upholstery basics: upholstered walls, part 1

When we gathered here last time, we turned an uninspired coffee table into a boxed ottoman, and January brought us boxed cushion sewing. This month, I thought we’d think inside the box for a change and tackle one of the biggest upholstery projects to cross my path: upholstered walls! About a month ago, I moved into a house that my hubby and I have been renovating for over a year. There’s still a lot left to finish, but my current project is transforming the master suite into a serene, shimmery boudoir. Alas! I came across Norbar’s Monty in Silver (available at Spruce), a metallic, glazed linen that is very reasonably priced (I needed 80 yards!) and just the right amount of sparkle. I packed up the workshop, headed to the house and emerged a week later with plush upholstered walls. — Amanda


Read the full how-to after the jump . . .

Materials

  • fabric
  • white or yellow chalk
  • measuring tape
  • yard stick
  • square
  • scissors
  • sewing machine
  • thread
  • iron and ironing board
  • goggles
  • ear plugs
  • ladder
  • permanent marker
  • Dacron
  • air compressor
  • stapler (preferably long-nosed)
  • 3/8″ staples
  • staple remover
  • pliers
  • cardboard tack strip
  • yarn or string

Don’t forget to check out Upholstery Basics: Tool Time to learn more about the tools we’re using today.

Here’s the room before I got started. As you can see, I started with unfinished sheetrock walls. The sleeping area (above) and the sitting room (below) make up about 250 square feet, with 80 linear feet of walls, and required 80 yards of fabric.

Instructions

One of the most challenging parts of wall upholstery is planning where seams will go on the walls and calculating a yardage amount. Each wall should be upholstered separately, and your room will likely have several large walls that need multiple widths of fabric seamed together to stretch across the wall. Seams should be oriented vertically and centered on the wall. For the wall behind my bed, I seamed four widths of fabric together and centered the middle seam with the center of the wall. For the walls with three widths seamed together, I centered the middle panel with the center of the wall. My walls are 10 feet tall, so every width of fabric required 3.33 yards (10/3 = 3.33). My four-panel wall required 13.33 yards of fabric (3.33 x 4 = 13.33).

1. Turn off power to the outlets and lighting fixtures that you’ll be working around. Remove all items from your walls, such as switch plates, outlet covers, wall sconces, artwork, television, draperies, etc. Leave baseboards and trim around doors and windows, unless you’re planning on changing these out anyway. If you plan on painting your baseboards or trim, it’s best to do this before upholstering the walls.

2. Mark and cut out fabric pieces that are the same height as your walls. Make sure the lines you draw and cut are straight and square with the grain or pattern of your fabric.

3. If your fabric has a pattern, it’s best to match the pattern. On a big wall, the seams will be really obvious if the pattern doesn’t line up. Seam the long sides of your fabric pieces together until you have the necessary width to stretch across each wall. Label each set of panels to correspond with your walls. I have 11 walls in my bedroom, which was quite confusing until I labeled and marked the walls and fabric panels.

The first wall you upholster in the room should be one that is less noticeable and has a convex corner on the left side. We all know that practice makes perfect, and your last wall will undoubtedly be far better than your first. Consider starting with a small wall that has no seams in the fabric just to get your feet wet. We will end on this left corner, so it needs to be sticking out into the room (convex) so we can easily close it up. If you have a room without convex corners, start on any wall.

4. Once you have the fabric for all of your walls seamed together, press open any seam allowances on the fabric for the first wall so they lay flat.

5. Find the center of the top and bottom of the fabric for the first wall and mark or cut a notch.

6. Mark the center of the top and bottom of the wall.

7. Staple Dacron to the wall using the same principles we’ve used in other upholstery projects: split and staple in between the top and bottom layers of Dacron. Start at the top, then bottom, left and right sides. Stop the Dacron 1/2″ shy of baseboards, crown molding or any other wall trim.

8. For big walls, you’ll need multiple pieces of Dacron. Split and staple additional pieces of Dacron with edges touching (but not overlapping) the adjacent piece.

