INSTALLATION 101: A Q&A WITH WALLPAPER MASTER RICKY AVILES
We bent the ear of Ricky Aviles, owner of Olympic Paper Hanging, two days into an installation in New York City. Here, he answers our burning questions about quality, care and tricks of the trade.
Tell us a bit about your background… How long have you been installing wallpaper?
Ricky Aviles: I’ve been in the wallpaper hanging business for 27 years – on my own for eight years with Olympic Paper Hanging. I apprenticed under a guy named Chick Musacchio in Brooklyn. We papered all over the five boroughs and New Jersey. I started with Chick when I was 16 years old and worked alongside him for 17 years. He taught me everything.
While we were watching you hang this Marble Tile 2 wallpaper by The Vale London, we noticed that you ripped it to take a closer look. Is the substrate an indicator of the paper quality? What is the difference between cheap wallpaper and something like this that is more luxe?
RA: I did – and yes it is. Looking at the substrate is an important part of my process. After I paste a wallpaper, I always try to rip it. If the wallpaper tears easily, like toilet paper, it’s not the best. But this wallpaper from The Vale gave me a hard time. I almost couldn’t rip it. And then when I did, I could see all of the paper fibers that it’s made on. It’s really nice stuff.
We overheard you speaking with your assistant about the ‘soap time’ for this paper. Can you explain to us laypeople what soap time is exactly?
RA: Most wallpapers come with a suggested soap time – the amount of time that the paper needs to soak in the paste. On average, it’s about three to five minutes. But some can take longer, like eight or 10 minutes. For this particular wallpaper from The Vale, I noticed that once the paste was applied, I could hang it within one to two minutes.
In regard to the absorption of the paste, why would one paper need a soap time of three to five minutes, while another may need more or less? Does it have something to do with the nature of the paper?
RA: Certain papers, usually those of a lesser quality, will expand if they are in the paste for too long – sometimes up to a quarter of or a half of an inch. A seasoned installer will watch this closely to prevent the paper from popping or pulling away from the seams once it’s on the wall and dry. With a nice paper like this one from The Vale that is printed on mica paper, the absorption time is short and we don’t have to worry about it expanding and, later, contracting.
Speaking of seams, your art of pattern matching is impeccable. How do you match the seams so that they are virtually invisible? So that the pattern aligns perfectly?
RA: When I make up a paper, I match it on the table with the pattern up so that I can look at it. All of the seam matching happens ahead of time on the table. Then, when it comes to actually hanging it, I put it on the wall about an inch or so away, slide it in and line it up by eye.
Tell us about your tool belt. What are the primary tools that you bring to each job, and what have you selected for installing this high-end paper from The Vale?
RA: My two primary tools are the spatula and my hands. We also use seam rollers. Seam rollers come in an assortment of different composites—hard plastics, soft rubbers, nylons, metal. For this paper, I'm using a hard plastic roller. My basic tool kit includes rollers, a spatula and a classic six-foot, folding wooden ruler. With a wooden ruler, I can quickly gauge that the wall is 48 inches high and that the paper is 21 inches wide. A flimsy tape measure just doesn't work for paper.
Let’s talk about the ideal conditions for wallpapering. This house is set at a nice temperature of 65 degrees per your request. That said, yesterday it was a rainy, grey day, but today it’s sunny and beautiful outside. Educate us on moisture content in the air and drying times.
RA: These factors are really important. The room has to be at a steady temperature. Most companies will recommedn that you set the interior temperature above 55 degrees, but I like it at 60, 65 or even 70 degrees. And you have to factor in the humidity, too. The environment has to be somewhat dry. If it's too humid, the wallpaper will take longer to dry and potentially cause blistering—and you don't want that. You want the paper to dry nice and tight, and as quickly as possible.
We can’t help but notice how meticulous you have been about cleaning the crown moulding and the chair rail, and that you’ve been wiping down each piece that goes up. What’s the best way to clean wallpaper?
RA: Good eye. We wipe everything down with warm, clean water. And we are constantly changing out the water every few panels to keep it clean and warm. I don't use any detergents—no soap whatsoever. Just warm water. If you have a smudge or something like that, you can use a pencil eraser to get a little spot off. It's an old-school trick. That's what I use.
What are your thoughts on wallpapering ceilings and feature walls? Do you get a lot of requests for inserts behind bookcases and other statement applications?
RA: Absolutely we do. The trend has been feature walls. For the last 10 years, everyone has been doing an accent or feature wall. Ceilings, on the other hand, have been in style since day one. We love doing ceilings. Decorators call it the fifth wall, and it's a lot of fun to install.
Overall, what is your opinion of The Vale London’s wallpaper?
RA: I like this paper for two reasons: It hides the seams well and the quality is excellent. It's easy to work with and it's fun to work with. And that's why I like it.