatments, then hammering the finishing nails in to each side to hold the wood in place.

Measure all straight pieces of chair rail molding from the corners to the trim. The rule of thumb is to measure twice and cut once. I even bring the wood in up to the wall and verify my pencil mark before cutting the molding. It is not a good thing to be wasting wood. Once you are sure the measurement is correct, cut the lengths of molding using the hand saw and miter box. Always cut the longest pieces first in case you cut one too short, you can reuse that wood for a shorter wall area.

Mysts of Avalon small bullet Painting the Molding and Wallpaper

 

Before installing the cut pieces of molding, it is easier to sand any rough edges and wipe them down with a damp cloth to remove saw dust after cutting it. Then, outside or in a well ventilated area, prime and paint the raw wood or stain it to match the baseboards and other woodwork in the house.

Let the wood dry before continuing with the molding installation. Use this time to paint the sculpted wallpaper with the gloss paint and a plush roller. Apply two even coats of paint to the paper to ensure that any overlap of the color washing treatment is covered.

Mysts of Avalon small bullet Installing the Chair Rail

 

The final step is to attach the chair rail to the walls to divide the wallpaper and colorwash painting techniques. On the molding, pre-drill nail holes approximately every 12 inches down the length of the wood molding. Do not drill into the wood at the most detailed or widest point. Pick an area that is easy to fill in with wood putty later. The chair rail molding is thickest at the top and tapers off at the bottom.

Position the molding where the color washed wall and wallpaper meet and begin securing it to the wall by hammering in the finishing nails from the center of the piece of wood and working out toward the ends. Use the design of the wallpaper or the level to ensure that the wood is straight.

Then, use a nail set, awl, or the end of another nail to countersink the finishing nails into the wood trim. Be careful not to hammer into the molding because it makes a dent that can only be repaired by filling and sanding. Hang the molding around the entire area. Lastly, hide the finishing nail holes with wood filler and a dab of paint to conceal the indentations, see Figure 4.

Figure 4: The Finished Wall Treatment

The hall looked much better once I got my pictures hung and the masking tape off of the trim. But, I found the most beautiful cobalt blue cut to clear glass doorknobs and knew that they would complete the look I wanted for this small area. Unfortunately, the knobs did not come with a backplate, or rosette, and decorative ones worthy of my new wall treatment were hard to come by, so I made some that match perfectly. Check out this bonus project.

Figure 5 illustrates a similar treatment on a wall in the foyer, only I used a solid plum paint, not a color wash, above the chair rail. The pattern of the sculpted paper differed as well. Whereas, Figure 6 illustrates the sculpted wallpaper treatment on a half wall with a decorative cherry "marble art" trim.

Figure 5: The Finished Wall Treatment

Figure 6: A Wall Treatment with Marble Art Trim

Now that I have demonstrated how I completed my project, here is a summary of the steps involved in this decorative wall treatment. Give it a try and let me know the results!

To Apply This Decorative Wall Treatment:

