There are two things you can pretty much be assured of when it comes to wallpaper: The right paper can make a dramatic decorating difference in a room, and actually finding the right paper can be an overwhelmingly daunting task.

Go into any wallpaper store, paint store, home center or other retailer and you’ll be confronted with dozens if not hundreds of wallpaper sample books. Considering that each book may contain upwards of a hundred or more different papers, you can see how quickly the number of choices you have can run well into the thousands.

To avoid randomly flipping through books until your eyes glaze over, you need to have a plan in mind before you ever head to the store. Start by looking through magazines or browsing decorator sites on the Internet. Don’t look for the perfect paper — instead, concentrate on what you like, and, equally important, what you don’t like about the rooms you’re seeing. You may notice that you are being continually drawn to vertical patterns, while anything floral is a complete turnoff for you. Bold colors may be your thing, while subtle patterns may be something you simply don’t like. Tuning into to what your eyes and your mind are telling you can be a big help.

Next, gather together some samples of what the wallpaper will need to coordinate with. Get a flooring sample and samples of the paint colors being used on the ceiling, trim and adjacent walls, and a drapery fabric sample. All of these items will greatly affect your wallpaper choices, and will help you narrow things down.

Because wallpaper can be quite expensive, it’s important to have a fairly accurate idea of how much you need before you go shopping, so you can see if it will fit into your budget. For that, you’ll need to measure your room. Measure the length and height of each wall, and round up to the next half-foot or foot (round 10 feet 4 inches up to 10-6, or 12 feet 8 inches up to 13 feet.) Make a sketch of the room as you go, noting the size and location of doors, windows and any other large areas that will not be papered, such as a fireplace or built-in bookcase.

Armed with some magazine pictures, your armload of samples and the dimensioned sketch you made of the room, it’s finally time to head to the wallpaper store. But before you go, call ahead and see if the store has a designer or wallpaper consultant that’s available to help, and see if you need to make an appointment for a specific time to come in. A good consultant knows the books, the companies, and the available patterns and colors, and can do a lot to narrow your search. It doesn’t necessarily mean they will take you immediately to the perfect book, but it certainly can make the difference between looking through eight or 10 books or having to plod through 60 or 70.

During your initial perusal of the books, all you’re really trying to do is get a feel for what’s available, and what appeals to you in the way of colors and patterns. Mark the pages that have papers you like, and then set those books aside for a second look. When you feel like you have a good variety to choose from, work your way back through the books you’ve set aside and narrow it down to no more than half a dozen — any more than that will probably be overwhelming when you get them home.

Next, discuss your possible choices with the consultants. They can look at your sketch and determine how many square feet of paper you’ll need, and can then work with the specific papers you’re considering to determine exactly how many rolls will be required — different types of papers and different pattern matches can affect the overall roll count, even though the square footage of the room remains the same.

Now you need to consider your budget. The consultant can take the number of rolls of a specific paper, and tell you the overall price, including shipping. Some papers are very reasonably priced, while others can be dauntingly expensive, so you want to take this into consideration before falling in love with a paper that’s out of your price range.

When you have narrowed the choices down, the final step is to take the books home and view them in the rooms where the paper will be installed. Keep the books around for a couple of days, and look at the papers under different natural and artificial lighting conditions at different times of the day.

When you finally have your choice, double check your measurements before placing the order. If you’re uncomfortable with measuring accurately, ask the consultant to make a site visit and do the measurements for you. Finally, to ensure an accurate color and pattern match between rolls, each roll needs to have the same dye lot number. To do that, be sure that you order all of the rolls that you need for the entire project at the same time, and check and compare the numbers on the rolls before you unwrap them.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at


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