How to wallpaper a ceiling

With today’s architectural designs placing increasing emphasis on ceilings, this is a trend that’s really taking off. Wallpapering the ‘fifth wall’ lends a striking look to your scheme. Choose matching paper for a cosy, cohesive look or go with contrasting paper to make a statement. And the best bit? Ceiling wallpaper covers a multitude of cracks and defects. So here's our guide, How to wallpaper a ceiling. We've also got guides on How to wallpaper and How to wallpaper around doors, windows and switches

How to wallpaper a ceiling

How to wallpaper a ceiling
Image credit: Graham and Brown

Wallpapering ceilings – is this a new trend?
Actually no. The Victorians loved ornately papered ceilings. In fact, the handbooks of the time dictated that several borders of paper should occupy one-sixth of the total area of the ceiling. And remember Uncle Albert’s ‘ceiling tea party’ in Mary Poppins? That was damask wallpaper overhead, circa 1964. Safe to say this is a revival, not a new trend.

Which colours and styles suit which rooms best?
If your ceiling is sloping or irregular, a solid or scattered pattern paper is most forgiving. If your room feels small, choose a light paper to open it out. If you’re blessed with a cavernous space, you can really have some fun with bold colours and striking designs: animal prints, geometrics, seventies circles, or even psychedelic swirls.

I want to wallpaper both ceiling and walls. Which comes first?
If you're planning to hang paper on the walls, do the ceiling first and then overlap the top of the walls by 10mm. Butt the wall sections into the junction of wall and ceiling to create a straight seam. If both papers match, you can make the seam invisible.

Do I need to use lining paper?
Lining paper gives a much neater finish than applying paper straight to bare plaster, and if the ceiling has any imperfections lining paper will help conceal them. Just remember to hang the lining paper at 90° to the direction of your final paper.

How much lining paper and wallpaper will I need?
Enter your room dimensions into our nifty Wallpaper Calculator and it will do the sums for you. We recommend adding in a 10% margin for any mistakes.

OK, let’s get started. What tools do I need?
The same as you need for papering walls. The only difference is we’d suggest two stepladders and planks of wood to create a platform. And four hands is better than two. You will need:

  • Two pairs of stepladders
  • Plank of wood
  • Measuring tape
  • Scissors
  • Craft knife
  • Pencil
  • Chalk line
  • Wallpaper paste
  • Brush or roller
  • Wallpaper spatula
  • Damp cloth

    How do I prepare the ceiling?
    Clean away any cobwebs, wash the ceiling down with sugar soap solution and fill any minor cracks. With the electricity turned off, take down any light fittings and unscrew ceiling roses, removing all fixing screws. If the ceiling has a gloss finish you’ll need to sand it back using an abrasive. You should paper your first run in the centre of the ceiling - especially if you have a bold pattern. It is worth marking a straight line to hang the paper to, ensuring it goes on straight.

    What comes first: cutting the paper or mixing the paste?
    If you’re new to wallpapering we’d suggest cutting the paper first. Measure the lengths of paper, remembering to add 10cm (4”) extra, and cut as many runs as you need. If your paper is patterned check the manufacturer’s instructions for pattern matching. Place the runs face down on your table; some clips might be useful here to clamp the paper to the table.

    Now mix the paste. It normally takes around 15-20 minutes to develop to the right consistency but, again, check the instructions.

    OK, I’m ready to start papering. How do I stop it dropping on my head?
    We’re going to use a technique called "sizing" the ceiling. Apply a uniform, thinned down coat of paste on the ceiling with a roller and allow it to dry - you can also buy size made specifically for this job. Now apply paste to the paper using your brush, working from the middle, out towards the edges. About every 30-45cm fold the paper onto itself (paste to paste) but don’t press in any creases. Fold the whole length up in a concertina, which allows it to unfold as you pastie it up, without droppng off the ceiling. Allow it to set for five minutes or so.

    Now, with your helper, apply the paper to the ceiling, unfolding as you go. Don’t press too hard or you'll drive the paste out and it won't stick. With a papering brush apply gentle pressure until it has bedded, pushing gently from the middle to the edges, so avoiding stretching the paper. Don’t let the whole weight of the sheet hang from the part that’s already stuck or the whole thing will come tumbling down.

    Now repeat the process, butting up against the first section. The final piece you hang will need cutting to fit, so measure the width and add 5cm (2”). Paste and hang it, then trim using a pencil and scissors.

    How do I paper around ceiling obstacles?
    One of the best bits about papering a ceiling is that there are no doors, windows or radiators to work around, however you will most likely encounter light fittings and/or a decorative centrepiece. For a centre light fixing simply make a small cut in the paper then follow up with a series of small triangular flaps to create a hole through which the fitting can pass.

    For decorative centrepieces, it’s easier to hang and trim the paper if you plan your starting point so a joint runs through the middle of the fitting. You can then make radial cuts to fit the paper up to the edges of the centrepiece.