barb blairbefore & after basicsbefore and after

before and after basics: wallpaper detail

by Barb

Hello Friends! It’s before and after basics time and wallpaper is the subject of choice today! Wallpaper is a huge part of what I do and I am very passionate about its application and transformation powers. The most important thing to remember as we start this process is to make sure you have your patience hat on and be ready to work out some air bubbles! Now that you’re hat is on- let’s get started! –barb

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!

What you will need:

*piece of furniture

*wallpaper or paper

*modge podge {I like the matte finish}

*foam roller

*small paint brush

*craft knife/scissors




*water based poly

How to apply wallpaper :

1. Make sure that the piece you are using is painted, distressed and ready for the paper. The surface should be super smooth with no bumps. If there is anything on the surface, like large dirt particles or paint bumps , it will show through your paper.

2. Place the paper on top of the surface you are going to cover and measure it. You do not have to have an exact measurement here, but I always try to get pretty close. Call me old school, but I use my fingers to firmly crease the paper where the edges  are and then use those lines as my guides to cut on. It works for me, but feel free to use your method of choice….like actually measuring maybe ? Once your paper is measured and cut, lay aside .

3. Apply modge podge to the surface where you wish to apply the paper. I always apply the modge podge with a foam roller because it ensures a very smooth application with even amounts of product on the entire surface. This is super important because if there are areas where the modge podge is thicker, it will cause ridges and air bubbles that will not disappear when dry. I will add here, that if it is a really large surface that I am papering, I use wallpaper paste to apply the paper. Wallpaper paste gives you more time to adjust and work out the kinks in large pieces. You can use wallpaper paste all the time if you want to, but I personally find that modge podge works great on the small areas.

4.  When you have completely covered your surface with modge podge, place the wallpaper on top working from left to right making sure you work out all the bubbles. This is where it is really important to have clean hands  and damp rags on hand to work the surface of the wallpaper. If you have anything on your hands it will transfer to the top of the paper and we do not want that! Also if you are using regular paper instead of wallpaper know that you cannot use anything damp on the surface as it will cause the paper to break down and dissolve. Wallpaper has a coating on it whereas paper does not…and that is why I find myself using wallpaper more than wrapping paper sheets more often than not.

5. Once you have applied the paper and have worked out all the bubbles, you can go back in with your craft knife and ruler and trim off any excess paper. Make sure that your craft knife has a fresh blade, and that you change blades after every couple of cuts. If your blade is not fresh and sharp it will tear and bunch up your wallpaper. Not a good situation! I have also been known to sand the edges of the paper off with my orbital sander for a totally different look. It can be scary, but it is so worth the risk! The worst thing that can happen is you have to sand it all off and start over…..so go for it!

6. When you are happy with your paper application, and all of the edges are either trimmed or sanded, go ahead and apply a coat of modge podge to the top of your paper surface. Let dry about 30 minutes and repeat again. Application can be done with a foam roller, or a brush. I like a brush for the tiny bit of texture it gives, but a roller will give you a fantastic, smooth surface that is really good too!

7. After you have applied two coats of modge podge you can also add a coat of water based poly for extra protection. It is a paper surface no matter how you dice it, so use caution when placing liquids or hot and cold variables on top of the surface. If you know the top will get lots of wear and tear, I suggest having a piece of glass cut for extra protection.

You are done! Now, go put your feet up and enjoy your new piece of transformed goodness! See you next week…

** Process shots were taken while working on a current piece for a client, and use all of the same steps and methods you would use no matter what size piece you are working on.

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  • so many of my questions answered! I use papers in some of my pieces too, and I have been so curious about Barb’s process. great tutorial :)

  • Great post! I am curious, though – where can one buy wallpaper in smaller amounts to use for this kind of project?

    • I buy wallpaper samples. Lots of companies sell them for $2 and up depending on the size. I like Graham and Brown I think they’re called.

