Decorating Cheaply – A No-Mar Wallpaper Substitute

Do you live in an apartment or rental home and are bored to tears over bland eggshell-painted walls that your lease states you cannot paint? No problem. Here’s the secret: Plain old liquid starch is your friend and can be used for lots of decorating projects. Think of it as wallpaper paste that isn’t permanent on your walls.

This wallpaper substitute with fabric and starch is especially good for kid’s rooms and bedrooms:

You’ll need:

String and chalk to snap even vertical and horizontal guidelines

Fabric to cover your walls (remember that fabric is almost twice as wide as wallpaper)

Sta-Flo Liquid starch, 64 oz. bottle (usually around $1)

Cheap woven craft ribbon (optional)

2 or 3″ paint brush or big sponge (I use a big square one made for smoothing wallpaper)

Straightedge something like a Popsicle stick

Nice sharp craft knife

Measure your walls for what you’d like to wallpaper. It may be an entire wall, just the bottom half, or even just one accent wall in a room. Then head out to your local fabric or craft store and rummage around in the sale bins of fabric (I like to look in the $1/yd section). Look for broadcloth used for quilting or any fairly sturdy, non-stretch, close-weave fabric in a pattern that just grabs you. I’ve found small prints that don’t have a definite repeat work really well because you won’t have to spend a lot of frustrating time trying to match the design. Or even use a solid color in a spectacular shade.

Buy enough fabric with a yard or two extra for good measure. You may need it and, if you don’t, you’ll have the extra for accent pillows. You can even get one or two coordinating fabrics to customize your room with pillow covers and curtains (pressure rods are easy and don’t mar the window frames) if you have a sewing machine and can do basic straight stitching.

Take the time to use the chalk line to mark your first guidelines. It will definitely save you from a headache later. Cut your fabric about 4 – 6 inches longer than the finished size. Pour some liquid starch into a bucket and, with the brush or sponge, spread an even layer over the section of wall you’ll be starting on. Smooth the fabric onto the wall leaving a bit at the top and bottom. Then use the brush or sponge to apply a liberal amount of starch all over the fabric. Make sure it’s smooth and straight but take care not to stretch the cloth. Squeeze out the sponge and use it to really work the fabric flat against the wall. Use the straightedge to make sure there is a good contact at the top and bottom but don’t try to trim it while it’s wet. Just like with wallpaper, start over with a new piece at the corners of the room to get a professional, clean look.

Laugh and wipe the starch off your arms and then continue applying and smoothing sections of fabric around the room. Let it all dry until it starts to feel nice and stiff and then you can use the craft knife to trim along the ceiling and baseboards. If you find an area that isn’t sticking the way you like it, just reapply some more starch. Any excess starch on the ceiling or trim can easily be washed off with water.

Now stand back and pat yourself on the back for how really great it looks! If you want, you can apply craft ribbon with the same starch method over the cut edges or anywhere you want an accent.

You did it! You let your imagination soar and you now have a beautiful transformation at a fraction of the cost of expensive wallpaper. Plus, you can enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that this whole incredible reflection of your taste and talent can easily be peeled off and all it will take to restore the wall to it’s original blank canvas condition is a little soap and water.

© Janet L. Burgar, December 2008