Decorating Treatments And Materials


There are many ways of decorating internal walls, but when you drew up your basic plan you will have thought about suitable surface treatments, depending on the wear and tear the rooms will get, and your lifestyle. These practical aspects must be considered before you choose wall materials.


Natural brick walls can be cleaned and left natural, sealed, or painted with emulsion or gloss paint. Some plastered brick walls can be exposed by hacking off the plaster and treating as above.

To create a brick effect you can use water-thin hieing bricks, fixed like tiles, or a special paste which is spread onto the wall over a grid which acts as a kind of masking tape. When this is removed the paste left behind looks like pointing between bricks. Imitation brick wallcoverings and laminates are also available.


To create a luxurious look, carpet can be stuck, tacked or stapled to walls. In a modern setting it is quite usual to continue the floor carpet onto part of the wall area, and it is a practical way of using up excess carpet. Other floorcoverings, such as sheet vinyl, can be used this way also. Sheet vinyl makes excellent co-ordinating splash-backs in bathrooms and kitchens, and can be used to make a waterproof shower area, so long as thejoins are butted together closely and impact adhesive is used.

Cork comes in two forms – as tiles and panels and as very thin slivers mounted on a paper backing. The former can have a rather coarse texture, and is ideal for pin boards etc. or may be sealed, for use in bathrooms and kitchens.

Fabric and felt can be used as walkover- satisfactorily. A more practical method is to use battens, or a special track which is fastened to the outer edges of the wall; the fabric is tucked between two flanges in the track, using a special tool shaped like a shoehorn. Either method enables you to take down the fabric for cleaning, and it can have insulating material placed behind it for extra warmth or sound-proofing.

Laminates come in a variety of colours, patterns and textures, and frequently simulate natural textures such as wood, marble and brick. They can be used to clad walls, particularly if the original surface is poor, or if you want to cover up old tiles or similar wall treatments. The laminate has to be stuck to a backing such as chipboard to create proper panels. These can be stuck to the wall, but a more usual method of fixing is by means of battens, screwed to the wall. Because of their tough, waterproof qualities, laminates are popular for bathroom and kitchen use. satin or silky finish emulsion paint is the most usual type for walls. Others such as eggshell and gloss oil-based paints can be used if preferred, but remember – a high gloss will show up any imperfections in the wall surface. A heavier textured emulsion paint is also available for walls, and this is used in a similar way to the textured finishes described below.

Some of the silicone polyurethanc multi-surface paints, specially formulated for use on walls, ceilings, metal and woodwork, are practical for first-time decorators. The same paint can be used on the main surfaces of a room without fear of smudging, and rollers and brushes can be washed out under the tap or in hot water and detergent.

If the wall surface is poor even after filling and sanding down, but you want painted walls, a lining paper can be hung 85 be applied to walls, giving a velvety or felt finish; this is mixed to a paste and spread thickly on the wall, rather like rough-icing a cake. before painting. This gives a reasonably smooth finish, and consequently tends to show up any dents and bumps in poor plasterwork. Lining paper is sometimes hung horizontally under other wallcoverings: this is called ‘cross-lining’.

For walls which resemble a contoured map, the best answer is to hang a relief wallcovering such as Anaglypta, embossed or woodchip paper, sometimes called ‘whites’. These camouflage the bad surface, and can be overpainted. Emulsion is normally used, but other paints – gloss or eggshell oil-based paints for example – are frequently used when this type of wallcovering has been hung to form a dado on the lower part of a wall. But do bear in mind that this type of overpamting can make it difficult to remove the textured surface when you want to redecorate.

There are many exciting ways of decorating with paint apart from the conventional slap-it-on-with-brush-or-roller method. Murals, stencils and painted trompe I’oeil effects can all add an extra dimension to a room, and are usually added after the wall has been prepared, lined if necessary, and pre-painted.

For those who prefer a traditional look, there are techniques such as dragged paint- work, marbling and graining. These used to be professionally done by craftsmen, using scumble glazes ‘combed’ over a painted surface. But now it is possible to achieve the same effect yourself with modern paints and very simple tools.

