Entrance Hall Makeover

JUST IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS,  my ancient entrance hall is getting a makeover. That is, we’re about to apply reproduction 19th-century paper on the room’s (19th-century) walls. A look at the paper, and how the walls are being prepared for this decorative treatment:

Greg Van Alstyne, an expert in old-house-paper-hanging,  is handling the job for us. But I’m paying close attention to his work. For I  hope to learn this useful skill myself.  Then I can paper some of the other rooms in this house without any hired help. Which rooms? Well, the upstairs bath, the bedroom, the guestroom and the library all come to mind. The old kitchen-wing could use papering, too.

And I’ll manage these jobs, too. Just you wait.

Here’s Greg, holding up a sample of the entrance hall paper. We ordered this from Waterhouse Wallhangings. Waterhouse specializes in historic  paper.

The paper is patterned with green gracefully-curved vases, from which ribbons and leafy stems emerge. The background is cream.

And incidentally, I spent a year looking at period paper before settling on this one. The design is dark enough to add the architectural interest I want, while the background is pale enough to reflect light.

Here is the entrance hall as it looked prior to Monday.

Clearing the Decks & Protecting Floors. The first step to paper-prepping our hall was to remove the artwork, the chairs, and the antique games tables. And to protect the heart pine floors, canvas drop-cloths were laid at the base of each wall.

Repairing the Walls. Although the walls looked fairly smooth to me, Greg’s practiced eyes noticed hills and valleys which would negatively affect his ability to line up the seams of the paper properly. One such hill surrounded the light-switch next the front door. Greg used a beveled, “5-in-one” putty knife to chisel out the bumps. And he chiseled all the way down to the lathe.

A virtual mountain existed next the pocket doors in the hall. This, again, involved cutting away plaster and exposing the lathe.

And by the way, that lathe has been here since 1826.

Filling in. Multiple layers of plaster were required to fill in deep crevices. This is time-consuming work, because each layer must be allowed to dry before another layer can be applied.

To help the plaster dry, Greg used a common hair-blower.

And you thought hair blowers were merely for drying…hair.

Sanding. Once the cracks and crevices were filled, the next step was to sand the surfaces smooth. To his credit, Greg managed to hoist a shop-vac onto the narrow ledge of his ladder in order to suck up the resulting dust.

Oil Based Primer. Before applying paper, it is absolutely essential to paint the walls with an oil-based primer. Why oil-based? Because latex primer contains water. And if any moisture should come in contact with the paper, it will break down the latex, and cause the paper to buckle or bubble. Oil is impervious to water.

Well, this is what Greg told me. And it seems to make perfect sense.

And here are the smoothed-out, oil-primed walls, all ready to receive their paper covering.

Of course, once the walls had been smoothed and primed, we noticed the chair-rails, wainscoting, and baseboards looked mighty shabby. Consequently these surfaces, too, will receive a fresh coat of paint.

Well, I hope I haven’t bored you silly with this old-house project. But if you live in an ancient dwelling, and plan to paper your walls, I thought you might like to know how much work is involved.

Anyway, I’ll show you the finished project next week. So stay tuned, okay?

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Wanna see more pictures of the entrance hall, as well as certain other rooms in this in this 187-year-old, Federal/Victorian house? Here’s a virtual tour:
House Tour Part One: The Music Room
House Tour Part Two: The Entrance Hall & Staircase
House Tour Part Three: The Parlor
House Tour Part Four: The Dining Room
House Tour Part Five: The Kitchen


  1. Brenda Johnson says:

    I can’t wait to see this!!!!!! Beautiful!!!! (and I have plaster and lathe from the same era….)

  2. Kelli Patton says:

    Gorgeous choice on the wallpaper!

  3. Enjoying looking at what you have done, and look forward to seeing the finished result. However for me at the moment that is quite enough exertion for me. It makes me tired just thinking about all the work you are doing. I guess that is why I’m sitting at my computer looking at this. Sitting is all I feel like doing at the moment after a busy day.

