In the Press

DORSET COUNTRY JOURNAL, "If the Walls Could Look"

The wallpaper in the dining room at Hildene in Manchester has been on the walls since 1905, as long as the Robert Todd Lincoln mansion has been standing. Although repairs have been made to it, the wallpaper you see as you tour the building is the same that Abraham Lincoln’s son saw when he lived there.

Don’t expect that to be the case in your home.

In fact, experts say that wallpaper should be changed every ten to fifteen years. For one thing, the covering is bound to be damaged over time. Besides, styles also change. The 1970’s saw a strong bicentennial influence along with bright oranges and greens, but today’s wall coverings show numerous mixes of neutral tones. Wallpaper, like anything else stylish, is making a comeback in homes of America. Brad Bender of Danby is helping make sure that when it is installed, it is done properly. He operates Wallcovering Installations Academy in Danby.

Several times a year, people from all over the eastern seaboard travel to rural Vermont to learn about the trade. It is currently the only such school in the United States. Men and women from a wide variety of backgrounds have been Bender’s students: Recent high school graduates looking for trade; others who are changing trades; those who have been involved in detail-oriented professions such as accounting and some simply want to be able to do projects around their own homes themselves. In his years of training, Bender figures he has trained about three thousand people.

Bender has been an installer and a teacher for a number of years. He moved to the area in 1978 when he became director of education at the now-defunct United States School of Professional Paperhanging in Rutland, where he wrote the entire curriculum. When that went out of business in 1990, Bender started his own school. When he is not teaching, he is papering some of the fine homes of the Manchester and Dorset area, such as the historic Cephas Kent House on Kent Hill Road.

The course lasts for five days (it was initially ten weeks) and deals with fourteen different possible subjects from which the students can choose: painting; wallcovering removal, primers and adhesives; paperhanging basics; estimating; surface preparation; easy installation; pattern matching; stripes; borders; ceilings; handscreens and exotics; and on the job consultation. Each topic lasts one day. Students can also come for just one or two of those courses if they do not want to stay for the entire week.

Borders have become quite popular in the past ten years. They are generally placed at the top of the wall where it abuts the ceiling and at the height of the chair rail. “You can do a lot of creative things with borders to break up a wall,” Bender explains. Ceilings are often papered, especially in bathrooms where vinyl papers prevent mildew from being absorbed into the wall. Papered ceilings also make rooms cozier.

When he discusses exotic materials in his workshop, he explains that cork, grass cloth and silk are all difficult materials to work with, although grass cloth (narrow pieces of grass woven together to make a thick wallcovering) is one of his favorite materials. Cork is also common in the offices he decorates. When it comes to hand screened papers, each roll costs about one hundred dollars, so it is important that the paperhanger know what he or she is doing.

Perhaps the most important topic is estimating, in which people learn to figure the correct amounts of material. This is important for people going into business because they can calculate prices for removing, prep work and installation.

“If you don’t estimate correctly and you’re short, you have to order more wallpaper. Sometimes you can’t get the same run number, or there are color differences,” Bender says.

Although about eighty percent of the curriculum is lecture, Bender makes sure that students get a chance to get some practical experience. “People need hands-on experience. They need the magic in their fingers. All I can offer in the one-week course is the knowledge,” Bender says.

The workshops are held at various locations, either in Danby or around the country where the results of the students’ efforts can be seen. Bender explains that students have, for example, have taken plain striped wallpaper and cut it at a twenty-two degree angle to complete the octagon. A border was then placed around the edge of the pieces. Such a use would be ideal for a bed headboard.

For do-it-yourselfers, Bender has a number of hints that should be followed. To begin with, walls must be prepared before a covering is installed. They should be smooth (all cracks filled) and all old papers removed. Then they should be primed. “Most failures happen because people neglect to prime the wall with a wallcovering primer. They just think they can hang it over whatever the surface is and that’s not the case.”

Matching the pattern between pieces is also crucial. Sheets must be cut precisely to ensure that the match is made. “A lot of times, do-it-yourselfers neglect to match the pattern properly,” which will create a large aesthetic problem. Also, keep your hands as clean as possible and keep the paste off the front of the paper. Otherwise, the ink may peel and shiny spots appear.

Many papers are prepasted, which makes it generally easier to work with than regular coverings. However, prepasted activator must be used instead of just water. But many novices tend to over soak the paper and the moisture makes it expand too much. Then when it’s on the wall, it will shrink back to its original size and the seams open.

Before anyone becomes accomplished at paperhanging, there is much trial and error involved. Subsequently, much practice is necessitated. Possibly the best place for that is the closet, where the door can be closed over any mistakes. “If you goof, it’s no major loss.”


Paperhanging Instruction Isn’t as Plentiful as it Once Was – Making It All the More Valuable, March-April 1999:

As far as full-time schools geared towards the established contractor – well, there really aren’t any anymore. The Wallcovering Installation Academy in Danby, VT has switched from a full-time schedule to workshops as needed, said director Bradley Bender. “We used to have classes five days a week year-round, but the demand for wallcovering education has dropped off tremendously,” Bender said. “A lot of it had to do with the recession of the early ’90’s and the lack of wallcoverings being sold.

Industry-wide, there are more borders being sold now, and people are just doing borders themselves.” Bender said the school’s success may have ultimately worked against it: “During the ’70’s and 80’s, we trained many, many paperhangers. Maybe the demand was filled.”

Bender agreed that faux finishing is cutting into the wallpaper market. “It’s interesting that some wallpaper patterns are now picking up a faux look,” he noted. “But if you have a problem wall, wallcovering is still the way to cover it.”

The WIA’s workshops are flexible to adjust to a professional contractor’s experience and time constraints. Students may select among five courses, or take all five. The workshops vary each time, but the most recent five day series covered commercial vinyl and applying borders to it, handscreened wallcoverings, adhesives and primers, a day for hands-on installation in the field, and estimating. The more basic course, offered at other times, includes paperhanging basics, wallcovering removal, surface prep, pattern matching (which Bender says is the most common source of wallcovering mistakes), and stripes and borders.

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