Ask an Expertproducts

Ask An Expert: Wallpaper Tips from Sian Zeng

by Grace Bonney

Sian Zeng Yellow Green Dino Boy in jungle
We just wallpapered the back wall of our office and, despite my fears about it being overwhelming, it’s pulled together our space in such a major way. It got me thinking about some of the things that hold people back from trying wallpaper– mainly the idea that it’s too difficult to install or too visually overwhelming. So I called on wallpaper designer Sian Zeng (who makes the coolest magnetic wallpaper ever) to share her expert advice and insight into the world of wallpaper. From tips on removing old wallpaper to the best kind of glue to use, Sian has some great ideas that will make wallpaper seem a little less daunting and a whole lot more possible. And if nothing else, she’s convinced me I need some magnetic wallpaper in my life. Read on for Sian’s tips and tricks after the jump… xo, grace

For more wallpaper inspiration check out our Top 50 Wallpapers, Best of Wallpaper Part 1 and Part 2 and our Black Book of 12 Trusted Wallpapers.

Click through for the full post after the jump…

Sian Zeng Grey Dino Detail
Full Name: Sian Zeng
Based in: London, United Kingdom
When did you start your company?: 2009
What inspired your company?: The main inspiration behind Sian Zeng has been the desire to create products that evoke a sense of magic and fun within kids and adults alike. Our philosophy is to encourage playfulness and imagination in people. Keeping this concept in our minds we created a magnetic wallpaper that allows users to create their own stories on the wall by moving a cast of magnetic characters and buildings on the wallpaper and write on the speech bubbles.

Sian Zeng Grey dino magnet close up

1. What is the biggest mistake people make when choosing and installing wallpaper?

When choosing wallpaper it is always best to obtain a sample and test it on the intended space. If you can get hold of a full pattern repeat sized sample that would be the best. This will give you a good sense of the color of the wallpaper in that particular light environment as well as scale of the pattern and suitability.

If you follow the instructions given to you by your manufacturer, you should be able to hang your wallpaper without a problem. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to assume that the corners of their rooms are square or absolutely vertical. It is almost never the case. If you were to hang your wallpaper starting in a corner, you would most likely find your paper run askew. To remedy this problem, you will need to create a true vertical line as a place to start hanging. Use a spirit level and a pencil to mark every 150mm from the top of the wall to the bottom. The best place to start hanging to make the wallpaper appear straight is at the focus point of the room or in the middle of the wall and proceed out towards the corners.

2. What do you mind most people are afraid of when considering wallpaper?

Many people may feel wallpapering their home is a large commitment to make, because they believe it can not be easily changed and will set a definite tone their homes. They could try to wallpaper only a small area of their rooms to begin with. It will give them a taste of the wallpaper without being overwhelming.

3. How do you suggest people choose the right wallpaper for their home/project?

I would suggest people to first gather lots of images or objects that inspire them and look out for the recurring colors, themes, details they liked. I for example use Pinterest to gather the images I like for my dream home. Once they have built a strong idea for the color and general mood they wish to create within their home, they should then visit an interior design shop with a wide selection of wallpapers. It is always best to keep your inspiration images close by so you can refer back to them at any time. Select a few wallpaper samples to take back with you and test out on the wall you intend to wallpaper. If you have already furnished your flat and wish to select a wallpaper for your walls, the best thing to do is to take a picture of the room you would like to wallpaper with you and select wallpapers that would complement your furniture.

Sian Zeng Yellow Green Dino Boy magnet play
Sian Zeng Yellow Green Detail

4. What is the best way (or creative ways) for people to use wallpaper at home?

There are many creative ways you can use wallpapers. One of my favorites is to hang smaller panels of the wallpaper and form a frame around the panels, making them look like large artworks. This is especially useful when it comes to expensive wallpapers or when you would like to accentuate certain areas in a room.

You can also mix and match wallpapers in a single room to create visually separate spaces.

Finally, I love the idea of wallpapering above the picture rail and paint the rest of the wall with a matching color from the wallpaper.

5. What sort of environmental conditions should people consider before installing wallpaper (and how can they get around them?

One of the concerns is hanging wallpapers in the bathroom where it may become humid. Most wallpapers would be able to cope in a bathroom as long as they aren’t too close to the water source and the room is ventilated. If your bathroom is very humid, you will be able to purchase vinyl or vinyl coated wallpapers that are normally moist resistant. Please check the manufacturer’s label for moist resistance.

You should also investigate the surface material of the space you would like to wallpaper. If it is made of MDF, cement, new plaster or wood, you will still be able to wallpaper, except that you will need to prepare the surface appropriately.

