MARK EDLOW stares gravely into a dish of ground pork steak and mashed potatoes, considering, for a moment, the impact of his next statement.
"Most manufacturers would croak if they heard this," he says.
Then he plunges into a full description of his unorthodox method for hanging wallpaper.
About twice each year -- about a month ago and probably again this spring -- Edlow shares this information with novice hangers at the community center in Bowie, Md. He is no stranger to the crowds there, who turn out sometimes 130 at a time to hear his spiel .
Edlow, a local representative of Reed Wallcoverings, an international manufacturer and distributor of the stuff, is described, frankly, as a showman. But he comes off the business type, in natty blue pinstripes and with executive touches of gray in his neatly trimmed hair and beard.
He hangs paper on the side. His gift is being able to explain, effectively, the art to the average Joe.
Certainly, laying wallpaper cannot be as easy as Edlow makes it sound. There are vague memories of Laurel and Hardy nearly killing themselves with it. First of all, there are so many different kinds.
There's prepasted and non-prepasted paper. There's "paper paper," the old-fashioned kind; vinylcoated paper; "substrate" paper, a mixture of paper and resins; fabric-backed vinyl paper; paper-backed vinyl -- Stop! Enough! you say. Ah, but there's more -- foil paper and grass cloth and hand-flocked paper and silk and linen and suede. There's strip-able paper, as opposed to non-strip-able paper and "peel-able" paper...
Edlow boils these down into neat little categories, such as: papers that are either prepasted or require do-it-yourself pasting; papers that can be removed leaving the original surface intact and those that cannot; and papers that should be left to experienced hangers.
The tools normally required for the task are a razor knife, a plumb line, a chalk line, a smoothing brush, a straight edge, a brush to apply paste, a seam roller, a tape measure or yard stick, a water trough or tray, a long table or wood and saw horses, a good eye and a steady hand.
Before laying the paper, says Edlow, first consider the surface it is supposed to cover. "You can't just take wallpaper and put it up over any wall," he says. "Wallpaper is not a cover-up for everything."
Many contractors, he says, use a thin, cheap, sprayed-on paint, also known as "calcimine." This paint fails to seal off porous wall surfaces, which will soak up the paste on the wallpaper and cause it to fall off. Such a wall must first be coated with "wall sizing," a diluted paste. Or there may be paper on the wall already. If you are papering over it, it must be in good condition, with no open seams or curling edges.
Plaster walls must be fixed (and may require calling in a professional plasterer). Glossy paint surfaces must be sanded down or "roughed up." Kitchen and bathroom walls should be washed with a water/bleach mixture (a cup of bleach to a gallon of water) or household ammonia to remove grease, grime and -- if you are taking up the original paper -- mildew.
All, he says, to achieve a surface to which the paper will stick. (If you wondered about stucco, cement block or paneling, you can paper over these too by putting down first a rigid lining paper. Lining paper helps mask irregularities in the surface beneath it.)
To figure the amount of paper you need, multiply the number of linear feet around the room by the average height of the walls. A room 40 feet around, say, with 8-foot-high walls has 320 square feet. Divide this by 30. Thirty is the number of "usable" square feet on a roll (which has 36 square feet in all) allowing for waste, trimming and future repairs. The result -- 10.7 -- is the number of rolls needed for the job. Round off to the next higher number, just in case.
For windows and doors, subtract one half roll; a full roll for extra large windows or double closets.
Next you must decide which paper suits best. There are aesthetics to consider, for sure. But also convenience. Some, with vinyl coatings, are more easily cleaned. Renters may need to choose a paper that can be stripped away when the lease runs out -- without tearing up the original paint or plaster.
Foil papers, which mirror interiors, are the rage, says Edlow. Novices should buy a cloth-back variety that straightens out again if accidentally crumpled. Some papers -- grass paper, silks and flocked -- cost $35- $50 a roll. Edlow recommends calling a professional.
And you must choose either prepasted (easier) or regular paper (takes more time).
Before you get out the paste, inspect the paper carefully for defects. They are not uncommon and you will likely find the dealer unmoved if you try returning paper after it is already pasted up.
Do not start hanging in the kitchen or bathroom, says Edlow. "These are the most difficult to do. But for some reason, most people try to do them first."
Try your skills first in the living or recroom where there aren't all kinds of cabinets and mirrors to get in the way. Begin at a spot opposite the focal point of the room, (behind the main door, for instance), so initial mistakes later are not the first thing you see when you walk in. Continue working in the same direction all the way around.
From the starting point, mark with the plumb and chalk lines how the first sheet should lay so it is vertical. Each following piece should butt up against its neighbor -- not overlap. Use the plumb and chalk lines again on each new wall, since walls are not always straight.
Prepasted paper is rolled up scroll-like and soaked in a water tray near the working area. Regular paper is laid out on the table and coated with paste and brush (Edlow uses a paint roller), then rolled up or folded in half (always paste side to paste side) and applied from the top. Overlap about two inches, top and bottom. Working downward, flatten it out with the smoother.
Here's where Edlow parts with the manufacturers.
Edlow puts an adhesive paste, which costs about six times the normal $2 paste, directly on the wall first. When it is tacky, he lays the paper in the same manner. He prefers a window-washer's squeegie to the smoothing brush, for more pressure and because it has a handle. Instead of the straight edge included in papering tool kits ( $6 or $7 at paint and some hardware stores), he uses a wide putty knife, which also has a handle.
In corners, overlap also about two inches. Overlapped paper is trimmed away with the razor knife and straight edge. To match patterns, simply line up the designs on the wall before cutting the next piece off the roll. And if you are planning to cover your ceiling, the process is the same.
Now you can sit down for a quiet evening with the family in front of the tube. Providing, of course, you have not papered the television -- along with the rest of the family -- to the wall.