Monday, February 8, 2010


The Delaney House is lousy with wallpaper. Some walls have as many as 7 layers of it, most of it begging to be removed.  There is almost no paint on any walls - just layers and more layers of wallpaper.  

The first day we were in the house, I noticed a bulge in the living room wall above the fireplace, so I poked it gently with my finger. For a moment, it looked like the entire wall was falling off, but then we realized that it was a giant sheet of wallpaper - the whole thing had become so heavy with the multiple layers of paper that it just came off in one piece.
Whoever lived in the house clearly loved wallpaper, and clearly loved flowered wallpaper.  Whoever hung the wallpaper clearly didn't know a lot about it: when hanging wallpaper, the generally accepted technique is to butt the edge of one piece against the next, aligning the pattern so the seam virtually disappears.  In the Delaney House, most of the wallpaper overlaps itself, much of it by almost an inch. There was little regard for how the pattern lined up, either.  So at every seam, there are breaks in the pattern, and usually a little lump where the two pieces overlap.

Most of the wallpaper is falling off, and all of it has to come off - the walls need to be stripped down to the bare plaster (much of which is in surprisingly good shape). So we started pulling off the paper, sheet by sheet.

Once we'd pulled as much down as we could, we went to the Berkeley Tool Library and borrowed a wallpaper steamer.  A wallpaper steamer consists of a box full of water with a plug on one side and a hose on the other.  The plug goes into the wall, and the water heats up. When it starts to boil, the steam is pushed through the hose to the end pieces, a rectangular plate.  One holds the plate against a section of wallpaper, and the steam saturates the paper and loosens the glue - then one simply moves the plate to the next area, and scrapes the wallpaper off using a scrapper held in the other hand.  

Johno is an accomplished wallpaper remover, and over the course of several weekends, he has managed to remove most of the paper with a steamer.  Most of the walls stripped relatively easily, but the exception was the kitchen.

In the kitchen, the walls and ceiling were coated with grease, and the wallpaper (which was fortunately only covering one wall) refused to budge.  We peeled as much as we could (which was very little), and then Johno went at it with the steamer.  Over the course of two weekends, he slowly compelled each little section to let go, and then scraped off the resulting glop with a scraper.  It was hot, tiring work.

Meanwhile, Julia was coming over and documenting the various layers of wallpaper.  Like an archeological dig, we traveled back in time, finding wallpaper from the 70s, the 60s, the 40s, the turn of the century.  The grey wallpaper with white poppies at the top of this post, for example, was the original wallpaper in the front bedroom.  There were 5 additional layers over this, showing the tastes from various decades.

Almost all the paper has been removed - only the back bedroom is left to strip, and the walls there should be relatively easy to do - so the paper lives on only here.   I hope you enjoy these samples of the past.


  1. This is really great you guys - to memorialize these pieces of wallpaper here. I haven't looked at your blog posts and have a lot of catching up to do - too busy trying to get all this stuff together for the Use Permit!

  2. Love the pictures. Keep 'em comin'!

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