Brown Bagging It: Easy Wall Covering Technique

Skip the wallpaper routine -- brown papering is the easiest (and cheapest!) way to cover a wall. Experts Anne Bold-Pryor and Donna V. Lacis show you how to add an earthy and elegant look to any room in little more than a day.


This project is easy to do -- especially a few friends -- and you will get the hang of it in 15 to 30 minutes. Start with two rolls of paper. Once you have applied them, you'll know the total number of rolls you'll need to finish the job.

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Label two garbage bags, naming one "straight edges," and the other "torn edges." Tear paper into irregular shapes of various sizes, crumple them into loose balls and put the balls in the appropriate garbage bag (straight edges are pieces torn from the clean-edged sides of the roll; torn edges are all other pieces). The straight-edge pieces will be used along ceilings, baseboards and around doors and along ceilings, baseboards, and around doors and windows. You can apply the straight and torn pieces in any order. 

This is where a friend or two comes in handy. Remove a piece of paper, loosely smooth it open with your hand, apply wallpaper paste to either side, and then place it on the wall. Neatness does not count — you can apply the paper to the wall with as few or as many creases as you want. 

Neatness is very important, however, when installing the straight edges around doors, windows and moldings, as you want to make one long straight and continuous line. Overlap them as little or as much as you like. It doesn't matter which side of the paper is applied, nor does it matter if extra paste leaks out and onto the paper or wall — all of this will enhance the end result. 

Allow the work to dry at least overnight before applying a finish coat of oil-based polyurethane with a paintbrush. Minwax clear is one we like, but tinted polyurethanes work well, too. (You can also use water-based polyurethane, but we like the finish and depth of an oil-based finish. It's also more water repellant.) Don't panic when you apply the polyurethane, as the walls will immediately become darker; they will lighten and soften after they dry. You can skip the polyurethane if you want a softer, subtler effect.


Difficulty Factor: Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced

Time Factor: 1-2 Days

Materials and Supplies:

  • 4" to 5" paintbrush (straight-edged)
  • Cotton rags
  • Garbage bags (large)
  • Kraft paper or brown postal wrap
  • Ladder
  • Polyurethane (oil- and water-based; optional)
  • Table top
  • Wallpaper paste
  • Wallpaper brush
  • A friend or more (optional)


Excerpted from The Naked Wall by Anne Bold-Pryor and Donna V. Lacis. © 2006. Watson-Guptill Publications.

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