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… close to 300 m2 of wallpaper, over 80 years of decorating history…

… not just one layer, but three to five layers, sometimes painted between layers, everything painted over the final layer…

…initially I thought I could just paint over the paper, and make do until I decided to redecorate, one room at a time, but the electricians cut deep channels in each wall, often taking entire sections of wallpaper with them. Other places you touched the wallpaper and could feel the decades of wallpaper paste crumbling behind the armour of paint and paper…

… I started peeling off corners here and there, then became more systematic, working one room at a time, hiding in the small bedroom as the electricians were cutting open walls and you couldn’t see across the living room for the billowing dust. I have found endless “treasures” hidden behind the paper, the inevitable sums and calculations, a quick sketch of a street map, a child’s drawing of a face, I think it might have been a bear… that was between layers, impossible to salvage or even photograph in it’s entirety. The biggest mystery has been two dates – was the apartment first decorated over the Christmas of 1930, is it dates of birth, or heaven forbid the life span of a lost infant… I will never know.

wallpaper removal @ grt*escp wallpaper removal @ grt*escp… initially the whole place was wrapped in a delicate flowery print, when that got too filthy and too subtle it was replaced with metallic golden swirls, impressive, but probably very oppressive. Typical Belgian architecture has the three main rooms in a row, “en enfilade”, meaning I have a 17m long main room, but the middle section doesn’t get any direct natural light. With all those gold swirls it most have been so dark! Later years the swirls were papered over with a more subtle beige textured paper, and then later the final layer was added, in some rooms this has embossed flowers, in others it is plainer. We will never know what the colour schemes were.

wallpaper removal @ grt*escp… real decorating risks were taken in the small bedroom, and this was where I had most layers to contend with, there was also a period of navy blue and green tartan, and a yellow paper (with the child’s drawing)…

… other finds under the paper included unwanted electric sockets. It seems if you no longer wanted a socket, you just papered over it, usually removing the metal plate from the outside, never disconnecting wires or removing the “innards”. That explains why my electricians found a number of wires in the walls that no amount of pulling would budge!

wallpaper removal @ grt*escp… before starting paper removal I did my research, spending more than an evening with the inexhaustible sources of knowledge and wisdom: google and youtube… I read and assessed the pros and cons of steam vs. fabric softener, mechanical vs. physical effort, and concluded for my walls the best approach was:

  • remove as much of the painted outer layer of paper as possible dry, sometimes other layers came off too this way.
  • once I had the “waterproof” painted layer off, wet the walls with a water and fabric softener mix and wait a while – this is the hardest part, but the waiting really makes a difference!

… initially I followed the recommendation to use hot water and a 1:3 ratio of softener to water, applied with a paint roller to small areas at time… the first rooms took me almost a day/wall.

… I quickly dropped the hot water as I didn’t have a hot water source, or electricity, so I was heating a pan of water at a time on my camping stove… I decided “to hell with this” and switched to cold water and saw no noticeable difference.

… then I spoke to the plasterer who is going to fix up all my walls and he told me to go out and buy a cheap garden spray pump… he told me I could use the cheapest washing up detergent I could find if I wanted, but I already had 2 bottles of (hypo-allergic!) fabric softener, so I have stuck with that, but at a much lower ratio than 1:3. He told me just to spray the whole wall, and get it nice and wet, and wait… and he was right! Less fabric softener water splattering me in the face than with the roller and I have been “zooming” through the place ripping wallpaper off walls at the rate of almost a room per day…

… only the two small entrance halls left to go…

wallpaper removal @ grt*escp wallpaper removal @ grt*escp

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