9. Carefully cut around outlets, switches, lighting fixtures, etc. *Did you disconnect power to that outlet? It’s easy to accidentally stick the ends of your scissors into electrical outlets while clearing Dacron. BE CAREFUL!*

10. Staple down the edge of the Dacron around the items in step 9. You can staple right on top of the Dacron instead of splitting the layers.

11. Line up the middle of the fabric with the top middle of the wall and staple. Repeat for the bottom middle of the wall.

12. Stretch your fabric to the left and staple down the seam to the left of the middle. Measure the distance from the edge of the wall to the left seam. If you only have one panel or two panels seamed together, skip to step 16.

13. Now stretch the fabric from the middle to the right and staple the seam the same distance from the right edge of the wall.

14. Repeat steps 12 and 13 for the bottom of the fabric.

15. When you have your seams evenly spaced and stapled in place, staple a long piece of string or yarn at the top and bottom of the wall lined up with every seam. Stretch the string pretty tight so it will stay nice and straight.

16. Go back to the top and staple all the way across.

17. Before moving on to the sides, reach behind the fabric and make sure all of the seams are laying flat on the back side.

18. Stretch the fabric tightly to the right until the seam is just past the string line. When we stretch tightly in the other direction, the seams should straighten out and line up with the string. Staple the fabric to the next wall. Sheetrock is porous, so you may need to put several staples in at each attachment point as you’re getting started to keep the staples from pulling out of the wall. This part is a lot easier with a friend who can help watch your lines and stretch the fabric. If you don’t have any seams, stretch until the grain/pattern of your fabric is straight up and down.

19. You can see that I’ve stretched the fabric about 1/4″ past the string line.

2o. When the right side is stapled from top to bottom, repeat step 18 for the left side. This time, we’ll be stretching until the seams are lined up with the string lines. Getting the seams straight may be the hardest part of wall upholstery, so you may need to adjust a little from right to left to get them straight. Be patient, and embrace the walls without seams!

21. When the top, right and left sides are stapled, pull any excess out toward the bottom and staple. I’m putting on my baseboards later, but if you already have them installed, staple right next to the baseboards and any other trim you have on your wall.

22. Use a utility knife or scissors to cut off excess fabric.

23. For the next wall, repeat steps 4–6.

24. Stretch your fabric to the left and staple at the top of the seam to the left of the middle. Measure the distance from the edge of the wall to the left seam. If you have no seams to the left, stretch the fabric all the way to the left edge of the wall; then make a mark where the fabric lines up with the edge.

25. Take your fabric down and lay it on a flat surface. Measure out from your left seam the distance that you measured in step 24 plus an addition 1/2″. If you have no seams, draw a line 1/2″ beyond the mark you made in step 24.

26. Remove excess fabric by cutting on the line drawn in step 25.

27. Now we’ll blind tack the left side. Starting at the top, attach 1/2″ of fabric with staples, good side against the wall, all the way down the left edge. While doing this, the rest of the fabric should be out to the left. You may need a helper or an extra ladder to hold the excess fabric while you staple.

28. To reinforce this edge and keep it tight to the wall to the left, staple a piece of cardboard tack strip on top of the 1/2″ you stapled in step 27. As you staple, push the cardboard tightly against the wall to the left. If the left edge of your wall is a convex corner, line up the cardboard tack strip with the edge of the wall.

29. Follow steps 7–10 to attach Dacron.

30. Now stretch the fabric to the right, and repeat steps 11–17.

31. Stretch to the right until all seams are lined up with the string lines and staple to the next wall.

32. Repeat steps 21 and 22.

Meet me here next month as we complete our upholstered walls and put the room back together. It’s worth the wait!

