Old-house charms call for creativity

Seabolt house

Somehow over the past two decades, I have been put on some sort of pedestal as someone who knows things about historic home renovation. I have no idea how this happened.

I don’t feel I was properly vetted as a provider of advice. The number of folks who email or message me to seek my opinion on their own home renovation projects certainly goes to show that people continue to make poor choices.

Basically, do not trust me. I’m not opposed to cutting corners. Case in point: Wallpaper. Wallpaper is a tool of the devil and you will not convince me otherwise.

Like most impulsive decisions made in the heat of the desire — you will live to regret it. I’ve done it. I have cursed myself. It is one thing, of course, to face your own demons in the removal of wallpaper you once lovingly applied (and possibly skipped sizing because who has time for that?)

“I will LOVE THIS WALLPAPER FOREVER” I said. Until I didn’t.

Living in a home that has been around for more than 100 years also brings with it a host of design decisions made by past occupants. This means that we not only deal with our own mistakes — but those made by people no longer here to answer for their crimes.


Popular opinion is that one should never, ever paint over old wallpaper. If faced with old wallpaper you are advised to mix some concoction such as fabric softener, hot water, and unicorn tears together and spray it on the offending paper.

We are to believe the paper will then peel itself from the wall voluntarily. This is a lie. Nothing of the sort happens.

Ditto the wallpaper steamer, the scoring tool (aka “Paper Tiger”) and a variety of other tools. Yes, I know that there is no curse worse than the scourge of painted wallpaper.

People move into old houses and take out walls rather than deal with old wallpaper. Layers of painted wallpaper, as we understand it, are many times worse.

They become one with the structure.


That disclaimer aside, I’m going to dissent and say sometimes you simply cannot remove the wallpaper. All of the fabric softener/vinegar/scraping/steaming/pacts with Satan simply will not budge the stuff.

I suspect that in some cases wallpaper was actually applied directly to wet plaster. Worse, attempting to remove it will damage the underlying walls. I once tried to remove wallpaper from our kitchen and ended up with new drywall when chunks of the wall came off with the paper.

That was not the look I was going for. Let me assure you that if you have run up against some of this old wallpaper which is apparently now bonded to the structure of your home, it is sometimes acceptable to sand the seams, prime and paint over it.

Yes, I said it. Just make sure you do it well enough that you personally will never have to deal with that again. Just say a prayer for forgiveness and get to priming over that ancient paper.

After all, you need to leave something for future owners to curse you over.


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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.



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