  4. The dark mahogany of your doors and entryways are to die for… it’s really beautiful!
    I love the look of your home in whole. I have an old colonial styled home that I want to revive… I aspire to have the darker moulding… ♥

  5. That’s a lot of work but it’s going to look beautiful. We have a 1927 cottage with the original plaster and lathe and I have a love/hate relationship with plaster. Too perfect to get rid of, but a hassle to attach anything of substance to walls or ceiling. Is your whole house still plaster?

  6. Hi Tammy – I agree — plaster can be a pain. The only rooms with sheet-rock here are the two bathrooms upstairs.

  7. Bobbie Floyd says:

    Beautiful choice of wall paper. Looking forward to seeing the finished work.

  8. Bet it will look beautiful.

  9. Diane from Boston says:

    Love it! So elegant!

  10. Mary Frances says:

    Your choice of wallpaper is most appropriate, especially so when it flanks your sage green curtains, sorry, drapes. I noticed the markings down the side of the wallpaper strip, are these historic papers to be trimmed by your decorator prior to application? However, it is all looking very beautiful already.

  11. I love the wallpaper you have chosen – it is era appropriate yet light and airy. I can’t wait to see the finished result.

  12. Love the wallpaper and the color you’ve selected for the wainscot is perfect! Agreed, it is a great match for your front room drapes.

    You could get really fancy and get a chandelier that reflects the same design in your wallpaper. Repetition like that is a great design element. It looks like you might have enough height to pull it off?

  13. Jan Edmondson says:

    Kevin, what a beautiful choice you made on the paper!! Love it! Can’t wait to see pictures when finished. I have a 25-30 yr old farmhouse has an older look. The kitchen cabinets made from an old barn and stained dark, also heart pine floors except for kitchen and baths. The den/library and 2 guest rooms have old barn wood below a chair rail. Wish I had your touch!

    Have a small entry with yellow wallpaper that I can’t stand and of course whoever put it up did a wonderful job and it looks great. I’m a blue and green color person!! ; ) Thank you for posting your progress. It is going to be stunning!

  14. What lovely wallpaper, Kevin. I can’t wait to see the transformation!

  15. Beautiful!! Great tip about the oil primer vs latex among others–hairdryer, and the importance of preparation BEFORE you start. Can’t wait to see the finished project!! Felicia

  16. Love your wallpaper choice and I wasn’t bored even a smidge whilst reading. Thanks for sharing.

  17. very interested in everything about your house.

  18. I started drooling when I saw those gorgeous, dark doors and bannister!! Beautiful, beautiful wood…..I love it! And the floors! wow.
    So happy I stumbled upon your site a couple of months ago……Such a wealth of information and I love that you share so much with us! Thank you!

  19. Lynn Eisenbeil says:

    Thank you, thank you for the details. ..photos and words. Your project reminds me so much of the efforts of my parents as they restored a very old house in NJ during the 1950s. We lived through it…meaning, at age 11 I bathed in the old galvanized tub set up in the ancient kitchen. We used the “blicky” for months while dad installed the home’s first ever bathroom. And so on. Those inconveniences set me up to love old houses and to get tears in my eyes over the tumbled down barns of our countrysides. Bless your heart, Kevin.

  20. My dear departed husband was an expert paper hanger. He grew up in Yorkshire England and got lots of experience living in old houses there. I certainly miss his skills! Wallpaper adds so much to a home!

  21. Suzanne K says:

    Ah, a cliffhanger (not a paper hanger… bad, bad pun intended)! I was SO hoping to see the final product. Oh well, like I need an excuse to come back next week!

  22. Donna LeBlanc says:

    Love the choice…. thanks for sharing!! Can’t wait to see the finished project!!