Tips for Part 1

  • Keep tools and extra staples in your apron or in a bucket on your ladder so you can grab them as needed instead of climbing up and down the ladder over and over.
  • Tape a piece of fabric around the head of your staple gun so you don’t scuff your ceiling as you staple.
  • Work with a drop cloth beneath you so falling objects don’t scratch or damage hard floors. A measuring tape falling from 10 feet will put a considerable ding in hardwoods; I learned this the hard way!
  • The convex corners in my room are covered with a metal strip to prevent damage. If you’re having a hard time getting staples to go in at these corners, the metal may be repelling the staples. When this metal corner is on the right side of your wall, stretch the fabric a few inches beyond and staple. When the metal corner is on the left side, leave the fabric on the left edge loose instead of blind-tacking. You’ll only staple the top, bottom and right edges. Next month, I’ll show you how to hand-sew these corners.
  • Fabric is often more cost effective than wallpaper. I have found that patterns that come in fabric and wallpaper versions are often less expensive by the square foot in fabric.

Dying for more upholstery? Check out more Upholstery Basics!

amy walters, aDESIGNdock

Wow! I soooo appreciate the hard work, effort and patience that went into doing this. I don’t know if I’d have the discipline to accomplish a project like this, but it turned out beautifully and am so glad you shared it with us! Great job!

Kate Pruitt

This is a two part post, so the final half of the tutorial and the final reveal images will be in the next installment!

Adrienne

I’m trying to imagine it and just can’t…I’m curious to see the end result too! I’d also be curious to know what sort of environment she lives in…dry, humid? Would that make a difference?

Karen

Forget the walls. Where did you get the flooring! That is beautiful! Please tell me what it is?

Amanda Brown

Hey Karen, the floors are made by EcoTimber called Woven Poplar, and they’re made out of recycled wood from furniture! I thought it was too perfect…and striking!

Adrienne, since we’re not gluing anything, the fabric shouldn’t be affected by the humidity level like wallpaper is.

Reem | Simply Reem

OMG!!! I love the details in the wooden flooring…..
Upholstered Walls…. I love them ….
Quick question here, Is the fabric stain resistant, I am thinking how flexible it will be with kids around..:-)

olga

Could you take more pictures of your floor? It looks so awesome. I would love to know what it is and why it’s like that. Thanks in advance!

nicole

It’s like a pysch ward! hee-hee, just kidding. I think it’s going to look great when it’s finished. I’ve never seen this before, very unique. :)

Liz

@Nicole – My thought exactly! :)
Looking forward to seeing the finished product.

claudia

i know.. Italians like me are always too warryed about cleaning and so on but i think that is not really hygienic to have such a walls…
when they got dirthy or if in summer time some insects go inside you have to change it all… and before you realise is going to be late..

i don’t know ..this tutorials are very interesting but none of them shows object with removable covers.
they are good but it would be nice if you could also teach us how to make things with such a quality.. every month you can thake them off and just put the cover in the washing machine. don’t you think so?
regards

Elizabeth

I love the idea of texture and softness on a wall and once used a nubby upholstery fabric on three walls in a tiny office reception area. The visual effect was beautiful but the greatest thing was the sound absorption. Another very important consideration is to look for flame retardant fabric. This will be a beautiful and quiet retreat when completed!

frances pelzman liscio

Oh my gosh. I can’t wait to see the end result. And I thought your before picture looked pretty great to begin with.
Also–you have really inspired me. This looks like a lot of work but the way you break it down into small, understandable steps makes me want to apply your clear, instructional method to other big projects as well. My godmother had some upholstered walls, including a fantastic closet that was upholstered with some wonderful chintz with tiny monkeys, palm trees and parasols, and she lit the closet really well. I always rushed to hang up my coat in that closet because it was so pretty and inviting.

maria

I hope you don’t have pets or allergies! All I see when I see this is wall to wall pet hair, dust, mites etc and other allergens that love to cling to fabric. and I truly hope the fabric and batting is fire resistant. Yikes. I am curious to see how this turns out though!

