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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Midstokke: A do-it-yourselfer’s day of reckoning arrives

By Ammi Midstokke The Spokesman-Review

I always thought that when I met my match, when I threw up my hands in defeat or gave an honorable bow of being bested, it would not be to something … so floral.

I was rightfully intimidated by vertical cedar siding with a requirement for precision cutting and patience. I was aware of, but prepared for, the weeks of back-breaking ceiling painting as a 5-foot-5 person who is not quite sure why she needs a vaulted living room ceiling. Undaunted by challenge, I have battled relentless garden vermin, primed water pumps, repaired generators, buried my car in snow, raised a teenager, paid my taxes, broken bones, all with considerably less swearing.

Yet of all the formidable foes faced in my lifetime, none has humbled or humiliated me with such perfunctory obstinance as wallpaper.

Do not be fooled by the naïve misconception that wallpaper is just some large-scale version of a scrapbooker’s delight. First of all, they don’t make glue sticks that big. Second, they don’t require a laser, which I am told is what real wallpaper professionals use to get the job done right. I like to feign such an appearance and so I borrowed one, mostly so the other subcontractors did not confuse me for a misled optimist with a razor knife. (Although that fairly describes my approach to all building projects.)

My enthusiasm for beginning the “fun” part of construction could hardly be bridled. Months ago I had given the children a carte blanche to pick bathroom wallpaper and only cringed a little when mermaid skeletons and snakes appeared by the roll. I stacked them next to my carefully calculated and sourced (from London!) sophisticated wallpaper to await that fateful day when I could leisurely slap some paste on the wall and transform my new home into a beacon of creative expression á la repeating patterns.

I informed myself as to the methods of application recommended by each company. I was not deterred by the large, bold print above all instructions, “TO BE INSTALLED BY A PROFESSIONAL.”

Instead, I went to a website that promised to “demystify” the hanging of wallpaper with a few simple tricks and a recipe for paste made by one of the author’s 10 home-schooled children with corn starch and sugar.

Which was perfect because I could not find wallpaper paste at any of the hardware stores in town.

“I can just make it,” I told Charlie.

“I wish you wouldn’t,” he said, which we know is code for permission to do a thing as long as I don’t tell him I did the thing and I clean up the mess or wounds afterward. Apparently, if you toss a little bleach in that mix, your walls won’t even mold.

On the day I began, I excitedly prepped my workspace, laying all my tools out in perfect order, while spreading tarps and leaning ladders and, most important, setting up my laser level. I mixed a batch of powder paste the paint store generously gave me because it had been on their shelf so long, the item was no longer in their computerized system. I suspected it was made out of nefarious ingredients and probably tested on animals, but the label said “durable and reliant” which seemed like just the redundancy I needed.

The thing about wallpaper paste is that, between application to the wall and the placing of your wallpaper, one has approximately .00014 seconds to maneuver before the paste is dry and rendered useless. In another method, the paste is applied directly to the wallpaper, which is then folded — be careful not to crease! — presumably so you can reconsider your arrogance for 20 to 30 minutes, at which point you attempt to unfold the length of soggy paper and stick it to the wall. For this, one uses a squeegee and no less than a dozen blasphemies.

The ensuing dance that occurs looks rather like an octopus trying to mate a wall. No sooner would I have one corner smoothed with my right hand than a bubble would appear and my left hand would furiously attempt to smooth it while the bottom would begin to roll up on itself covering paper and applier with paste. My right foot would mitigate this unruly behavior by sliding down the face with toe extended until all parts of the paper were at last touching the wall.

Right about then, left cheek pressed to the same wall to smooth a rogue bubble and hold paper in place, the bright green light of my laser disappeared. Wallpaper relatively secured, I carefully dislodged my body, one limb and cheek at a time, and clambered down the ladder in search of new batteries. Not more than 10 feet from the door, I heard the paper curl up and fall to the floor.

On the second day, I felt I had surely worked out the novice kinks and I made the strategic decision to lay out all my wallpaper on the floor, both to soften the curling and to ensure I had less waste. This wallpaper, the floral paper that smacks of aristocracy and well-bred taste, was clearly designed to be installed by the Royal Wallpaper Hangers. It came with precise instructions (subsequent to the warning to never, ever, ever try to do this) involving inversions and a repeating pattern more difficult to decipher than a politician’s personal opinion.

On the third day, I took to using painter’s tape to hold my 13-foot strips of paper up (genius!) only to discover it tore the paper.

On the fourth day, I borrowed my kid’s expansive marker set to fill in the gaps.

At the end of the week, and by some miracle of glue-mixing and emotional support pastry-eating, I had hung a collection of exotic wallpaper ranging from flying snow leopards to jungle-perched parrots.

Without being in a position to confirm this, I suspect it’s rather akin to a charmingly themed brothel circa 1890. I did not ask whether my husband preferred this same aesthetic, nor does it likely matter as I fully expect the graze of a wayward shoulder on a hot day to cause the entirety of a wall to peel off.

Everyone knows white walls are a timeless interior design choice anyway.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at