Everything You Wanted to Know About Wallpaper—but Were Afraid to Ask

Wallpapered bathroom with florals by Elizabeth Ockford

Elizabeth Ockford Ltd.

Wallpaper is having a moment. Our feeds are full of freshly papered rooms, with patterns ranging from fun and funky to retro glam, and plenty of granny chic in between. But along with the prints, we’re spotting gorgeous spaces we’d never considered wallpaper-able.

To figure out why wallpaper (and how to wallpaper right), we asked the experts for everything we need to know about wallpapering a room, from how-to tips to pattern-picking tricks.

Meet the Expert

Why Wallpaper?

Beth Travers of Bobo1325 says, “Wallpaper can really elevate a space. It gives life to what is otherwise a flat surface.”

Wallpaper can also serve as your design starting point. “An interior can be based around your wallpaper choices, pulling colors from the design and picking complementary hues in paint, accessories, and furniture,” says Travers. “You can use these accessories to layer textures from different textiles to pull the space together.” 

Which Rooms Should You Wallpaper?

“There is no room that doesn’t deserve a lovely paper on its walls,” says Elizabeth Ockford of Elizabeth Ockford Ltd. “It might sound like a cliche, but today, designs are so varied, there truly is something to suit every room; small scale, large scale, semi-plain, vibrantly multi-colored ... the choice is endless.”

Wallpapered bathroom with fish print by Elizabeth Ockford

Elizabeth Ockford Ltd.

Which Rooms Shouldnt You Wallpaper?

If you’re thinking that Ockford must not mean kitchens and bathrooms, you’d be mistaken! “Kitchens and bathrooms are no longer rooms where wallpaper can’t be used,” Ockford says. “Modern product adheres to the walls well and copes well with humidity, heat, and splashes from the bath or bubbling pans.”

You can also do some prep work to maximize how well your wallpaper will stay put. “The main consideration is how damp or humid the room will get,” says Ockford. “If it’s well-ventilated, a good wallpaper adhesive will suffice. However, if it’s a room that regularly gets steamy—a children’s bathroom for instance—apply a thin coat of water-based, matte household varnish across the walls once papered. This seals the joins where moisture would be most likely to get in and behind the paper.”

How Do You Settle on a Style?

One of the more overwhelming aspects of wallpaper is all the options—but Travers tells us not to let the trends lead when it comes to wallpaper.

“Your home should reflect who you are and your personality, so it’s key to go with a wallpaper that you love,” she says. “Don’t worry about what’s in vogue. March to the beat of your own drum and never be afraid to embrace what you love.”

How Do You Know If a Style Will Look Good at Home?

Even if you’re sure you love a print online or in-store, Travers strongly suggests ordering samples first: “One huge factor to take into consideration with any interiors scheme—even when you’re not using wallpaper—is lighting. Always order samples to see how the natural light plays with the texture and color of your chosen wallpaper.”

Wallpapered kitchen with bug print by Elizabeth Ockford

Elizabeth Ockford Ltd.

Is Hanging Wallpaper Correctly as Hard as It Seems?

Picking your paper is one thing, but actually hanging it is another. Luckily, Ockford has plenty of tips for a successful DIY job.

“Air bubbles can be avoided by wiping down the surface of the paper carefully with a sponge or a damp cloth as you hang it,” she says. “This ensures the paper is applied evenly and spreads any air to the edges, where it is released.”

Once you’re sure you won’t get any air bubbles, visualize the pattern in place. “To avoid mismatched seams, always, always look at a picture of a wall hung with your chosen design before you start hanging,” says Ockford. “Make sure you are familiar with the pattern. If you have sufficient paste applied to the wall and have cut enough paper to allow for pattern repeat, you should be able to move the paper around on the wall as you hang it to ensure the pattern joins beautifully.”

More good news: You don’t have to fear uneven walls, either. “Get a plasterer to skim them,” Ockford says. “If the uneven patches are only small, though, a paper with a textured surface will hide many flaws.”

If you’re still feeling nervous, remember that practice makes perfect. “Wallpapering does take a little practice, I have to admit,” says Ockford. “For your first attempt, start with a feature wall that doesn’t have doors or windows to give yourself a fair chance of managing it.”

Is Any Wall Too Small for Wallpaper?

Speaking of feature walls, Travers is all for them. “There is a lot to be said for a feature wall or little pop,” says Travers. “If your interior has the ceilings for it, a feature ceiling can look incredible, but equally so can alcoves or a chimney breast. My heart beats for maximalism, but if that’s not you, don’t be put off, because those small touches, they matter.”

Having said that, wallpapering a ceiling is no simple feat. “To be completely honest, unless you feel extremely confident wallpapering a ceiling, I would always advise you employ a professional,” says Ockford.

What Else Can You Wallpaper?

Travers also says that wallpaper isn’t just made for walls: “Create a feature staircase by wallpapering the risers, or [paper] the inside back panel of a drinks cabinet. Little touches can really help create that modern luxury.”

What’s the Best Way to Clean Wallpaper?

Great news for anyone wallpapering around kids or pets: Ockford assures us wallpaper is easy to clean. “Just a gentle wipe down with a damp cloth and a non-abrasive cleaning fluid should do the trick,” she says. “Most papers are wipeable (some are even scrubbable). As a guide, if you can wipe it off painted plaster, you can wipe it off paper.”

The only type of paper that might be slightly trickier to clean—but still cleanable—is one with texture. “[These wallpapers] will collect more dust and dirt than plain, flat ones, so consider how dusty the interior gets when choosing those,” Ockford says.

Are There Any Wallpapers That Aren’t Easy to Clean?

While most wallpaper should withstand normal wear and tear, Ockford warns that there are some considerations. “Caution should be given to those with raised printing inks or ornamented surfaces, such as beads or crystals,” she says. “These should only be used in rooms where there is not much traffic and certainly no kids (unless you are relaxed about any damage).”

“It’s really quite unlikely that you won’t be able to hang it where you want to,” Ockford says. “And don’t be scared. I’d hate for people to get dazzled by technical data and miss out on the joy of having something gorgeous hanging on your wall.”