Self-stick wallpaper: an exercise in patience and drinking [10 tips]

I installed self-stick wallpaper in my kitchen. And while I won’t go into too much detail because (a) it’s boring and (b) other people have already done that better, I do have some topical info and tips.

But first: Why bother with wallpaper?

I’m cagey after all this COVID time at home–if I were a betting woman, which I am, I’d be willing to bet that I’m not the only one–and so I fixated on my kitchen. It needed SOMETHING.

I realized that my kitchen is flat because the walls too closely match the cabinets. And I set out on a wallpaper quest!

Self-stick wallpaper is nice because it’s removable and DIY–for those of us who need a decor update on a whim. Plus, I’ve fucked around with wall decals, which look pretty good, so I figured I could handle self-stick wallpaper because it’s basically just a bigger sticker.

Wallpaper selection IRL. See how the top style has too much flat white space and the wall imperfections show through (red circle)? That’s a no for me, dawg. (Blue arrow points to world’s least inspiring tile backsplash.)

Wallpaper is tricky

What I know from past projects is that self-stick wallpaper can be a little plastic-y and cheap looking. I wanted something with a diffused pattern that is matte, not shiny.

Originally, I thought I’d use self-stick wallpaper to cover the fugly tile backsplash. That worked for a while, and the change was refreshing.

I didn’t hate this lewk. I loved the design of the wallpaper, but it was shiny and not the best quality. It was also not meant to cover tile and bubbled over time.

Then I tried to get someone to remove the f*ckboi tile backsplash and replace it with 401K plus retirement tile, but it was annoying getting samples and scheduling work during these Delta-variant times.

And picking a wallpaper style…*exhausting*

I love cottagecore; I don’t shy away from a good issue of Country Living magazine. Oh, your Laura Ashley quilt matches your curtains that match your throw pillows that match your scrunchy? I’m into it. Those who know my husband know that he’s been “normcore since ’74.” And my overall decorating style lends itself to what I call Impulsive Midcentury Eighties.

So, the trick was to marry style with function, giving the kitchen a lift while camoflaging its imperfections.

My husband really liked the geometric paper, so I framed it for him. The soft floral/bold shape combo that some might say “clashes” seemed very on-brand for me.

I want my house to feel comfy and warm, like a hip grandma’s house (although not like MY grandma’s house because her house is weird). And wallpaper for me is nostalgic.

I really lean into floral, leopard, velvet, mauve—all those colors, shapes, and textiles that speak to simpler times and whisper, “It’ll be OK, sweetie. Meemaw’s here.”

What you need to install wallpaper

Once you’ve looked at 14,329 self-stick wallpaper pictures online, here’s what you’ll need:

  • The actual wallpaper; I bought 2 different styles to see them in person and sent the unused one back.
  • SHARP boxcutter and/or X-acto knife otherwise you’ll rip your wallpaper when you go to trim
  • Ruler and/or tape measure
  • Pencil to mark cut points; ie, for plugs, length, etc.
  • Scissors
  • Squeegee with soft tip so you don’t scratch the wallpaper
  • Stepstool (if you’re normal) or ladder (if you’re fancy and have vaulted ceilings)
  • Cutting board thingy with grid for cutting straight lines <optional; see Exhibit A>
  • Pitcher of strawberry margaritas
Exhibit A: cutting board thingy