Self-adhesive wallcoverings have peel-off backings and can be applied to any smooth, dry surface. They often have a ‘feature design’ such as a mural, forest view or seascape, or they simulate ceramic tiles, wood cladding and other natural textures. They tend to be rather expensive and so are not really practical for a whole room. If you do want to cover a large expanse with them, you will need help, as once they come in contact with the wall surface they stick firmly, so there is no room to manoeuvre!

Textured finishes are like rather thick paint, and are available ready-mixed in tubs or as powder for mixing yourself. They are applied directly to the plaster -old wallcoverings must be stripped off -and are textured by various methods: stippled with a brush, raked with a comb, swirled with sponge or fluffed-up with a plastic bag.

There is also a fibrous texture which can


Ceramic wall tiles used to be a job for the expert tiler, but now there are ranges specially designed for amateur installation. These have spacer ‘lugs’ to make aligning easier, and glazed edges so that separate ‘nosings’ are unnecessary, and you get a neat watertight edging to the tiled area.

Mosaic tiles, which come in panels on a net-fabric backing, are also easy to handle, particularly in a situation where cutting conventional tiles to fit round projections could be complicated.


These come in various types and textures. One important thing to remember when buying wallcoverings is that they should all come from the same batch to ensure uniform colour and printing. Before you leave the shop check the batch numbers printed on the rolls or on the labels to make sure they are all the same. Ordinary wallpaper is printed by machine, and can have an embossed or textured surface. It is sometimes possible to sponge this but generally it is difficult to clean. Some ordinary wallpapers have a plasticized or varnished surface, which makes them ‘washable’ – but they won’t stand up to rough cleaning or scrubbing. Some wallpapers are pre-pasted.

Embossed wallcoverings

These are heavily textured papers, sometimes called ‘whites’, which are overpainted.

Flock wallcoverings have a velvety texture and usually come in traditional patterns and stripes. The base material can be a

DECORATING TREATMENTS AND MATERIALS paper or a vinyl, and some are ready-pasted. Take care not to get paste on the flocked surface of paper-backed flocks. Vinyl-flocks can be washed if stained or marked. Both paper- and vinyl-flocks should be brushed lightly with a soft hand-brush from time to time to keep the pile dust-free.

Foil and metallic wallcoverings are made from a metallized plastic film on a paper backing. They are highly reflective and so create an illusion of space and light. Hang with a fungicidal paste, and do not place behind light switches and power points.

Friezes and borders

These bands of decoration come in various widths and can be used with co-ordinating papers, plain textured papers or painted walls. They can be used to great effect, outlining doors, walls, windows, fireplaces and other focal points. And they provide an attractive ‘disguise’ for an uneven ceiling line in a room that does not have a cornice. Usually they need trimming before pasting and hanging horizontally, vertically, or even diagonally, as you wish.

Foamed polyethylene is a very light wallcovering sold under the brand name of Novamura. Despite its lightness, it is tough and easy to hang, and warm to the touch. It is good for bathrooms and kitchens and can be hung on new plaster as it is porous and allows the wall to ‘breathe’. The wall must be pasted and the wallcovering then slid into position. It is easy to strip since no backing is left on the walls.

Hand-printed wallpapers

Very expensive and exclusive, these papers are printed by hand, may not be colourfast and the edges usually have to be trimmed before hanging. They are hung like ordinary wallpapers.

Hessian is a coarsely-woven fabric which looks most attractive on walls as a background to pictures, mirrors and so on. It comes in a paper-backed variety on a roll which is hung like ordinary wallpaper and a fabric bought by the yard/metre. It is usual to paste the wall and slide the hessian fabric into position, but it can be tricky and is not therefore a good choice if this is your first attempt at home decorating.

Hessian comes in natural and a wide range of colours, but some tend to fade in bright sunlight. There are simulated hessian textures available in the vinyl and embossed wallpaper ranges.

Natural textures

Various wallcoverings fit into this category – grasscloth, silk, sisal, slivered cork, wool-weaves and wool-strands, as well as other fabric effects are now available.

