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Painting vs. Wallpapering: Costs, Aesthetics, and Trying Your Patience

Painting the walls with yellow.

Podcast Version

With a new year on the horizon, one of your New Year’s resolutions might be finally getting around to that home improvement project that you’ve been procrastinating forever. And what’s more boring than white walls? White walls can be delightfully minimalist depending on the lighting and the rest of the decor, but constantly staring at the same four white walls can drive you crazy!

If you’re bored with plain old white walls that don’t say anything about your personal style, it could be time to take your habitat to the next level and let some color into your life. What’s really cool too is that changing the colors of the room can also affect your mood over time. These effects can be temporary, such as the calming effect of light blue walls in a place like a yoga lounge or therapist’s office, but have farther-reaching impacts when it’s the very space that you inhabit. For instance, reds, oranges, and yellows have been seen in kitchens more in the past decade because these warm colors help wake you up and possibly stimulate your appetite.

While that Independent piece is biased against black walls and using other dark colors, you can still totally make them work for you with paint and wallpaper alike depending on the lighting, layout, furnishings, the room’s intended purpose, and other factors. 

So if you’re ready to take the plunge, should you go with paint or wallpaper? Here’s what you need to consider when you’re staring at paint swatches and wallpaper samples.

Related: Remarkable Landscape Paintings | FEATHR & Artist Lee Herring Collaborate | Magnus Gjoen Collaborate | Excellent Alternatives to Wallpaper | Types of WallpaperTypes of Wallpapering Tools

Wallpapering is Infinitely More Expensive But Could Produce Nicer Results Than Paint Alone

Painter and decorator's tools on a table.

Let’s get down to brass tacks: wallpapering is definitely more expensive than painting, but both of them have unique cost and aesthetic considerations.

Painting a room can wildly vary in price depending on the size of the room, the going rate for the labor where you live, and nuances like high ceilings or unevenness in the wall’s layout (such as drop living room apartments). Home Advisor pegs the average cost of professional painting to be $200-800 for a typical 10 x 12 room. They also estimate $100-300 for the DIY route. This does not include the cost of severe back pain, accidentally huffing paint fumes, and potentially risking injury on a high ladder plus the cost of fixing whatever you screwed up! (Types the woman saying LOLSOB out loud as she stares at her own botched paint job she never bothered to fix.)

According to Fixr, they gave an estimate for a much larger room– 12 x 18 with 10′ ceilings– and postulate that the cost is at least $1,000-1,300 to get the room professionally wallpapered, whereas it’s $400-600 for the DIY route. In addition to the wallpaper itself, you’re also going to need the right tools and supplies to cut and plaster the wallpaper. Even though some brands claim that you can stick the product on without wallpaper paste, nope, you’re still more than likely going to need it.

Wait, so THAT’S why I still have two rolls of wallpaper brand new in the package laying around in the bedroom.

Obviously, both paint and wallpaper have serious cost differences to account for but also aesthetic differences. Depending on how old your home is and the shape of the walls, you may or may not get the effect you were hoping for with paint alone. When you get paint mixed, you can opt for different levels of glossiness that can either add a whole new dimension to the room or make it look like a child’s attempt to use acrylic paint to make t-shirt designs. Wallpaper, what you see is what you get. You don’t have to worry about being stuck with several cans of paint that were mixed at the wrong gloss level.

Wallpaper can also do several things that paint can’t, such as offer beautiful patterns that can’t easily be replicated with paint. 

Modern living room interior with an accent wall of monstera wallpaper and a whitewashed brick wall.

When factoring in cost, labor, and how long it’s going to take, you can also get just one wall done instead of the whole room.

You also don’t have to worry about the finish of wallpaper having different effects than desired if your walls are on the lumpy side. Case in point, I wound up being glad that I never got around to painting my bedroom because the ancient pipework between the bedroom and bathroom keep pressing on the damn walls and causing it to crack like the late Joan Rivers’ foundation. While the other walls are just fine, that bit of wall over the pipework just cracks no matter what I do and needs to get my condo’s maintenance department in at least once a year to completely redo the plaster.

But if you have a similar problem in a freestanding house? Wallpapering over those cracks that don’t hide any structural issues, but are just ugly to look at, is probably a more efficient way to cover it up and get a great-looking room simultaneously. You still need to be careful with this option because too many lumps can make it difficult to smooth over and in some cases, can make the problem worse.

Challenges with Continuity and Evenness

Closeup of a patterned wallpaper in the bedroom.

One of the biggest thorns in your side with wallpapering is that, depending on the pattern, you don’t know where a new roll begins and how it’s going to align with the roll you just ended. This can end up creating a bunch of paper waste in the process, compared to a more uniform pattern or solid color.

But don’t think you’re out of the woods when you opt for paint, especially if you’re brave and/or foolhardy enough to go the DIY route. If you get a little too zealous with the paint roller in some areas and those blotches of saturation show when it dries, it’ll make you long for a roll or three of wallpaper. But because you don’t have to do as much as labor-intensive cutting and pasting with paint as you would with wallpaper, it’s why it’s a more popular option for DIY than attempting to wallpaper a room by yourself, the cost notwithstanding.

The Cleanup

Painting tools in a sink.

Both painting and wallpapering are going to produce a crap ton of waste, just in different ways. Cleanup is pretty easy, although frustrating, with paint. If paint drips on the floor and you weren’t able to swab at it with a warm and wet rag while it was still wet, wait until it’s totally dry then just go hog wild with a can of Comet, some water, and a palette knife. It’s a different story if you didn’t get enough painter’s tape on the molding and ceiling areas, so you ended up staining the ceiling with the roller. You could be in for repainting the ceiling, or just caving in and calling professionals so you don’t have to risk this on your own.

With wallpaper, you could end up having tons of little pieces of wallpaper that had to be cut down and refitted again constantly. Unlike paint though, whatever wallpaper paste you were using can just be used for the next job without worrying that it’s the wrong color. If you’re going to wallpaper again anywhere, you just reuse the same paste.

Wallpaper paste isn’t as noxious as paint fumes, but it’s still a good idea to vacate the room for several hours and keep it well-ventilated as it dries. 

What You Can Do with Leftover Paint and Wallpaper Pieces

DIY crafts on the table.

Chances are you’re going to have half a bucket of paint sitting in your supply closet forever, just to never use it if you vacate your rental or put your home on the market eventually. The same is true of that half-used roll of wallpaper since you knew you’d be better off having too much leftover instead of not enough to finish the job. Yet you don’t have the heart to throw it out.

Unlike working on the walls and other structural bits, you can use the leftover supplies to make some fun projects. While it might be a bit much to paint room accents the same color as the walls, if you used a different color for doorways or molding, it could be fun to use the leftover paint to color in fixtures that were a dull color. Got wall-mount coat hooks, key holders, or other accessories on the wall? You can make them match the wallpaper in the next room by using the leftover pieces with some Mod Podge or other shellacs for fast and easy adhesion plus a shiny finish when it dries.

Get some finished wood pieces from a craft store, and engage in some therapeutic painting with a can you were only going to throw out anyway. Or if you’ve been thinking about upcycling furniture like the chalk painting trend with furniture, your leftover paint and a piece of old furniture you or someone else was going to leave at the curb makes for great practice!

No matter which method you opt for, you’re going to have a totally new look to the room when you’re done and also have some cleanup and leftovers. As for whether paint or wallpaper is better, it ultimately depends on the aesthetic you’re going for and the shape that your walls are in. Smoother, newer walls will take to paint much better while older structures prone to lumpiness and cracks would get a major facelift with wallpaper.