How to install wallpaper in 10 not-as-simple-as-they-sound steps

  1. Clean your walls and make sure they’re dry.
  2. Clear off countertops and remove plug covers.
  3. When ready to apply, peel back about 6” of the backing from the top and stick wallpaper on the wall with some overlap on the ceiling that you’ll trim off.
  4. Start from the left to right of the room, although one would think that either direction would work??? <<Maybe there’s a way to know for sure, but I’m a writer not a metaphysicist.>>
  5. Get the first strip of wallpaper on STRAIGHT or you’ll be compensating for a wonky stick the rest of the project. You can remove and re-stick 1-2 times and still have the wallpaper retain its hold, so don’t totally panic.
  6. Peel the backing off slowly and smooth the paper as you go.
  7. Squeegee to smooth out any bubbles in the paper, starting from the middle and going to the sides.
  8. Trim off excess at the ceiling seam and at the trim at the bottom using your X-acto or boxcutter.
  9. Align each new section up with the previous section before you cut, otherwise you’ll have too short of a piece. <<Maybe there’s a way to do this by measuring, but I’m a writer not a mathematician so I “wung” it.>>
  10. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that people dumber than you have hung wallpaper.
My ’80s-inspired splatter-paint valances. I won’t even entertain the idea that they’re not PERFECT.

Some advice I learned the hard way

  • Practice with cheaper self-stick wallpaper on a flat wall with no curves or plugs to cut around.
  • Order samples to see what they look like in person.
  • Buy a busy print because it’s more forgiving than a geometric print, particularly if your walls aren’t smooth.
  • Smaller prints repeat more frequently and are easier to match up and result in less waste.
  • Cut along the edge of the ruler to make a cleaner, straighter cut.
  • Maybe get someone to help? IDK. It says it’s a 2-person job, but a second body kinda gets in the way.
  • Buy one more wallpaper roll than you think you need—trust! (I suggest buying from somewhere that lets you return it if you don’t use it.)
  • A background color close to your actual wall color is easier because if you make a weird cut, it can blend. Ask me how I know…
  • Be patient, unlike ya girl.
  • If all else fails, rip it off and scream. Use it as an excuse to finish your pitcher of margaritas uninterrupted.

Behold: the BEFORE and AFTER shots!

The part we’ve all been waiting for: The Apartment Therapy-style before and after shots of my kitchen self-stick wallpaper project!

Before (left): Basic all-white kitchen situation. Did you fall asleep, puke, or die looking at it?

After (right): LOOK AT THAT SUPER DISTRACTING WALLPAPER! You don’t even notice the rest.

I chose this pattern not because it was my favorite but because it was forgiving, it’s close to wall color but slightly more cream and would make my cabinets look whiter by comparison, and it blended well with my splatter-paint valances.

Sorry if these photos are dark. And I didn’t even bother to clean off my countertops before I took them. <<Maybe there’s a way to take better pictures, but I’m a writer not a photographer.>>

Friends, I’m here to tell you that you can do it. And patience, YouTube, and alcohol can help.


9 responses to “Self-stick wallpaper: an exercise in patience and drinking [10 tips]”

  1. Kerrie Resendes Avatar
    Kerrie Resendes

    WHAT?! Waking up to a new post? OMG.



    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kerrie Resendes Avatar
    Kerrie Resendes

    Okay, – so real quick – I only clicked on the first link in your post and I watched the video. You know me, I love a good link pack.

    It was like 2 min 32 seconds of a woman installing the peel and stick. Great. I didn’t click out of it and another video started to play. It was an old white dude, also doing a peel and stick instructional video, but his was 17 minutes. I don’t know why but I got a huge kick out of that. Like what the hell is he going to explain for 17 minutes?!



    1. Lol, first if all, your link clicking is my favorite. Second, if it’s the dude I think it is, he basically talks shit about self-stick for a good 5 minutes then goes on to mansplain how to install it. You might actually wanna give it a view when you have a second. Or not. Ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Danielle Stapleton Avatar
    Danielle Stapleton

    LOVE IT SO MUCH!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great tips (which I will follow if I muster the courage to attempt this) and love the finished product! Well done.👏👏

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! Yeah, you really have to mentally prepare. I can’t stress that enough. 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Inspired by seeing this magical transformation IRL, I am now waiting on 8 samples and will 100% take you up on your offer to come help. Don’t even think you didn’t offer. Because you did. I will provide bottomless margaritas and a very wallpaper-appropriate playlist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I cannot wait for this playlist. I can’t even imagine what could be wallpaper appropriate…


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