Decorating 101: Wallpapering – The Stairwell

Papering a stairwell!

Hanging wallpaper in an ordinary room is not too difficult, but stairwells have a little more to contend with – the long lengths and awkward corners to name just two, in this blog you will find that these difficulties can be overcome.

The main problem we all face in wallpapering a stairwell is gaining access to the to the walls we are decorating. This is because of the heights involved and the awkward angles involved. It is essential to have a safe working platform and to set this up in the correct way to suit the layout of the stairwell and the way the stairs rise.

Platforms can be hired to decorate these awkward areas along with componants from a tower platform. Alternatively, you can use ladders linked with scaffold boards (see image below). A particularly useful tool is a hop-up, a small platform you can make yourself.


Before you start decorating, remove any handrails and other wall mounted objects so you can get clear access to the wall.

Now prepare the walls properly so that the wallpaper will adhere (always remove any old wallcoverings/flaking paint, some will peel off although most types will require soaking and scraping).

Once the walls are stripped you can work out where to begin hanging, you should position the longest drop of wallcovering first, you may need to use a tape measure to find the longest length, along with someone to help you when measuring the stairwell.

You want to work as close to this point as possible, but you should keep around 50mm (2 inches) away from any obsticles – such as a door or window, using a full roll of the wallpaper move it along the wall estimating where succeeding widths will fall and if according to these estimations you will have a join within 50mm of an external corner (such as a window opening) change your starting point and measure again so you can avoid this, then mark again where the first drop should be hung.

When you have established where you will hang the first drop, use a plumbline to work out a true vertical line at this point. To help make this mark in long drops, coat the string in chalk, hang the line up until it stops, have the bob held down and snap the string under tension against the wall, the remaining line should be adequate to work from. Alternatively you can fix a timber batton against the line and draw a vertical pencil line down the wall (remember to plumb a new line everytime you turn a corner).

Hanging the wallcovering

The decorating sequence is the same for any other area, we covered these techniques in our previous blog.

If the walls are bare plaster, start by sizing the wall to prevent the paste soaking in. Measure and cut your wallcoverings to length, remembering to allow for the angle of the skirting board if this is applicable, paste it and allow it to soak. Wallcoverings that are paste-the-wall are particularly easy to hang in stairwells because you are handling lengths of dry wallcovering. Because the lengths of paper are so different on the side of the stairs  – caused by the rise of the stairs – it is best to cut and paste one length at a time, unlike in standard room where you can cut the majority of lengths at once.

Hang the first and longest length of the wallpaper, using the vertical line you have marked on the wall as a guideline to get it straight, then work around the staircase from this length, making sure the pattern matches as you go along. If your staircase is curved at the bottom then the wallpaper may pucker as it fits around this curve. To prevent this, you can snip into the overlap at the foot of the wall at intervals so the paper is more flexible in its fit.

Coping with long drops

A problem that is unique to stairwells is the length of the paper you are handling, often around 4.5m (15″) long.  Apply paste librally so it is less likely to dry out before you have fixed the bottom of the length (keep a small amount of adhesive to hand to touch up any patches of the paper that has dried out before the wallpaper is fixed).

Fold the lengths of pasted paper in concertinas, gather up the folds and drape the folded-up length over your arm to carry it. Due to the weight of the pasted length you must be careful that it does not stretch or tear during hanging, try to get someone to support the folded up paper as you are hanging it, if no one is available to help – you will need to sit on your scaffold board (or other form of support) and allow the bottom of the drop to unfold gently to skirting board level, you can then offer the top up to the ceiling and start brushing it into place.


Please remember that when you are trimming along the bottom of a length of wallpaper that meets the skirting board, you will be trimming at an angle rather than horizontally as at the foot of a wall in a standard room.

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