The Home Guru: The Liberation of Stripping

Stripping can be liberating. Wallpaper stripping that is. It creates a more neutralized setting that is recommended when a house is about to go on the market.

I have always enjoyed stripping. 

I chuckle to myself as I write that sentence, visualizing both a body and a lack of inhibition that would accommodate that form of entertainment, but I speak of wallpaper stripping, which I feel can be equally as liberating.

I have done none of the former, but a lot of the latter, having updated room after room of both apartments and homes by removing wallpaper and painting.

But didn’t I read someplace that wall paper is making a comeback?  Yes, I did, but I don’t believe it.  As a realtor, it’s not a trend that I witness in homes for sale. But maybe by that time the owners have taken the advice of their home stagers to neutralize, and not to push one’s decorative taste on to a prospective buyer.

While a number of rooms in my 18th century home were wallpapered when I bought it and I even added paper to other rooms, as of late, I’ve been stripping wallpaper, and letting go of specific taste in wall pattern, mainly in preparaton for the eventuality of selling it. 

The most recent room to be denuded was one adopted for myself after my daughter left us to marry and I decided to purloin her large bedroom as an entertainment room and large guest bedroom.  Considering that until very recently it featured flowered French wallpaper, dove white wall-to-wall carpeting, antique needlepoint samplers and Currier & Ives prints, it certainly didn’t look much like a room that a man would spend much time in.

However, I had some hesitance about removing the wallpaper, perhaps because my daughter had selected it as a young girl and I wanted to keep her taste around me for a while longer.  So, a very busy pattern surrounded my own stuff:  my at-home computer space, my private entertainment theatre, my "gym," complete with Nordic track, free weights and large exercise balls, and as the repository for my collections of antique toys and large pieces of translucent minerals. (Yes, my penchant for collecting runs wide.)

Visually it was a study in clutter, but I had grown comfortable with it. I write about it in the past tense, because I sit now in the same room, stripped of busy wallpaper, painted in neutral tones of teal and gold, the wall-to-wall carpeting gone, exposing the hardwood floors, still in excellent condition, and less than half of my personal collections in evidence. 

The needlepoint samplers and old prints are gone, replaced by a collection of nautical prints whose blues and greens create a monochromatic effect against the teal walls. It may sound good, but I’m feeling a conflicting sense of liberation and separation simultaneously. 

Maybe it all happened too quickly for mental adjustment. The complete job of the room’s transformation was done with great speed, but not by me. The talented service provider for quick-change was Joe Pascarelli, a painter in this area.

Originally I had planned to do all this myself as I did with another big room in my house:  the main office space of my public relations firm, which I share with my residence. That job was accomplished with the business in full operation, but at night when my partner and assistant had gone home. I moved the furniture around and stripped the wallpaper wall by wall, and followed that up piecemeal with paint. Working steadily, about three nights a week, this job required six weeks to accomplish.

In the hands of Joe and two other able crew members, the same kind of job took less than two days. The work and time organization were seamless, considering the size of the room, 18’ by 20,’ and the amount of furniture, accessories and personal items that had to be moved, then set back in place.

I found Joe by responding to a call for help from a reader of my Home Guru column, a mature woman about to retire to the South, who also wanted to have her bedroom depersonalized with wall paper removal and painting. I called around and found that most painters refuse to do wallpaper removal. Joe was the one who said, “Yes, I do it all!” 

When he had finished that job, my reader called me enthusiastically, saying that she was delighted, not only with the beautiful paint job, but also with the careful removal and replacement of all of her furniture and accessories. “He even re-made my bed!” she exclaimed. 

“I think it’s important to show up on time and do what you say you’re going to do,” said Joe, a former fireman from Yonkers, but a painter for more than 20 years.

At my house, to remove the wallpaper, he used Dif, the product made expressly for that purpose. It was mixed with very hot water and applied with a commercial sprayer. Then he and his team went to work with broad blade spackle knives to remove the paper. When I told him how easy he made the process look, compared with my endless struggle in doing the same job, he modestly responded that “experience is the best teacher.”

From Joe’s example, I learned something important that I wish I knew years ago. After the stripping process and patching and sanding the walls where needed, a coat of oil prime must be used so that the wall is insulated from the new latex paint which can react in a negative way with direct exposure to plaster, sometimes bubbling.  He said that this in-between step is also needed for sheetrock which he said must be handled “more gingerly,” because it is “assaulted” by the water spray for paper removal.

“More people are looking to get rid of wallpaper – it seems to have lost its popularity,” Joe observed, “especially among older people who are getting ready to downsize. Some people who are upgrading their homes are now going into Venetian plaster and faux work, which can look like wallpaper but is more open and random.”

As for the cost of such a job, Joe told me that he is moderately priced, and judging from my own project, I definitely agree.

Now I sit in my de-personalized room that my home staging consultant tells me will appeal to a much broader audience when it is time to place it on the market. In the meantime, I must confess that I’m enjoying living in visually cleaner space.    For expert wallpaper stripping and wall painting, but not necessarily to make beds, Joe is the man.

Bill Primavera is a Realtor affiliated with Coldwell and a marketing practitioner who writes weekly as The Home Guru. For comments or questions about buying or selling a home, or for knowing how to get in touch with Joe Pascarelli, he can be emailed at Bill@PrimaveraHomes.com, or called directly at 914-522-2076.

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