DEAR TIM: It is time to redecorate several rooms in my home. The high cost of gasoline has put a serious crimp in my budget. I was thinking of just painting some rooms and adding a wallpaper border for extra flair. Is this a good idea? How hard is it to install wallpaper borders? Do I need special tools or skills? Will the borders fall off the wall in a few months if I make a mistake? Cher W. Grand Junction, CO
DEAR CHER: Wallpaper borders are a well-kept secret used by many interior decorators that I know. These simple and affordable narrow strips of wallpaper can add color and a theme to an otherwise plain-vanilla room.
Wallpaper borders are a true wallpaper product, but they differ from regular wallpaper in the manner in which they are installed and their relative size. Traditional wallpaper is hung vertically from the ceiling to the floor. Wallpaper borders are hung horizontally.
Traditional rolls of wallpaper might be 21 inches wide and 20-30 feet long. A wallpaper border might be 20 or 30 feet wide but only 6 to 9 inches high. But this is perfect sizing since you want the border to dress up your wall surface in the same way as a ribbon adorns a gift box.
A wallpaper border is commonly applied to a wall surface where the wall meets the ceiling. However, I have routinely installed a border about 36 inches high off the floor. Wallpaper borders can also be used to separate two different wallpapers in a room.
For example, my basement bathroom has a tropical-themed border that separates a bamboo wallpaper from a light-colored wallpaper that has tropical plant leaves in its background. The border brings together two vastly different wallpapers making the three wallpaper products look like they were made for one another.
It is very easy to install wallpaper border material. The biggest reason, in my opinion, is that you are working with less material than a large sheet of traditional wallpaper. Furthermore, when you do have to match the pattern, you are working with a strip of paper often less than a foot tall. This makes matching a breeze.
To install a wallpaper border, you do need all of the same tools one uses for traditional wallpaper. My wallpaper toolbox has a special wallpaper razor knife I use to trim paper, a smoothing brush that flattens the border once it is applied to the wall and a broad knife that you may use to help trim the border material if the ceiling line is not consistent. You will also discover quickly that you will need a measuring tape, a stepladder, a sponge and numerous buckets of water. You might also need a 4-inch-wide paintbrush to apply a paste activator.
It helps to have a large pasting table that serves as a work platform in the event you need to apply a special adhesive or a clear paste activator gel to the back of the border.
If you want the border to stay attached to the wall for many years, you must pay very close attention to the type of adhesive you will be using. Some borders come pre-pasted from the factory, but that adhesive may not be suitable if you are installing the border on top of a vinyl-coated wallpaper. In these cases, you often must use a special adhesive that bonds borders to other wallpaper products. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's written instructions, and use the correct adhesive for your situation.
Since you are applying your border to a painted wall, and you will probably buy a pre-pasted border material, the factory-applied glue will be fine. You can apply water to the border to activate the paste, but I have had far better luck with clear paste-activating gels. These gels are quickly brushed onto the back of the border.
Hanging borders requires the same techniques one would use to hang wallpaper. The biggest mistake often made by rookies is the failure to book the border. Booking is a process where you activate the paste and fold the border so the pasted surface folds back on itself. This process allows the border paper to relax. As the paper relaxes, it swells in size.
You want this swelling to happen on the pasting table while you are working with another piece of the border. If you activate the border paste, and then immediately try to hang the border, you will undoubtedly get all sorts of bubbles and blisters on the border as the border swells on the wall. This swelling action pushes the paper off the wall with each new bubble.
Avoid the temptation to wrap the border around inside corners where one wall meets another. The border may look good as you install it, but hours later the border may pull away from the corner as the adhesive dries. Run one piece of wallpaper border around the corner and trim it so there is just 3/16ths inch of border on the next wall. Then match up the pattern and start a new strip of border exactly in the corner. The second piece of border overlaps the small tab of border from the previous strip on the adjacent wall.