Remodeling 101: Riotous Wallpaper in Closets, Cupboards, and Drawers

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of posts by Sally Kohn— journalist and CNN political commentator, TED talk giver, and design aficionado—chronicling her adventures in remodeling. For earlier installments, see The Case for Unstained Wood Floors from a Stealth Design Nerd and The Surprising Virtues of Spray Paint (Plus a Few Tips).

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Above: London interior designer Mark Lewis papers the insides of closets and cabinets; this image is from our post Shopper’s Diary: New Bronze Fixtures and Fittings from Mark Lewis Interior Design.

We have a conundrum in our house. My partner, Sarah, and I love bold colors. We spend more hours than we should flicking through the Instagram feeds of bold maximalist designers like Beata Heuman and Nickey Kehoe, drooling at the idea of a purple house or a green kitchen.  

The problem is we now live in a late 1700s bank barn converted into a house in the 1950s by the legendary woodworker Wharton Esherick, so we have to honor the era and feel of the house which definitely favors white walls against all the dark woodwork.  Also, we’re a little timid when it comes to bold design choices. We don’t trust our instincts, or at least not yet.

So when we decided we wanted to have some bold pops of color and even fun patterns in our new-to-us home, we thought outside the box—or, actually, in the box sort of. We put funky wallpapers in our closets. Here’s what we learned.

1. Go for peel and stick.

One of our first projects was putting Tempaper’s Scandi Floral print in our front hall closet.  The peel and stick feature makes it incredibly easy to, well, peel and stick.  I will say that having a cutting board (we used a sewing mat) and a sharp exacto knife was incredibly helpful, as was the little wallpaper smoother that the company sent—but you can also buy here. That little felt covered plastic smoother was especially useful, because I learned that as smooth as you think it is, you can always press the paper even more smoothly and if you get a tiny wrinkle, you can press hard and basically smooth it out.

2. Paper (or paint) the shelves, too.

In the hall closet, we also quickly realized that the wood lip of the shelf, which had taken a beating over the years, looked even more sad next to the fun shiny new walls so we got creative and added a self-adhesive felt strip in a complimentary green.  Super fun and that’s now my favorite feature of the closet.

above: our hall closet with tempaper peel and stick wallpaper. isn’t thi 10
Above: Our hall closet with Tempaper peel-and-stick wallpaper. Isn’t this lemon and pink situation dreamy? And this block print floral? Photograph by Juan Vidal.

3. Invest in a laser level.

I will say that we should have figured out sooner to use a laser level. I have a Bosch laser level and once we actually realized it would be helpful here (sometime in the middle of closet #3) it was a game changer for getting the pattern to be as straight up and down as possible.

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Above: The Remodelista team lined drawers in wallpaper scraps in their latest book, Remodelista: The Low-Impact Home: A Sourcebook for Stylish, Eco-Conscious Living. Shown is a bright block print by Joanna Rock left over from Margot’s front hall. See more in The Low Impact Home, p. 288; photograph by Justine Hand.

4. Be forgiving.

But that being said, the other thing we learned is that when you’re looking up close, you notice every imperfection, place where the pattern doesn’t align, etc., but once the project is done, after a few days, the imperfections fade. In fact, we started to have more fun with the imperfections.  In a few places, when we wallpapered a ceiling or an inside facing-wall, we deliberately hung a piece upside down. It’s like a goofy secret only we know about.

But for those more significant screwups, it helps that it’s just a closet. Thank goodness I didn’t misalign the chicken’s legs in my living room (see pantry photo below and if you can spot it).