The natural fibres are usually stuck on to a paper backing. Some are sold by the yard/metre and others are sold by the roll. Care is needed in hanging, as paste must not get onto the textured surface.

Relief wallcoverings have a heavily textured surface and are used in conjunction with paint, as Embossed wallcoverings.

Suede wallcoverings

Velvety-textured wallcovering made from thin suede bonded to a paper backing, which can be hung like paper, but care must be taken not to get paste on the front. Many imitation suedes are also available, and these combine the qualities of suede texture with the easy-hang, easy-care properties of vinyls. Suede finish also appears as crushed suede with a slightly more crinkled texture.

Vinyl wallcoverings come in many disguises, looking like paper, foil, flock, hessian and so on. Basically they are a vinyl layer, which incorporates the pattern, backed with paper – although fabric backing may be used. They are tough, durable, frequently scrubbable, and certainly washable. When you want to strip the walls to redecorate, the vinyl surface usually peels away, leaving a paper backing on the wall which provides an ideal surface for redecorating.

About 50 per cent of vinyls have a ready-pasted backing. Lengths of wallcovering are cut to size, immersed in a water trough until the paste is activated, then hung in the normal way.

Thicker ‘contoured’ vinyl wallcoverings, which often simulate ceramic tiles, wood cladding and other natural textures, are also available. These need a heavy-duty wallpaper paste containing fungicide, and the wall can be pasted rather than the backing, if preferred. These are ideal for kitchens and bathrooms and where there is a condensation problem.

Wood cladding or panelling

Wood gives an attractive ‘country* look to a room, and again can be used to cover a poor surface without much preparation. Various types of wood cladding are available, both as panels and as planks. These are frequently made to interlock and are fixed to the wall by means of battens and a technique called ‘secret nailing*. Some are designed to overlap, and others to fit flush. Some wood panels can be stuck to the wall with a contact adhesive.

Once fixed in place, the wood can be stained and sealed, treated with linseed oil or varnished with matt, semi-matt or shiny polyurethane varnish, or even painted – apply primer and undercoat first.


With so many types of paint to choose from, it is important to select the right one for the particular decorating job.

Basically there are oil-based and water-based paints.

The former may be called gloss, lustre or eggshell and include primers and undercoats. Water-based paints used to be available as distemper or water paint, and were supplied in powder form, to be mixed with water and applied to newly-plastered walls and ceilings. These are now almost obsolete and have been replaced by emulsion paints. However, some surfaces in old houses are still covered with distemper, and this cannot be covered by any other form of paint – it will blister and flake if you try! It must be washed off completely, or the wall relined.

But there is a new type of paint, sold under many brand names, that can best be described as a multi-purpose paint. Oil-based, it is suitable for indoor woodwork such as doors, skirtings and window frames, and can also be used on metal, 89 ceilings and walls. Because it washes out of brushes and rollers with hot water and detergent, it is sometimes described as ‘easy-brush-care’ paint, but it is also called ‘silk’, ‘lustre’, ‘eggshell’, and so on. The ingredients used in its manufacture include silicone and polyurethane, hence the word ‘silthane’ which is often synonymous with this type of paint.

Emulsion paints are highly versatile and can be used for ceilings and internal walls; an exterior quality emulsion can be used on brickwork and other outside wall surfaces.

These paints usually come in a matt and a silk or satin finish, dry very quickly and can be re-coated within two or three hours. There are also ‘textured’ emulsion paints for walls and ceilings. These can be applied thickly and moulded to form a textured surface either simply as a decorative finish, or as a very effective disguise for an uneven wall, or a ceiling which has cracks but is not in a sufficiently bad condition to warrant extensive repairs or complete replastering.

Gloss paints are normally oil-based which makes them tougher and more able to stand up to hard wear. Ideal for protecting metal and woodwork both indoors and out, they are available under many brand names and most contain additional strcngtheners to provide a tough quick-drying surface. Gloss paints are available in creamy, flowing form and a non-drip quality, which brushes out easily when used but – because of its jellylike consistency – should not drip unless you load the brush or roller too full. Because it is easy to handle, with less risk of runs and sags on the finished surface, non-drip paint is a practical choice for beginners. More experienced decorators may prefer to use the freer flowing gloss finish. NOTE: thixotropic paints must not be stirred or they lose their consistency. If you inadvertently do this, leave the can to stand and the paint will ‘re-set’.

