A wallpaper stripper’s tale


As usual, none of this is MY fault. I really had moved to the stage of acceptance of the “charm” of old house life – the smallish yet tallish rooms, the quirky corners, the cobwebs that spawn overnight.
I had no plans to change a thing. Then I started picking at the wallpaper and all heck (yet very little wallpaper) broke loose.
Pull. I couldn’t help it. It’s like pulling a loose thread, yanking on a hangnail, or scratching a mosquito bite. Sure you KNOW you’re not supposed to do it. But, it just FEELS so good.
It’s way too easy to get that way with this house. There is generally so much peeling and flaking and tearing away around here that it’s hard not to pick at it.
So, I’m on the phone and completely engrossed in the conversation when my eyes naturally drift to the wall above the stove. There I spy a little bubble, just the slightest little curl of an edge in the wallpaper. So I pulled it.
Like I said, so not my fault. A whole strip – nay CHUNK – of wallpaper came off in one fell swoop.
The wallpaper was clearly asking for it.
I was left holding the evidence in my hand, mouth open, even as my devious mind was formulating a plan.
Plan. It should be noted, for the record, that nothing chills my husband’s capable little handyman heart like me with a plan. Me with a plan is like, say, a gorilla with a gun.
You kind of suspect he hasn’t the slightest idea how to handle the thing, but know he’s going to do a lot of damage nonetheless.
Kitchen. Our house boasts a kitchen the size of most walk-in closets. At about 15-foot-square, it can’t even begin to hope to grow up and be one of those ballroom meets bowling alley sized kitchens that are routinely featured in new homes today.
Ours isn’t one of those “heart of the home” kitchens. It’s more like thumbnail of the home. Maybe an appendix.
Addition. Back when I was young, foolishly naive, and had no clue the house would eventually break us and win, an addition seemed like the sensible solution.
“Why can’t you just slap a floor, some walls and a little roof on so we can have a more room? How much could it possibly cost?” I asked my husband.
He launched into a tirade about level foundations, trusses, structural integrity and the prohibitive cost of building materials. What I heard of course was “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
We settled for adding some cabinets (cheap), painting the existing cabinetry white (it was black), and slapping up some ivy wallpaper (quite stylish in 1996, if I do say so myself). We were fine with it.
Fast forward 10 years and there I was holding a chunk of wallpaper paper in my hand and formulating the aforementioned plan.
I would strip the wallpaper (easy enough right?); paint all the walls a creamy golden hue; repaint the stark white cabinets a warmer white (yes gentlemen, there really ARE numerous shades of white); and add some spicy red accents.
How hard could that be? Ha.
Fight. After that first piece slid off the wall quite by accident, the rest wasn’t coming off without a fight. In the three days I fought the wallpaper (and the wallpaper won), I was forced to forego the little things – bathing, feeding my family, leaving the house – all in my quest for total wallpaper domination.
Had I not known better, I would’ve sworn that Satan himself had applied the stuff to my walls. I tried scraping. I tried soaking. I tried steaming.
If the goal of any of those things was to strip not only the wallpaper, but the top layer of drywall, I succeeded. Somehow, I don’t think that actually dissolving the walls down to the framing was the look I was going for.
I would love to report that all was eventually well. To claim that I discovered some super-secret wallpaper removal trick.
Alas, no. I strongly suspect that the only cure for firmly adhered wallpaper involves the sale of my soul to the aforementioned Satan, or a sledgehammer clean through the walls.
Finished product. Today, the kitchen is half wallpapered and half pitted and scarred. Great chunks of the drywall have come loose.
I can only stand and stare in disbelief at what I have done to my otherwise cute enough kitchen.
I have seen the enemy and the enemy is myself. Myself armed with a steamer to be precise.
Nonetheless, I have a plan. It will all come together. I have to believe this.
After all, it’s called home improvement because at some point it couldn’t possibly get any worse.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt swears that she will never wallpaper again. She welcomes comments c/o kfs@epohi.com; P.O. Box 38, Salem, Ohio 44460; or http://userweb.epohi.com/~kseabolt.)


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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.