Jessica

I have seen this technique in friends houses and I love it! One paired a matching upholstered headboard and some chairs as well. It can work. I am trying to narrow down the fabric you chose but I can’t seem to as there are so many Norbor. I would love to purchase some for a potential project. Thanks!

elizabeth

i love your fabric choice! and your floors….and your headboard…ahhh this room is going to be beautiful! can’t wait to see it completed!

I had corally/salmony pink upholstered walls in a room in a vacay house when I was younger and it was sooo cozy and quiet.

Katherine

You say the fabric is “reasonably priced…” but don’t mention a number! I looooove the silvery linen and am looking at making new drapery for the copious windows in my condo – 10 foot ceilings + many windows= many many yards of fabric. What are we talking about here, cost-wise? Just so I can start to scrimp and save!

Teresa

I can tell by the first photograph that this is going to look really lovely and sopisticated when you’re finished. It’s not for me (I found flecks of lotion on my brand new lamp the other day, so no, I would end up ruining the walls in a matter of weeks) I look forward to the finished product and will just have to live vicariously through you. Good luck and thanks for sharing!

lucy

i really don’t get it…i’m excited to see the final results and hear the “why”. i must be missing something…

madlyn easley

Upholsteres walls are wonderful! They give you this wonderful sense of peace and quiet because the fabric and padding absorb all externel sounds.Very serene!When I was doing this for a living I covered eveything from walk in closets to dining rooms and even a powder room with a domed ceiling.One of my favorite jobs was a bedroom where even the ceiling was upholstered-all of it in a heavenly pale blue and white print.
It”s also great for covering unsightly walls-the fabric just skims the bumps.And you can kiss ugly paneling goodby with this technique!

Josephine

I’ve loved the look of fabric-covered walls for a long time but I’ve always been concerned about the fire safety aspect. Are they a fire hazard? Thanks!

Amanda

I see a few concerned comments about cleanliness and fire hazard. As far as the cleanliness, the fabric does have a sheen to it which helps prevent the absorption of dirt and dust. Depending on the wear and tear you expect for your space, you may choose to use a wipeable material or one with a stain resistance built-in. Or consider a wainscoting on the bottom half of your walls and upholstery on the upper. As far as fire hazard, the fabric and padding are not combustible and would be very unlikely to catch fire unless from human negligence. There are fabrics with chemical fire retardants built-in, though many believe these chemicals are pretty toxic. Wall upholstery poses the same (if not fewer) concerns than upholstered furniture, so consider the same factors when choosing fabric and placement.

Katherine, this fabric is $26 per yard. I found one other silver linen, but it was nearly $200 per yard!! I jumped for joy when I found this one.

The Norbar website is tough to navigate, so feel free to give us a call at Spruce if you need help finding or purchasing the fabric.

Thanks, all for the wonderful comments! I’m excited to reveal the completed room!

Amber

Good luck with this project, can’t wiat to see the results of all your hard work.

More importantly though, I HAVE to know about your headboard. I have it printed out on my inspiration corkboard at home from a couple years ago. It is a dream of mine. I want to make something similar, or if this exists in the world already, I would buy it! I was shocked to see the picture online again as I have no reference from where I originally pulled it from back then. Any info would be divine! Thanks!

Shelby

I am sooo excited by this project. I have a dark tiny entry with knotty pine panelling that would a real pain to take out. I’ve been searching for a solution that wouldn’t show the seams of the paneling. I think I have found it! Off to look at fabrics!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

(and please post the rest soon – I’m wondering what to do with my doorway ;-) )

EdgeH2ORunner

I love upholstered walls! It’s so much easier if you have a chair rail and you upholster between the crown molding and chair rail. You can roll out the fabric in one piece sideways and you have no seams to worry about. Glue on ribbon around perimeter to hide the staples.

Amanda

Amber,

I made the headboard about 5 years ago, so feel free to give us a call if you’d like us to make you a custom one. We ship out of state frequently if you’re not in Texas.

rachel

wow…talk about beauty and braun…you go amanda!

Regina

This is a wonderful tutorial, but where I part 2? I’ve to see the rest.

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