I love a lot of things about having a house built in 1950. I love the original wood floors. I love the original windows (that desperately need to be refurbished, but that’s another day…ok…another many days), old door knobs, a front porch with steps and a railing. What I do not love are old sliding closet doors.
These are in our master bedroom and leave much to be desired...for me at least. I knew from our first viewing of the house that I would redo those doors if we bought it. I scoured Pinterest for ideas and knew that any upgrade other than a simple paint job would be difficult because whatever I did had to be less than ¼” thick to still allow for the doors to slide past each other. I then saw an idea to do a mock inlay using paintable wall paper.
Before you cringe more than you already are, let me defend myself here. I am not a wall paper fan. I have never put it up and have suffered through taking it down. Yes, it is cool that you can get a pattern or texture on the wall via the paper, but if you ever want to change it, taking it down is a nightmare. So then why you ask, have I decided to put wall paper up in my new house?
This door treatment had to be flat, which wall paper is. The wall paper had depth to it, which made it cooler than just paint. It would give the inlay look to a door that I otherwise couldn't build out to look like that. It was also going to be a small amount of paper on two doors so at the end of the day if I hated it, it wouldn't be an entire wall I had to rip down. I decided to go for it and dove right in.
I first needed to sand the doors to get a coat of primer to stick (which is recommend to paint before you put up wall paper). It turns out that the last two times someone painted those doors they didn't sand at all and just painted on top of the previous coat of paint. This resulted in sheets of paint peeling off and scraping/sanding through all those paint coats down to the wood to make sure we wouldn't have wall paper slumping off our doors in a few years. The Engineer was amazing enough to put some elbow grease onto the doors to get all that stuff off!
While The Engineer was attacking the doors, I took the hardware that I had previously removed outside to give it a fresh coat of black spray paint since they were pretty worn. Ever tried to paint screw heads but couldn't get them to sit upright? Here’s a good little trick to take care of that problem: lay out newspaper on a dirt or short grass surface and just poke the screws into the ground and they’ll stand with up! With the newspaper between them and the ground, you won’t lose them either!
Don’t forget to read the comics before you spray paint over them either ;-)
I also cut my wall paper to size while The Engineer was still teaching those doors who was boss. Fun fact about wall paper: Home Depot does not sell wall paper of any kind. They directed me to the contact paper when I asked :( Lowes does have the paintable wall paper I was looking for, though they don’t have many options…maybe 6 different patterns. That was fine with me, there was a bead board looking one that I loved so I was sold. With that and my glue I was set! When I was cutting the paper to size I kept in mind that I would want to cut the sheets skinny enough to fit between the door handles when the hardware was put back on.
I had also been thinking that I wanted to be able to frame the wall paper to make it look more finished but I had to think of something that would fit between the doors. That ruled out just about everything! I accidentally came across the perfect solution at Michaels while looking for something else. I found this thin sheet of balsa wood that was 4” x 36” which meant I could cut it into four 1” x 36” strips. Two of these were the exact height of the wall paper panel (72”) and the rest would finish framing the top and bottom. I cut those and the wall paper using an x-acto knife on cardboard with a level as my guide.
With all the prep work done I got to priming. Priming the doors wasn't bad, but painting the inside was a little cramped. If you are wondering by now, we did try to take the doors off, but they are hung in such a way that you would have to take the molding off to get the doors off. We didn't want to do that so we left them hanging and just dealt with it. I did get some primer on the molding, but that seems like a good excuse to go ahead and give it the fresh coat of white paint it is screaming for! I finished that and let it dry overnight.
My mom helped me hang the wall paper which was easier than I had anticipated. The glue I bought was a little odd because it was a bottle with a built in foam roller. The only problem was that squeezing the glue onto the roller created a lot of drippage because the little built in tray wasn't big enough, or shaped properly, or something along those lines. Long story short, I didn't want to buy a big bottle of glue and this was the only small option. Make sure you use a drop cloth either way!! Once the glue was applied we lined the paper up with lines I had drawn on the door with a level before hand to make sure we hung it straight in the right spot. I smoothed it flat with a wood paint stir (classy, I know) and it worked great! The paper even had a few crinkles in it from moving around and they came right out. I couldn't even guess where they were now. I wiped up excess glue around the wall paper and called it a night!
My next step was to glue on the balsa wood frame. I wasn't sure how this would go even though it seemed pretty straight forward. You never want to underestimate a task! I started with the top piece to make sure I had a good base to run the sides to the floor from. I thought about pre-cutting it before I glued it on the door but decided against that. My main reason for going about it this way was that I knew that the door wasn't level/square and that my theoretical 18” width might not be exactly 18” on the top and/or bottom! So I let it live on the edge for a while.
I simply applied wood glue to the back of each balsa piece and used a level when I placed it on the door, overlapping the wall paper by ¼” or less. On the first door I cut the pieces on the door, and on the second door I pre-cut. I definitely liked the second method better. It was faster and easier even with the measure twice cut once method.
I let the wood glue I used dry overnight and then painted. The painting actually spanned a few days because I painted in sections due to the fact that the balsa wood brushed the top portion of the door ever so slightly. I also painted the surrounding trim. A few days later I had white doors with subtle detail! I put the hardware back on and we were in business!!
It’s not a big change, but the white paint compared to the dull cream/eggshell color and new textures make a big difference!