Tommy’s Tips: Decorating Victorian Properties


I was invited back around to my friends house for dinner again, I knew he wanted to discuss his Victorian house, and how to go about some aspects of restoration, improvement or repair! We sat down to dinner, and it didn’t take very long for the conversation, to turn onto how best how to redecorate an old house.  These two reception rooms for example, that we were eating in interconnected by a long since removed, pair of large Victorian panelled doors.  I noticed at this point, that the sparkling water, had been covertly removed, and replaced by a very smooth, delicious sparkling wine!  It wasn’t very long into my imbibement that I made a commitment to call around in the morning with the necessary tools and equipment, to show him how to tackle the task successfully.

I didn’t much appreciate the 7am call on a Saturday morning, especially as it took real effort to lift my head off the pillow, akin to Ginger Baker, doing one of his world famous drum solo’s, directly between my ears!  I felt little better after a shower, and was thinking really hard of a plausible excuse to return to my bed, as I answered an early knock on the door, my friend had realised, he’d better move fast, and nip any excuses in the bud, by picking me up himself!  The walls were painted over the top of anaglypta paper (pronounced pattern) in a sickly cross between orange and peach.  It had to come off, and with an older house, that’s when extreme care must be taken, or you could end up with a very big job on your hands.  Stripping paper requires the use of lots of water, so remove all furniture, curtains pictures and knick-knacks, carpets and underlay.  The trick to stripping wallpaper is to get it really soaked, and if it’s thick paper, layered, or over painted, first use an in-expensive orbital wall paper scorer, which creates thousands of tiny perforations, allowing the water to soak right through to the back of the paper. I always use warm water with a little washing up liquid added, this speeds up the process and keeps the water on the wall for longer, but you need to create a system soaking opposite walls many times. Use a good quality scraper, preferably with an ergonomic handle (helps prevent blisters) Poundland sell a pair, for just £1, great value! If the paper is well soaked it should strip off easily without causing damage to the plaster.  Problems occur when you try to force the paper off, when it has not been soaked enough. Which could been damage to the plaster underneath, with potentially disastrous results, as older properties used a sand and lime mix, with horse hair to bind it as an undercoat, so always use the scraper with care, keeping the blade flat against the wall!

If after constant soaking, the paper’s still proving hard to strip, you may need to use a wall paper steam stripper machine.  These are available to hire, but a good one is not too expensive to buy, and is always a good tool to have in the locker, (don’t loan it out!) and make sure you clear up the stripped wallpaper before it dry’s or you will have an even harder time stripping it off the floor than the walls! any holes or damage should be filled, left overnight to dry then sanded flat, rinsed off and sealed with a coat of PVA and water, 25/75%, ensuring to rinse off all skirting architraves, doors and glass, BEFORE the PVA mix dry’s!  The finish is only ever as good as the preparation, so I always apply a mist-coat of emulsion and water 50/50%, using a roller, and when dry, show’s any imperfections you may have missed, re-apply filler, leave to dry, rub down, rinse off dust with a sponge, allow to dry, then apply two coats of emulsion, with a decent roller (available from Poundland for a mere £1). Have a cloth/sponge and bucket of clean water to wipe off any roller spray, or cutting in drips from the wood work instantly, and always start at the top,(ceiling), and work your way down!

My friend had two walls where the plaster finish had crazed, so rather than re-plaster, we covered the walls, with easyfill –filler using a very broad filling blade.  This particular filler, is designed to rub down easily when dry, I then sealed it (PVA and water) and applied two coats of white matt emulsion, to the ceilings and walls, for a complete transformation, that was my weekends work done, and I have left him to do the wood work. Lining paper; yes/no that’s for another day!


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