Undercoats, primers and sealers

Gloss paints, and other oil-based paints such as lustre or eggshell finish need to be applied over an oil-based undercoat. Most paint manufacturers recommend a suitable undercoat for their gloss paint , sometimes stipulating a particular colour if the topcoat is a strong shade. Follow the suggestions, using a topcoat and undercoat both made by the same manufacturer. Do not use oil-based lustre or eggshell finish paints for exterior metal or woodwork.

Multi-purpose and emulsion paints can be applied directly to a clean, smooth, dry, prepared wall or ceiling surface without a primer and undercoat. Emulsion can be thinned with water to form a ‘size’ or undercoat, but plaster may need a primer/sealer if the surface is very powdery, chalky or porous. If the multipurpose paint is being used on wood or metal, priming may be necessary, but it acts as its own undercoat.

New wood, some stripped wood and metal may need a primer or sealer. A universal primer does most priming jobs, but galvanized iron and aluminium need a special metal primer; chromate and bitumen-coated surfaces need an aluminium sealer.

Masonry paints are tough emulsion paints, specially formulated to protect as well as decorate outside walls. Most contain a mould and algae inhibitor. They can be either smooth-textured so that atmospheric dirt particles are not trapped easily and the surface remains clean longer, or rough-textured — containing sand or granite chips for added strength and covering power. The smooth ones are kinder to paint brushes and rollers!


It you’ve never decorated before, this may seem a formidable task, but if you take careful measurements as outlined below you should get it right.


Simply measure the length and width of the room at ground level, multiply the two measurements to get the area in square metres or feet, then use a Paint Coverage chart to calculate how much emulsion paint to buy. Multiply by two or three, as necessary, according to the number of coats required. If the room needs papering first, use a Wallpaper Quantities chart to work out the number of rolls required.


Fox paper, measure round the room as above, then measure the height, and use a Wallpaper Quantities chart to work out how many rolls to buy. Include the doors and windows , as this extra will allow for any errors. Also allow for pattern matching if you have chosen a bold design; it is better to buy an extra roll or two, which the shop may take back if it is still wrapped – check whether this is an acceptable arrangement when buying- than to run short before the job is finished. This is particularly important because if you do go back to the shop you may find the pattern is out-of-stock, or the same-batch number is no longer available. This number, printed on the rolls of paper, or on the leaflet wrapped in with each roll, shows which printing they come from. The only way you can ensure that all your rolls will colour-match is by buying them all from the same batch.

If you plan to paint the walls, use the same technique as for ceilings, then deduct the area taken up by doors and windows trom the total. Check the quantities on the chart and then, before buying, double-check the coverage printed on the can. Again, allow for the appropriate number of coats.

Calculating the area of exterior walls is more difficult. Measure the length at ground level. Then estimate height by measuring 1.83 m up the side of the outside wall and estimating how many such measurements there are in the total height of the building. Multiply these two measurements together to get the overall area, then deduct the area of windows and doors. If you are using a masonry paint, and the wall surface is poor, or heavily textured , allow an extra one-third to twice as much paint as quoted.

Woodwork and metalwork. Paint quantities are calculated as follows: Windows. Measure the height and width of the window opening and multiply. This should give enough paint to include frames and sills.

Doors. Measure the height and width including the frame. It the door is a heavy moulded one add an extra 10 per cent to the measurement area. Skirtings, picture rails and cornices. Measure the total length all round the room at floor level and multiply by the depth or ‘girth’. Drain and down pipes. Measure ‘girth’, estimate height as described for exterior walls and multiply.

Gutters, facia boards and eaves. Measure the overall length at ground level, estimate the width or ‘girth’ and multiply.

NOTE: once you have decorated a room, or the exterior of your home, keep a note of the quantities for future reference. 9i

Decorating Treatments And Materials