  23. Love that paper!

  24. Beverly, zone 6 eastern PA says:

    I noticed the chandelier comment at # 12. Before I read your description of the wallpaper as depicting “gracefully curved vases”, I thought they were crystal chandeliers with ribbons of glass baubles flowing elegantly down and away. Vases and chandeliers are both adornments and mood enhancers, not far apart.

    The scale of the images is perfect for your stunning entryway. And their placement next to the green of the draperies will carry the eye around the room. I would not fault you for taking a long time to choose just the right pattern. When you have lived in a place for awhile, it speaks through you and guides your subconscious to the harmonious choice. Bravo!


  25. damm. ya left me hanging.

  26. badger gardener says:

    That is really pretty wallpaper. I am so impressed with Greg on the ladder w/ shop-vac and sander. I have walls (sheet-rock) to sand and am wondering if I can pull that off.

    Happy belated Birthday! According to the book The Medicine Wheel , Earth Astrology by Sun Bear being born under your sign means you are influenced by animal=Elk, plant=Black Spruce, and mineral=Obsidian. All of which lend themselves to thoughtfulness, introspection, and “an air of majesty that surrounds them when they are functioning well”. I had to mention it, because it sounds like you : ) Wishing you a fine year ahead!

  27. I enjoyed seeing what you are doing and how you are doing it. Can’t wait to see the finished project and just in time for Christmas. Good Luck at your speaking engagement. I really enjoyed you at the Garden Club Christmas Party and oh Yea Happy Belated Birthday

  28. WOW. I have to say that your entrance hall looked lovely before but I think its going to look over the top gorgeous after! Cant wait to see the finished product!!

  29. Jeanne – I agree. Wallpaper contributes architectural interest. A plain, painted wall seems to demand lots of pictures to “fill it up”, whereas a papered wall does not.
    Mary Frances – Yes, those are trim-markings on the paper. And what a job, trimming 22 rolls!

    Beverly – I’d like to find out just what the “thing” with leaves and swags is called. My google searches for “period paper” and “federal paper” and “classical paper” have turned up zip.

    badger gardener – Well, I’d say an air of majesty surrounds me…when I am functioning well!

    Suzanne & Mike…great puns from both of you! Greg has finished 1/3 of the hall, and I hope to show you the complete project by the end of the week.

  30. I love your photos of your current project, and everything else. I live in a 1924 home, but I don’t have the resources (or Greg!) to fix it up to its former glory. Even so, it is still beautiful. They don’t make houses like they used to! Can’t wait to see finished work.

  31. Hi Barb – Here’s the finished work (on the entrance hall, anyway!): http://www.agardenforthehouse.com/2012/12/the-entrance-hall-now-papered-painted/

  32. We discovered Waterhouse for one of our bedrooms in our Italianate house. They accidentally sent two different dye lots in the paper order (although the lot numbers all matched), which we only discovered when the wallpaper hanger started to hang roll 2 and discovered the background color was off from the roll he had already hung. Ug! A call to Waterhouse eventually worked. (At first they didn’t believe us, but upon going through their inventory they discovered about 4 or 5 different dye lots all numbered the same.) They re-shipped the entire order, and the hanger, bless his heart, did not charge us for an entire day even though he hadn’t even worked 2 hours. The man at Waterhouse still felt guilty and offered to send us AT COST any paper we wanted if we ordered within a couple of months. The biggest project was yet to come on the second floor (a bedroom in the ell plus back hall leading to a bathroom and walk-in closet that originally was two servant sleeping quarters plus a second-story access to the barn), and believe me I found some paper I loved. Within a few months I saw that Waterhouse had been bought up by someone else, and, in essence, is now out of business. They made gorgeous paper.

  33. Pam – I can just imagine the horror of starting a papering job…only to discover the rolls do not match! Glad you got that sorted out, and that you were able to acquire additional paper for additional rooms at cost. I dealt with Lance Houpt at Waterhouse. Could he be the new owner?

  34. Why did you chose to paint the chair rails and base boards? I saw in your original post they had not been.

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