Paint or Wallpaper?

So it’s time to do something about those walls. Maybe you have very old paint that’s getting to be more ground-in dirt than paint by now. Or maybe you have wallpaper that was fashionable when your grandmother was a little girl in pigtails, and is peeling besides. Or maybe you have a brand-new home with bare walls. What should you do? What are the advantages of paint over wallpaper or vice-versa?

There isn’t any clear and easy and obvious preference for one over the other, but each has advantages and disadvantages that should be weighed before making a decision.

Paint is usually cheaper. Paint (the stuff in the cans) is cheaper than wallpaper on the average. If you hire someone to do the work for you, paint is also cheaper in installation cost. But:

Wallpaper is more durable. A good grade of wallpaper, properly applied, will prove longer-lasting and more durable than even the best quality of paint. But:

Preparing the walls is easier if you’re painting. Prepping to paint is relatively simple. You can easily paint over an old paint job (that’s dicier, although not necessarily impossible, with wallpaper) and the prep involves nothing trickier than a good cleaning and patching any grievous holes. With wallpaper, you need to be much more careful about making sure the walls are smooth and have no serious irregularities. But:

Wallpaper has greater variety. Although paint comes in many colors and finishes and, with texturing, can even present shapes and designs, there’s no question that wallpaper is more versatile in terms of what your walls can look like in the end. But:

Paint is easier to change if you change your mind. If you paint your walls and decide that you don’t like the color or the way the paint looks, there’s little problem in painting over your paint job with a different color, or applying wallpaper after all. Wallpaper is difficult to cover with paint, and if you layer wallpaper on top of wallpaper you reach a point pretty quickly where your walls are made of papier-maché. Stripping off the wallpaper then becomes necessary. But:

Applying wallpaper is more fun. All right, this is a subjective judgment, but many people find that it’s true. It can also be a bigger headache, because it’s a harder skill to learn, but once you do learn it there’s immense satisfaction in getting the paper on the walls absolutely perfectly. It’s an almost magical feeling.

The final judgment has to be that there is no way to make a final judgment, except in the particular case of a given set of walls. Which one is right will depend on what exactly you want.