  1. Prepare the wall by washing off any dirt, removing any accessories from the walls (including switchplates, outlet and register covers, etc.) filling in nail holes, and sanding any rough spots.
  2. Lay drop clothes and tape off any door or window trim or areas that are not receiving this paint treatment.
  3. Using the roller, paint the walls in a light base coat, if necessary.
  4. Measure the height for the chair rail and mark in pencil. A rule of thumb is 34 to 36 inches from the floor to the base of the chair rail molding.
  5. Use a level to ensure that the line for the rail is straight all the way around the perimeter of the area receiving this treatment.
  6. Begin colorwashing the wall by painting a couple of strokes in the darker color on the wall with a paint brush.
  7. Submerge the rag in the bucket of water to soak and then wring the towel to remove excess water.
  8. Using sweeping, circular motions, wash the wall with the rag to swirl the darker paint. This results in a cloud-like effect.
  9. Continue painting small areas with the brush, and then color washing with the rag. Rinse the rag out occasionally as you move along with the project.
  10. Colorwash the entire wall (and ceiling, if necessary) while ensuring that the effect is carried to the pencil mark for the chair rail. NOTE: It is fine to carry the effect over the pencil mark to keep the technique consistent because anything below the mark is covered with wallpaper and molding.
  11. Let the walls dry while preparing the strips of wallpaper.
  12. Study the wallpaper pattern and decide on a good place to start the paper from the bottom and measure up 36 inches (or whatever distance you chose for the chair rail molding).
  13. Add the number of inches around the room receiving the wallpaper treatment by measuring the pencil mark.
  14. Divide that number by the width of the wallpaper to find out how many strips of wallpaper to cut.
  15. Cut each strip of wallpaper with the exact same top and bottom parts of the patterns.
  16. Now is the time to measure any odd areas that will not take the full width of the wallpaper. Cut the paper to the correct length with scissors, so the paper does not tear when it is wet and already pasted to the wall.
  17. Fill the wallpaper tray with warm water.
  18. Submerge a cut piece of wallpaper rolled with the design on the outside of the roll in the tray.
  19. Wait a full minute before removing the wallpaper from the water.
  20. Let the water drain from the roll of paper and then gently unroll the paper and fold it in with prepasted sides (not the design sign) together. This is called "booking" the wallpaper for shrinkage.
  21. Take the wallpaper up to the wall, unfold it, and carefully line up the bottom of the paper pattern with the floor or baseboard.
  22. Use a clean, wet sponge to gently smooth the paper up the wall to the pencil mark and smooth out any air bubbles. Frequently rinse out the sponge, to remove any paste residue before beginning the next section.
  23. Repeat this process for the entire wall area below the pencil marks being careful to match the pattern against the piece that was just hung and working out all air bubbles and matching seams.
    NOTE: Sometimes when the wallpaper is drying, it will appear to be creating new air bubbles and look a little bumpy. If you are sure that the paper was smooth to the wall when you hung it, let the paper dry. These bubbles seem to shrink back out. Popping the bubbles with a pin or attempting to flatten them again with the sponge may crease or tear the paper.
  24. Once the paper is hung, it is time to begin measuring for the molding.
  25. Decide whether you feel secure mitering corners, as this affects the molding measurements from edge to edge.
  26. Use a tape measure to measure each wall area from edge to door trim. These measurements must be precise.
  27. If you are using pre-mitered or decorative corner moldings, prime and paint the wood.
  28. Pre-drill the holes for the finishing nails in both sides of the corner pieces and install them using the finishing nails at the exact height that the chair rail divides the two treatments.
  29. Begin cutting the lengths of molding using the hand saw and miter box. Always cut the longest pieces first in case one is too short. If that happens, recycle the wood for a shorter wall area.
  30. Take the pieces of molding to the wall and ensure it is the proper length before continuing with the project. It helps to number the pieces and sections of wall, so that they do not get mixed up during installation.
  31. Sand any rough edges and wipe with a damp cloth to remove saw dust.
  32. Prime and paint raw wood or stain it to match the baseboards and other woodwork in the house.
  33. Let the wood dry before continuing with the molding installation. This is a good time to paint the sculpted wallpaper with the gloss paint and a plush roller. Apply two even coats of paint to the paper.
  34. Pre-drill nail holes approximately every 12 inches down the length of the wood molding. Do not drill into the wood at the most detailed or widest point. Pick an area that will be easy to fill later.
  35. Begin to hang the molding (thicker side on top) where the color washed wall and wallpaper meet.
  36. Start in the center of the piece of wood and begin hammering in the finishing nails working out to the ends of the wood. Use the design of the wallpaper or the level to ensure that the wood is straight.
  37. Use a nail set, awl, or the end of another nail to countersink the finishing nails into the wood trim. Be careful not to hammer into the trim and dent it.
  38. Repeat for the entire length of the area.
  39. Fill in each nail hole with wood filler using your finger to push the paste into the holes and let dry.
  40. Lightly sand the wood filler flush and touch up with paint or stain as necessary.
  41. Stand back and admire your work. :^)

Illustrations and text used in this tutorial are © 2002 The Fifth Choir Designs by Melanie Parker unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.

E-mail me!Please contact me if you would like to reproduce parts of this tutorial or need advice on your wall treatment project.

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