Queen Anne Rowhouse revisited (a.k.a. fixing a huge mess)

I have a tendency to get very close to finishing a dollhouse and then let it sit, 90% done, for years. That’s what happened with the Queen Anne Rowhouse, which I mostly finished between 2012 and 2014.

To refresh your memory, here’s how the house looks. Except for shingles, the exterior is finished.

I started shingling the house way back in March 2013. (Yikes!) This side was partially shingled for a long time. In the past month I’ve made good progress shingling while binge watching ER reruns, and now this side is almost finished.

The other side still has a ways to go.

Besides shingles being booorrrring, the other reason I stalled on finishing the rowhouse is because of a disaster in the “stair rooms.” These are two rooms behind a hinged panel, with two complex staircases that my dad helped me build.

I was really proud of the staircases, but they made accessing the rooms nearly impossible, especially on the second floor. So when the wallpaper (which I had made and printed out myself) started to become discolored, I just couldn’t imagine a way to fix it.

Here’s how it looked when I finished the hinged panel in early 2014. The paper on the panel was brand new at this time, while the paper in the room had been installed about a year earlier.

You can see that the paper inside the house had already started to darken. I believed this was the glue interacting with the paper or ink or wood in some way, and took precautions to prevent it from happening with the hinged panel. (Attached the paper to scrapbook paper instead of bare wood; sprayed the back of the paper with matte sealer before gluing.)

I didn’t go so far as to use different glue, because I had used this glue (wallpaper mucilage) with lots of other wallpaper and scrapbook paper before and stubbornly refused to believe that could be the sole culprit. At this point I figured that as long as the hinged panel, which is most visible, stayed pretty, the rest of the room was bearable.

Fast forward to October 2015, just before I moved into my new house (where I have had some additional issues with home-printed paper discoloring, described here). You can see some dark streaks have started to form.

And here’s how it looked in December 2016, after about a year in the garage workshop of the new house. In addition to the dark streaks, areas are fading and turning green.

This is similar to the discoloration that happened in the Rosedale bathrooms, which makes me think there’s something about the workshop environment contributing to it — the wet, salty air? (We live near the ocean.) Since this is a hinged panel that’s usually closed up, it can’t be solely due to light.

Still under the delusion that as long as the hinged panel looked okay, the rest of the room was bearable, I ripped off the wallpaper.

I was able to get the scraps off with water and Goo Gone.

Then I painted the panel to match the exterior of the house.

And it’s sat like that for another year and a half, with the wallpaper inside getting worse and worse. The situation made me really sad because I’d worked hard on this house and it was so close to being finished, but the room looked so awful I didn’t want to put the house on display or even post a gallery.

I couldn’t see any way to fix it without at the very least ruining the electricity. There are two sconces with wires running through to the opposite (finished) rooms, and a hanging light with wires running through the staircase landing and into the adjacent wall, which meant just removing the stairs would break the wire. Plus I wasn’t sure I could take my dad’s clever the staircases out without destroying them.

Here’s how the paper looked this May — the color has been sucked out of all but a few areas. There’s also a rust stain coming through from a screw on the top hinge, I have no idea when or why that happened.

Oddly enough this one irregular splotch looks like it’s supposed to. Maybe I smeared glue there and it protected the paper?

After much staring into the rooms and thinking about it, I decided there was no way around breaking the lights and pulling out the staircases. The first floor staircase wasn’t quite flush with the wall, which gave me the opportunity to stick in a screwdriver and pry it out.

It came out in one piece!

Inside the closet — which is impossible to see when the stairs are in place, but certainly isn’t airtight — the wallpaper still looks good. So the discoloration must be at least partly related to light.

But here’s the corner beside the front door — a spot that could never have light shining on it. (I can’t even see it! I was only able to see this by taking a picture of it.) It’s discolored like everything else, except for where the baseboard was glued in and a bit in the corner (which could have gotten glue smeared on it while installing the baseboards).

The paper that was behind the stairs also retained its color. Pulling out the stairs didn’t seem to disturb the wiring behind them (although, I admit, I haven’t tested the lights — I’m afraid to!)