  • Yay! This is the one I’ve been waiting for! Just for clarification, does the surface have to be painted and distressed, or is it ok if it’s just sanded smooth?

  • Thanks, Barb. You do such a good job of step-by-step, not only including all the options (and the pros and cons of each) but you also anticipate the scrimps or shortcuts I’d take (like trying to stretch an exacto blade). You are so thorough and user friendly that I never have any questions! Very inspiring!

  • nice BUT where is the desktop wallpaper for september? please hook a junkie up.
    cheers, rica

    • rica

      we’re focusing on getting the re-design launched right now, sorry. that’s my priority this month.


  • fantastic!!! I have a $15 coffee table with great lines but an ugly, old scuffed inlaid wood top and I was wondering how the hell to spruce it up.. awesome.

  • I, too, would like to know where to get small pieces of wallpaper. Are they just samples from somewhere or do you buy remnants online? Sorry if this comes across as ignorant – my mother hated anything having to do with wallpaper and never allowed it in our house, so I’m largely unfamiliar with it.

    • Went to the Range today and helped myself to some good lengths of beautiful samples of wallpaper, some rather expensive stuff. The staff even obliged by loaning me a pair of scissors for a neat cut. Well chuffed. Shall get started on my projects tomorrow.

  • I think I’ll do this with my current desk. It’s my husband’s old computer desk, but it needs to be sanded and refinished. Instead I’ll just sand and paint it, and use some cute wallpaper on it!!!! I love your site.

  • Steph, it is hard to find wallpaper in small amounts, but you can ask interior designers in your area if you can buy any scrap pieces they have left over. I always buy wallpaper when I see it on sale, and the I of course order it online as well. It’s always good to have a few rolls on hand….you never know what you may decide to tackle:)

    Britt Morgan, so glad you like it! You can absolutely do this on top of sanded wood as well….it does not have to be painted and distressed. Have fun!

    Thank you all so much for your sweet feedback! I appreciate it so much!


  • I can not believe you posted this today: I just got home with a roll of wallpaper to use on the shelves of a dresser I’m repainting… and found myself looking through google for a tutorial I found on this blog I visit every day!

    I have a question though. I want to put the vinyl wallpaper I bought on shelves. There’ll only be clothes on them, but is a coating of modge podge sufficient ? Will it be enough to protect the wallpaper (it’s not a fragile one, I saw to that) ? Will the modge podge discolor the clothes ?

    Thank you for your answers ! You column is my absolute favorite, it makes me want to repaint/redo eveything. Hum, let’s start by finishing this dresser before experimenting with milk paint !

  • LOVE THIS! Thank you!!
    Do you have any specific sites you recommend for buying wallpaper? I haven’t been able to find much online or in stores that don’t look too… grandma’s kitchen-ish. :)

  • i love this column! had been looking for tips on how to do this a couple weeks ago, and am so glad i found this. thank you so much for sharing!

  • I love the cityscape made from paper on your desk. Did you make that or buy it somewhere. If you made it that would make a good how to.

  • loora, the modge podge will be sufficient for your shelving, and will not hurt your clothing at all. i can’t tell you how happy it makes me to hear that you love this column so much! thank you! glad you are inspired!

    lauren, i did not do the cityscape painting. a local artist named teresa roche did that for me. {www.artandlightgallery.com}

    kitchens dublin, you sly fox you! :) if you got it up quickly you should be fine, but like I said in the post, paper is paper no matter how you dice it, so get a piece of glass cut for extra protection!:)

  • Love this idea! I was actually considering doing something very similar in my own studio. Keep your eyes peeled on my site, I just may mimic this great idea! (In lots of different ways!)

  • thankyou!!! this is just what i needed for some single beds i’m about to spruce up!

    one question… I can’t get modge podge my side of the pond, so was wondering if its ok to use wallpaper paste and water based poly ON TOP of regular paper….or if it will mess it up?

