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How to Hang a Border on a Painted Wall

By Edited Jan 16, 2015 1 0

Hanging a border on a painted wall is a much easier process than applying wallpaper to an entire wall, however the steps are basically the same, just in a smaller area. It is still imperative that you prepare the strip of the painted wall where the border will go.

Additionally, there are some things to consider and purchase before you embark on this relatively easy process.

Where to Place Borders

Borders can be applied in the center of the wall as a chair rail or at the top of it near the ceiling.

Things to consider with chair rails:

How to Hang a Border on a Painted Wall

  • If you are applying as a chair rail, draw a line about 1/3 the way up the way using a pencil to outline the layout.If the border is going to split the bottom of window trim, move it up or down
  • If furniture is going to hide parts of the border, move up higher so it can be seen

If you are applying a border along the top of the wall, there is no need to draw a line since the ceiling will be your guide. Ceiling borders can be difficult to apply because you are working up higher on a ladder and when you reach the corners, you will need to compensate  because typically they are not straight, or square.

Things to consider with a ceiling border:

  • Tuck the border along any corners between the ceiling and wall
  • Paint a strip of the ceiling color along the top 1/4 “
  • Make sure the bottom of the border is straight as you apply it by sliding it up and down to keep the edge perfectly horizontal

Before You Begin

To determine how much border you need to buy, measure the length of the entire wall, then add them all together. Add any additional distances you will need to go around windows and doors. I always add an extra couple of feet just in case.

General Tips on Hanging Wallpaper Before you Begin

  • When buying wallpaper, use a paste activator instead of the type that requires soaking prepasted paper.
  • Use a sharp blade to cut the paper and replace it often
  • Try to buy paper from the same batch as the color can vary otherwise

When choosing a wallpaper or border, it is generally accepted that the various types of patterns have the following results.

  • Lighter colored papers tend to open up a room by adding the feeling of more space
  • Striped papers tend to pull the eye up and down the room which gives the illusion of the ceilings being higher
  • Smaller prints tend to keep the eyes focused in the room making it a more intimate setting
  • Darker colors tend to make a room feel smaller for a more intimate feel also

Preparing the Wall

Whatever type of wallpaper you choose is going to look as good as the wall behind it so you must  prepare the wall before hanging a new border.

  • Clean the area of the wall you will be placing the border with a mild solution of soap and water to remover dirt, grease
  • Fill small holes or cracks with surface compound, then sand it lightly before wiping the dust off the border area with a damp cloth
  • If there are large holes or gaps, or other damage to the wall, fill it with spackling paste with a putty knife, then sand after it dries
  • Seal the wall with a primer/sealer combo product to keep water, smoke and other stains from showing through the paper
RUST-OLEUM 2908 Prepasted Wallpaper Activator, 1/2-Gallon
Amazon Price: $9.35 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 16, 2015)

Hanging the Wallpaper

The following installation assumes you are hanging a border as a chair rail. However, if you are applying a ceiling border, the steps will be basically the same, but you will not need to draw an outline as the ceiling will provide your guide.

  1. Draw a line with a pencil and 4 foot level at the top of where you would like the border to go. Carry the line all around the room making sure you keep it straight using the level.
  2. Prime and seal the area where the border will go. Do this by marking a second parallel line slightly below the first one, then draw a line ¼” above where the bottom of the chair rail will go. You are essentially going to prime a narrow strip on the wall just inside the border making sure you do not spill outside the boundaries.
  3. Apply blue painter’s tape along the outline of the inner lines so you will not go outside the boundaries.
  4. Using a trim paint brush, apply the primer and sealer combo inside the inner parallel lines.
  5. Apply the paste activator, or paste, onto the border. This can be a difficult process so to make it easier to handle, try folding the border in a ribbon-like manner in one hand. Make sure the pasted sides face each other.
  6. After the paste is activated, wait a certain amount of time as prescribed by the manufacturer on the instructions to allow the glue to be primed to stick properly.
  7. Where you begin the border is important. The best method is to start midway through the last wall you will be applying the border.  Start with the nearest corner on that wall and lap that corner with about an inch of the border on one side of the corner. Push the border into the corner with a broad knife or other flat instrument, then continue on the opposite wall of the corner smoothing it out along the way. You have now cornered your first wall with the border.
  8. Eventually if your walls are long, you will reach the end of a roll of border. When this happens, apply the end of the second roll over the first so that it overlaps a bit and slide it around so that the patterns match.
  9. Using a ruler or other straight edge as a guide, use a utility knife to cut through both pieces and remove the scraps. Smooth the gap and roll it with a seam roller and sponge to remove any paste that may have squeezed through.
  10. As you approach the next corner, cut the strip so that it goes just enough into the corner to emerge on the opposite wall a couple of inches.
  11. Place a dry strip of border over the one now pasted to the wall, align the patterns then fold the dry strip of border at the point where the patterns meet.
  12. Use scissors to cut along the fold, then paste and hang the new border matching the pattern in the corner and continue along the new wall.
  13. As you finish the last wall, assuming you are going all the way around the room, you will reach the small section of border in the corner where you first installed it. Lay the last piece of border over that strip and match the patterns, fold it, then cut with scissors along the fold.
  14. Smooth the paper in place with a seam roller.

If you are turning a corner that is an outside corner, you may encounter a problem if the wall is not perfectly plumb which is likely to be the case. This will make the border go out of level if you are not careful.

To address this issue, cut the border so it is about 2 inches longer than the corner edge. Apply the paste or activator to the cutoff edge of the border and hang it so it overlaps the paper on the wall. Align the new piece with the pattern and continue.

Install a Border

Final Thoughts

Wall Paper Border
Credit: Amazon.com

Hopefully that wasn’t too much of a chore. Hanging a border is much less labor intensive than wallpapering an entire wall, but it can add a different look to any painted room.

Be sure to prepare the area of the wall where the border will reside, then take your time with each strip and things should go as planned if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and the tips this article has provided.

RUST-OLEUM 2896 Spray Past Activ 32Oz
Amazon Price: $4.59 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 16, 2015)


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