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
(or white toothpaste to fill nail holes)
paper (fine grit)
bucket of clean water
terry cloth rag (recycle an old dishtowel or washcloth)
paints (I used a French Blue semi-gloss for colorwash
and Ironstone white gloss for paper and trim)
embossed vinyl wallpaper
Miterbox and saw
Drill with small bit the size of the finishing nails
Nail set tool, awl, or thicker nail
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
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.
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
1: The Colorwashed Walls
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
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.
3: The Wallpaper Grid Pattern Makes
Matching Seams Simple
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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"
5: The Finished Wall Treatment
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
To Apply This Decorative Wall Treatment:
- 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.
- Lay drop clothes and tape off any door or window
trim or areas that are not receiving this paint
- Using the roller, paint the walls in a light base
coat, if necessary.
- 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.
- 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.
- Begin colorwashing the wall by painting a couple
of strokes in the darker color on the wall with
a paint brush.
- Submerge the rag in the bucket of water to soak
and then wring the towel to remove excess water.
- Using sweeping, circular motions, wash the wall
with the rag to swirl the darker paint. This results
in a cloud-like effect.
- 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.
- 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.
- Let the walls dry while preparing the strips of
- 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).
- Add the number of inches around the room receiving
the wallpaper treatment by measuring the pencil
- Divide that number by the width of the wallpaper
to find out how many strips of wallpaper to cut.
- Cut each strip of wallpaper with the exact same
top and bottom parts of the patterns.
- 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.
- Fill the wallpaper tray with warm water.
- Submerge a cut piece of wallpaper rolled with
the design on the outside of the roll in the tray.
- Wait a full minute before removing the wallpaper
from the water.
- 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
- 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. Frequently rinse out the sponge, to
remove any paste residue before beginning the next
- 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.
- Once the paper is hung, it is time to begin measuring
for the molding.
- Decide whether you feel secure mitering corners,
as this affects the molding measurements from edge
- Use a tape measure to measure each wall area from
edge to door trim. These measurements must be precise.
- If you are using pre-mitered or decorative corner
moldings, prime and paint the wood.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Sand any rough edges and wipe with a damp cloth
to remove saw dust.
- Prime and paint 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. 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.
- 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.
- Begin to hang the molding (thicker side on top)
where the color washed wall and wallpaper meet.
- 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.
- 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
- Repeat for the entire length of the area.
- Fill in each nail hole with wood filler using
your finger to push the paste into the holes and
- Lightly sand the wood filler flush and touch up
with paint or stain as necessary.
- 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
contact me if you would like to reproduce parts of
this tutorial or need advice on your wall treatment