  • This is a fantastic tutorial! Thank you! I want to add wallpaper to a few of my furniture pieces to spruce them up and wasn’t exactly how. Now I do!

  • alison, you can totally use wallpaper paste and water based poly over paper….just be sure not to over saturate with the paste! :)

    I am so glad that each one of you enjoys this process….that just thrills my little knack heart! :) Thank you for your positive feedback!


  • I’m obsessed with this column and am in the process of staining my first dresser now! Any thoughts on potentially using fabric instead of paper? Or would that turn into a hemming nightmare?

  • This is a great tutorial! I was just curious if the same technique could be used for the back wall of a china cabinet. The hutch is black which goes great with our decor, but the back is wood panel and just doesn’t fit. I wanted to do something to dress it up and this sounds perfect!

  • casey, yay for you! I’m so excited that you are putting these tips into practice! You can totally use fabric , but I do not prefer it. That is just ME…..there are however people who love using fabric and it works great for them. My favorite medium is paper.

    lanaya, thank you so much! ….and, this is absolutely perfect for lining the back of a hutch! I have done it several times…and have loved each result! have fun!

  • Have you ever tried to remove it? I like to change things around and I wonder if that would be possible with this technique.

  • I’ve covered all the flat surfaces in my office with wallpaper. I’ve gotten a lot of
    vintage paper on ebay, but current paper
    online-great roll of black & white dots for
    under $20 with free shipping.
    Our office restroom gets repapered every
    few months. I grew up with a wallpaper
    lover Mom and have passed it on to my daughter.
    Thanks for encouraging more people to

  • malia, i have had to remove paper at times , and although it is not the ideal process, it can be done. If you like to change things up really often, it may not be the choice for you. The way you can remove the paper is to use an orbital sander or belt sander and sand away! :)

  • Your blog has some excellent advice, and I’m looking forward to lining my dresser drawers with wallpaper. However, since I’m a complete novice at this, I’m just wondering if the Mod Podge is also recommended for pre-pasted wallpaper or if water is just fine to use to get it to stick?

    • Angela, I still recommend modge podge or wallpaper paste when applying wallpaper to the exterior of a piece, but when you are lining the drawers you can just use four little squares of double sided mounting tape to tack the corners down. Thank you for reading, I’m so glad you enjoy the posts!

  • I have just finished wallpapering my daughter’s cheap Ikea wardrobe. I followed your step by step Barb and it turned out very nice for a first project like that. I used wallpaper paste though. The only thing I think I will have to do again is trim the edges, i’m afraid they ate going to start pelling.
    Thanks for this great post!

  • Hi … I love B&A and always check it out for inspiration. I understand that Modge Podge is a glue but since we don´t have it in my country, is there any other kind of glue,brand or even product that will substitute it and keep the quality of the work??

  • Hi there – I have an old school child’s desk and the top of it is wood but the rest of it is metal. Can the wall paper technique be applied to metal surfaces? Also, have you done any metal refinishing?


  • Hi, When you sand the wallpaper edges instead of trimming, do you have to wait until the paper is completely dry? Do you have to have your final coat of paste on to do this?

  • good tutorial. I wanted to put wall paper on steel cupboards. Is it possible? if possible will the procedure be the same?

  • thanks for the tutorial.
    I am going to try applying wallpaper to plastic shelving.
    Before reading this I was going to use contact paper. Wallpaper offers so many more options.

  • great post! Is there an alternative to sanding etc? the piece i have is actually leather (looks like wood) and also a small NYC apartment is not conducive to sanding anything. Can I simply clean it and use mod podge? thanks

  • Thanks for the great breakdown i am using wallpaper inside a wardrobe can i use any other than modge podge on the outside as its a rather large area?

    • Hi..you mentioned not using regular paper because it will break down. Would it still break down if I used polycrylic on top of the paper to seal it and give it a glossy look? Thanks!

  • what does “after the jump” mean? I click it but it either goes to a 404 or just opens the same page again