What not to do when choosing wallpaper – 12 expert tips to consider when using wallpaper

Let these expert tips guide you on your wallpapering journey

Wallpaper can be totally transformative in any room. It has the power to change the look and feel in a room by adding pattern, colour and texture to walls – in a way which paint simply can't do.

Don’t feel restricted by the size of the room, either, as wallpaper ideas are not just for large open-plan spaces. The right paper can help to bring smaller rooms to life.

Although papering can look fantastic it can be expensive, and not the sort of task you want to get wrong. We've spoken to Alex Whitecroft, Head of Design at I Want Wallpaper, to gain the top tips to consider when using wallpaper in our homes.

What not to do when choosing wallpaper

1. Buy before you try

living room with white sofa and grey carpet

(Image credit: Future PLC /David Giles)

Sounds obviously but how many of us would overlook this process of trying out a wallpaper first, even though we test paints?! ‘As you would with paint, it’s a good idea to source sample wallpaper options before purchasing a whole roll’ explains Alex at I Want Wallpaper.

‘Test wallpaper samples on the walls you’re looking to decorate, to get a feel for the texture and colour in the natural light.’ Pretty much all good retailers offer samples of their wallpapers, for you to try out.

Having a sample allows you to better plan your coordinating paint colours throughout the rest of the room.

2. Think pattern is the only option

living room with hanging lamp light and photo frame

(Image credit: Future PLC /Dominic Blackmore)

Wallpaper doesn’t have to be heavily patterned to be powerful. You can buy a simple, pretty plain wallpaper to add colour and texture in any room. Alex says ‘Plain wallpaper is a great alternative to paint – which can tend to show the dirt more easily than wallpaper.’

'A top tip is to pin samples of the designs you’ve shortlisted on the wall or walls you’re planning to paper to see if it works for you'.

3. Apply the wrong paste

When shopping for wallpaper, it’s important to look at the way in which the paper will stick to your wall. Generally, there are three different wallpaper applications: pre-pasted, paste the wall and paste the wallpaper.

Pre-pasted paper is coated in a pre-applied paste, which just needs to be moistened to activate, before hanging (if you’re looking for as little hassle as possible, this is probably the option for you). Paste the wall application requires you to brush paste onto the wall before application. Paste the wallpaper application, refers to the more traditional method of applying paste to the back of the paper, using a pasting table.

4. Run into a mis-match

bedroom with leaf wallpaper and flower vase

(Image credit: Future PLC /Dan Duchars)

Alex advises, ‘When shopping for wallpaper look at the ‘match type’ i.e. the way in which the design matches up when hanging different strips of wallpaper. Different match types will require different amount of preparation and some will require additional roles of paper.’ The last thing you want to do is mis match and have to redo your wallpapering, especially if the paper is an expensive one.

Free match wallpapers have a design which is not intended to match when hanging, straight match wallpaper must be matched at the same height each time and offset match offsets the pattern on each strip by half the pattern’s height each time.

5. Paper over the cracks

Before you take the leap and get stuck in to decorating, it’s important to know what lies beneath. Alex advises on how to do. He advises, ‘Use a scraper to test how many layers of paper there are under the surface wall covering. If there are more than two layers, then it’s important to allow extra time to remove any unwanted wall coverings.’

He goes on to explain, ‘It can take hours and lots of elbow-grease to remove wallpaper with the old-fashioned ‘score, soak, steam, and scrape’ method. I Want Wallpaper have a secret weapon in the fight to eliminate stubborn wallpaper – fabric softener.

women sticking rose colour wall paper with ladder

(Image credit: Future PLC / Simon Whitmore)

Mix equal parts of softener and hot water in a spray bottle, spray a section of wallpaper so that it is fully saturated then wait approximately 15 minutes (this is very important and allows the solution to work its magic), then peel away paper and use a paint scraper on the more stubborn areas.'

Once you’ve filled in any holes or cracks and sanded the surface, ‘size’ the wall by covering it in a mixture of half PVA glue and half water applied with a paint roller – it’s not essential but this will create a slightly glossy finish to the wall and make it easier to slide paper into position and help it stick. See how to wallpaper for an expert guide to hanging wallpaper with ease.

6. Miss out lining paper

Expert advise is always line the walls for best results. ‘It may not be the most glamorous of papers, but lining paper is a sensible investment if you want to create the perfect canvas for your wallpaper, ‘says Alex. ‘For best results, apply onto bare walls to cover small imperfections or hide previous colours, before papering.’

