Q: My walls and ceiling were plastered and at some point covered with wallpaper. Then they were painted over several times. Now, hairline and bigger cracks are appearing. I have to refinish these walls and ceilings soon, but I am loath to paint them again. I also don’t think I have the stomach to face the mess resulting from removing the wallpaper and plaster and replacing it with Sheetrock.

Instead, I thought of covering them with burlap fabric, leaving it for a while to adhere and then painting the surfaces, resulting in a textured finish.

I thought that this would solve the problem of cracks reappearing. What do you think of this unorthodox solution?

A: We think you’ll have walls and ceilings that look like painted burlap. And although the burlap would certainly keep the cracks at bay, it’s a look we doubt we’d be happy with.

It would be difficult to apply the paint uniformly to the burlap – some of the small holes in the fabric would plug and others wouldn’t. It’s likely that several coats of paint would be needed to achieve a somewhat uniform effect. Your walls and ceiling might look OK from a distance, but the closer you get the less appealing they’ll be.

That said, the solution you present is one we’ve seen used to solve a similar problem. But the material was muslin, not burlap. Muslin was applied over cracked plaster to give some integrity to the wall and eliminate cracks. Unfortunately, the wallpaper will have to be removed before you try this solution.

If the burlap look still beckons, give it a try in a hidden area of the room, perhaps behind a bookcase. Live with the results awhile. If you continue to like what you see, grab your checkbook and head down to the fabric store. If you don’t, as long as the other layers of paint and wallpaper are coming off too, it’s not much work or mess to remove a little burlap.

We believe that plaster walls that have been painted, papered and then painted again are almost always a lost cause and that the best way to deal with them is to remove everything – including the plaster – and start with new Sheetrock.

Ceilings, on the other hand, often do not require removal of the plaster. If you are not dealing with ceiling medallions or decorative trim like crown moldings, 3/8-inch Sheetrock screwed into the ceiling joists directly over the damaged plaster works well.

  • Tip of the week: When prepping plaster walls for fresh paint, repair cracks by making them worse first. Use a paint scraper made for exterior siding to “V” out the cracks. Fill with a quick-drying, nonshrinking patching plaster. Sand lightly, prime, then paint.

    Bill and Kevin Burnett will attempt to answer your questions, although the volume of e-mail sometimes makes this impossible. Contact them at sweat-equity@comcast.


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