For example, if you would like wallpaper onto a smooth MDF board then you will need to apply a layer of the decorator’s primer/sealer and cross-line with a ready mixed tub adhesive and the wall will be ready for wallpapering.

6. What tips do you have for people installing wallpaper on their own at home?

First of all, it is crucial to read the manufacturer’s hanging instructions carefully. Lay out all the equipment and space you will need for the installation and know all the steps you will need to take. Save the leftover wallpaper for any repairs you may need in the future as well as write down the batch number on the label of your wallpaper in case you need extra rolls. The batch number will tell the manufacturer from which production batch your roll came from as every batch creates a slightly different color wallpaper. If you are inexperienced, I would recommend that you ask an experienced friend/decorator to help you with the task.

Sian Zeng Pink Green Detail
Sian Zeng Pink Green Dino Boys play
Sian Zeng Yellow Green Dino Magnet close up

7. Are there any brands of glue, installation equipment, etc. you recommend?

I would strongly recommend Solvite extra strong. Its a very strong adhesive, easy to mix, can be left overnight for next day’s use and it has added fungicide to prevent mold growth. With our magnetic wallpaper, we began to send this paste to our customers to ensure a good quality paste is used for our wallpapers. For squeezing out excess paste and bubbles I found using a wallpaper smoother and a moist sponge to wipe off the excess were extremely helpful.

8. What tips do you have for people who need to remove existing wallpaper? Should they paint over it? Or remove it with a certain technique?

To remove existing wallpaper the most effective method is to score the surface of the wallpaper with a wire brush first and then use a steam stripper to let water through and soften the adhesive. It will now scrape off easily with a stripping knife. If you don’t possess a steam stripper, they are normally available for rent at DIY shops.

9. What trends are you seeing or do you think people should try in their homes?

There is a definite trend towards creating wallpapers that not only satisfied our visual senses but also the way in which we interact with them (with our other senses like taste and touch). I have seen edible wallpapers emerge to fascinate our taste buds and tactile wallpapers for our touch. Magnetic wallpapers, like our own, have become increasingly more popular. People like to interact with the wallpaper because they can create their own personalized stories on the wall and can freely move family photographs or pictures around without having to hammer new holes in the wall.

10. What places should people consider wallpaper outside of the expected areas?

Wallpapers can appear in many unexpected places. They can be used to cover the stairs and if you want to be creative with it, you could use a different pattern for every step. You can also cover the insides and outsides of your cupboards, the areas behind your shelves, the ceiling and many more. If you can find a solid flat surface, you will probably be able to wallpaper onto it.

11. What’s the best way to repair wallpaper that’s damaged in single spot?

To repair the damaged area, you will need a large enough piece of the original wallpaper to cover more than your damaged spot. You may have a piece left over from your previous installation or obtained a replacement roll with the same batch number as the original.

First cut a large piece of the wallpaper that is bigger than your damaged spot. If the wallpaper is patterned, make sure to include the same pattern when you cut the piece.

Apply paste to the back of your replacement piece and place over the top of your damaged area. Make sure to match the pattern on all sides and squeeze the air bubbles out with your wallpaper smoother. You will now need to act quickly to perform what is called a double-cut. Use a new blade to cut through both layers of wallpapers together. Try not to cut straight lines, but rather curvy ones so to make the cut look less obvious. Very carefully peel of the replacement piece and place it in a ziploc bag so it does not dry out in the meantime. Score the surface of the damaged wallpaper lightly within the boundaries of the double cut and wet it thoroughly. Once it had been soaked, scrap of the damaged wallpaper and wipe the wall clean with a wet cloth. Gently remove the replacement piece from the ziploc bag and smooth it in place. If the wallpaper paste has since dried on the back of the replacement piece, add more paste.


Image Credits:
Styling by Charlotte Love
Photographs by Jon Day
Older boy model: Hugo Scarratt-Cabrera
Younger boy model: Nestor Scarratt-Cabrera

Suggested For You


  • How did you know I needed a kick in the pants to try my favorite wallpaper one a single wall in our new apartment? Now it doesn’t feel so intimidating. THANK YOU!

  • I would have never thought about the corner issue! Super smart. I’ve been looking into wallpaper for our halfbath and that would have been an expensive mistake.

  • does anyone have experience hanging paper on the wall of a staircase that curves? I know what to do an a straight stairwell wall,but the curve is making ladder/scaffolding placement very difficult. the tallest drop is about 30 feet. viva wallpaper!!

Leave a Reply

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, that comment on people's physical appearance, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.