Hanging a good quality lining paper goes a long way to smooth surfaces ahead of papering, if replastering walls is out of budget.

7. Think you have to paper the whole wall

living room with plain wallpaper and red sofa

(Image credit: Future PLC / Tim Young)

While a feature wall implies a whole wall, there are ways to make a feature without wallpapering the entire  length. Say you only have one roll, you may not get enough drops to cover the wall from top to bottom.

In this instance we say make a feature by papering a panel within the wall, treating it more like a large piece of art. This living room wallpaper idea gives the paper more prominence as art.

Top tip: use a coordinating colour to paint the surrounding wall to create a cohesive look.

8. Be tempted by taste over practicality

living room with green colour wall paper and yellow sofa and fire place

Grandeco Botanical Tropical Leaves Wallpaper, I Want Wallpaper

(Image credit: TBC)

Choosing a design and sticking to it can prove overwhelming, due to the sheer the amount of choice. ‘There’s a wallpaper to suit every taste. Consider which design complements the style of your house – bright geometric patterns, for example, may suit a contemporary new build, whilst a rustic farmhouse may be more suited to soft florals.’

‘When choosing a patterned paper think about the size of the room in relation to the scale of the design. An oversized print can overpower smaller room, whereas intricate designs can get lost in larger spaces.’ While our hearts may so go big, our homes may not agree. Be realistic when choosing a wallpaper to suit the space.

9. Think you can't hang it in humid rooms

bathroom with zebra printed wall and bath towels

(Image credit: TBC)

Kitchen and bathrooms wallpaper ideas can add an instant style update, but we often fear wallpaper is not suitable for environments that are prone to humidity. It’s all about choosing a wallpaper designed specifically for use in damp and steamy conditions. Alex advises, ‘Look for papers with hard-wearing vinyl finishes, wipe clean surfaces and embossed detailing for looks that will last.’

When done right it's worth noting that wallpaper makes for a far cheaper alternative to tiling both of these functional rooms.

10. Overlook the wipe-ability factor

Consider wipeable wallpaper for a happier home. As with all household items, wallpaper can attract dust and dirt, therefore it may require a quick clean from occasionally. It’s worth factoring in the cleaning factor before you make your choice, especially if used in a high traffic areas such as the stairs and hallway, or any rooms where children are likely to be touching surfaces.

‘Most wallpapers come with a ‘washability’ rating, which goes from ‘spongeable’ to ‘highly scrubbable',’ explains Alex. ‘Although most marks are easily wiped, it’s essential to check the rating before attempting to clean any blemishes.’

11. Avoid pattern in small spaces

bathroom with green wall and green plant design wall paper

(Image credit: Future PLC/Polly Wreford)

It's often a misconception that colour and pattern should always be avoiding when it comes to small spaces. While in some instances this makes sense, when done right. Some bold patterns could feel too overwhelming in larger spaces such as living rooms, but fun and enriching the smallest rooms of the house, like in this cloakroom.

If braving a bold wallpaper in a small room our advice to avoid the pattern becoming overbearing is panelling the lower part of the room and painting in a matching colour found within the wallpaper.

12. Fear the fifth wall

living room with white wall wooden flooring and yellow sofa

(Image credit: TBC)

It may sound like an off-the-wall idea, but wallpapered ceilings can look amazing! So much so that wallpapered ceilings are a hot new interior trend right now. The use of patterned designs on ceilings is increasingly growing in popularity. Grab that extra roll!

‘The key to choosing the perfect ceiling wallpaper is to be bold,’ says Alex. ‘An abstract pattern on the ceiling can transform a room from ordinary to outstanding.'

'Be expressive with your colour choices and look at shades you wouldn’t usually go for. Whether cobalt blue, citric yellow or hot pink, bright colours shouldn’t just be reserved for the kid’s bedroom; bold shades can have a home in any room of the house – especially on the ceiling!’


Tamara was Ideal Home's Digital Editor before joining the Woman & Home team in 2022. She has spent the last 15 years working with the style teams at Country Homes & Interiors and Ideal Home, both now at Future PLC. It’s with these award wining interiors teams that she's honed her skills and passion for shopping, styling and writing. Tamara is always ahead of the curve when it comes to interiors trends – and is great at seeking out designer dupes on the high street.