Even if the walls are flat, papering a stairwell presents problems. The awkward angles, height of the walls and long lengths of wallcovering make for special difficulties of access and handling, but you’ll find that these can be overcome.

Hanging wallpaper in an ordinary room is not too difficult. But with stairwells there are awkward corners and long lengths to cope with.

Gaining access

The chief problem in wallpapering a stairwell is that of gaining access to the walls you are papering. This is because of the height of the walls and the awkward angles involved.

It is essential to have a safe working platform and to set this up in the right way to suit the layout of the stairwell and the way the stairs rise. You can hire special platforms for decorating the stair/hall area, or use the components of a tower platform. Alternatively, you can use ladders and steps linked with scaffold boards.

A particularly useful item of equipment is a hop-up, a small platform which you can make yourself Then, starting as close as possible to this point but about 50mm away from any obstacles – such as a door or window opening – take a roll of the wallcovering you are going to use and move it along the wall to estimate where succeeding widths will fall. If, according to your calculations, there will be a join between lengths within 50mm of an external corner (at another window opening, for example), change your starting point slightly and measure again so you avoid this. Then mark off where this first drop will be hung. When you have established where you will hang the first drop, use a plumbline to work out a true vertical at this point. Coat the line with chalk, pin it to the top of the wall and allow it to hang. Then, at the skirting, hold the plumb bob with one hand, pluck the string with the other and let it snap back against the wall to leave a vertical chalk line on the wall. Alternatively, instead of coating the plumb line with chalk, fix it in place, allowing it to hang down, and then place a long straight timber batten so the edge is exactly against the line, and use the batten as your guide to draw a true vertical line down the wall. Remember to plumb a new line every time you turn a corner.

Hanging the wallcovering

The decorating sequence is the same as for any other area – see DECORATING TECHNIQUES 2. If the wall is bare plaster, start by applying size to the wall to prevent the paste soaking in. Then measure and cut the wallcovering to length, remembering to allow for the angle of the skirting board if applicable, paste it and allow it to soak. If you are using a ready-pasted wallcovering, place your water trough in the hall or on the landing, not on the stairs where you are likely to knock it over. Wallcoverings hung by the – _ _ paste-the-wall technique are particularly easy to hang in stairwells, because you are handling lengths of dry wallcovering.

Because the lengths of paper for the wall at the side of the stairs will all be of a different size – caused by the rise of the stairs – it is better to cut and paste one length at a time, unlike straightforward rooms where you can cut and paste several lengths at a time.

Hang the first and longest length of wallpaper, using the vertical line you have marked on the wall as a guideline to get it straight. Then work round the stairwell from this length, making sure the pattern matches as you go along.

If your staircase is curved at the bottom the wallcovering is likely to pucker as it fits around the curve. To prevent this, you can snip into the overlap at the foot of the wall at intervals so the paper is more flexible in its fit.

Coping with long drops

A problem unique to stairwells is the length of paper you are handling – often as much as 4.5m (15ft) long. Apply paste liberally so it is less likely to dry out before you have fixed the bottom of the length. (It’s worth keeping a small amount of adhesive ready to apply where the adhesive has dried out before the wallcovering is fixed.) Fold the pasted paper in concertinas timber nailed or screwed together. It should be about 460mm (18in) high and 760mm (30in) wide.

Stairwell Decoration Tips

A stairwell needn’t be just a way of getting. from one floor to another in a house. Quite apart from painting and papering it there are several things that can be done to turn it into an area of decorative interest. For example, you can cover the walls with wood panelling, cork tiles or other materials which will provide a decorative surface.

However, large wall areas such as you find in a stairwell can look overpowering if uniformly decorated, so often they need to be broken up in some way. One of the easiest ways of doing this is to install a dado rail – a form of battening which runs parallel to the skirting board about 750mm (2ft 6in) above the floor. These come in various types of material and the designs range from simple mouldings to elaborate engraved effects.

If you intend papering the stairwell, a dado rail will make this an easier task because it reduces the lengths of paper required. Similarly if you fit a picture rail at a higher level, this will also help to break the wall up. One thing you may like to try is to have different but matching wallpapers above and below the rails.

There are a number of other ideas you can put into effect. For example, if the wood of the newel posts, balusters and handrail is in good condition, you can create an interesting feature by stripping them back to the bare wood, especially in an older house where the timber will probably have a pronounced and attractive grain pattern. You can even do this to the stairs themselves as an alternative to carpet.

Space in a stairwell is often wasted, but it may be possible to install some storage cupboards or shelves. The landing at the top of the stairs, for example, is an ideal place for a bookcase. Pot plants at strategic points can make the stairwell a very attractive feature. On wide staircases, stand them at one end of the risers, so you can train them up the wall or the balusters. On narrower staircases, restrict them to corners to avoid the risk of tripping over them. –

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