Next I repeated the process with the upstairs staircase, sticking the screwdriver between the stairs and the wall. I removed the railing pieces first so they wouldn’t get damaged.

This one had to come apart in multiple pieces. Just under the landing, you can see the wire that snapped when the stairs pulled away from the wall. Notice the wallpaper above the stairs seems okay — this area is dark when the hinged roof is closed, but so is the rest of the room when the wall panel is closed. I’m baffled as to why that area kept its color and the rest didn’t.

Whew. Staircases have been removed. That was traumatic, but now I can actually do something about this wallpaper.

I’ve decided not to put the second floor staircase back in. As much as I love it, it’s now in pieces, and knowing how much it cuts off access to the room, I don’t have the heart to put it back together. I’m going to hold on to all the pieces so I can use it in a future house, but with the stairs oriented so you see the front instead of the back.

Instead I’m going to add a pull-down staircase leading up to the attic — that way the second floor room will be more like a room, but there will still be a reason for that hole in the ceiling.

Coming up next time: new wallpaper! Yay!


  1. Jodi Hippler

    Hi Emily,
    I have always been leary of print-your-own wallpaper because I’ve never heard of good long term results. Maybe like you said – it’s all in how it’s sealed. Maybe a good matte spray sealer might work? What a bummer, though, and so much work to re-do. I hope the new paper works out much better!
    I like the open area idea with the pull down attic stairs – hope you have great success with the wiring, too!

  2. Lena

    What a shame, so much work! I have learned the hard way, that it is best to paint the walls first with a flat/matte paint before papering.

  3. Sandra

    Oh my…..I can see why it took you so many years to tackle this fix! But you seem to have it under control now. Thank-you for your hard -earned lesson: printable wall paper may seem convenient and affordable, but only in the short term! Also, to prime and seal between layers of anything! I look forward to your next post.

  4. ann

    I can certainly understand how disappointed you are with the wallpaper. May I venture a guess as to what is happening? I am thinking humidity. We live on the plains in northern Colorado–near the Wyoming line, so most of the time the air is very dry causing all sorts of sinus problems. My workshop is in my basement along with my husbands 2 110 gallon aquariums and on 45 hex shaped fish tank that put off a lot of humidity, so much so that I could feel it in the air. I was also having problems the electrical in my houses and I could never figure out why the lights worked now and then not, especially in my finished house. The moisture in the air, I believe, interfered withe the electrical connections in the tape wiring. We purchased a dehumidifier and were shocked at the amount of water that it pulled from the air. Gallons in only a few hours. I think the tank holds three gallons, so in the beginning we were emptying it every few hours. Now we seem to have the humidity stabilized. Humidity might account for discoloring your beautiful wallpaper. Do you set the printer ink with a overcoat of sealer? Good luck with the new wallpaper.

  5. Sheila Lester

    Wow! I’m so sorry about the wallpaper. I’ve never used self printed paper and having seen your issues with it I don’t think I’ll ever want to.

    I hope your electrical can be repaired. And the staircases are so pretty. I’m glad the bottom came out intact at least.

    I’ve had good luck with scrapbook paper and slightly watered down Elmers glue. I hope your next wallpaper attempt goes smoothly!

  6. Diane Siegler

    What a shame. I’m glad you were able to get the staircase out. I also think it’s humidity. I have one dollhouse hallway that the glue (also mucilage) has never dried and it’s been 15 years! I keep a couple of those silica packs hidden in the stairs to help absorb humidity.

    • Emily

      Ooh, that’s a good idea. I could hide one in the stairway closet.

  7. Debora

    I think it’s humidity too. The rusted screw gives it away.

  8. elizabeth s

    You’re a brave soul to have taken such a leap of faith and removed your finished staircase, however I know that feeling of not being happy with something and having it bug you every time you look at it.
    And although the length of time between mere dissatisfaction to actually doing something about a problem is a good thing, as it allows you the required time to emotionally work up to your physical challenge.

  9. Emily

    Thanks for sympathizing, everyone. This paper had been sealed with Krylon matte sealer and was printed on paper specific for color ink jet printing. Some of it was applied on top of scrapbook paper (rather than on the bare wood) so I’m not sure that sealing the wood would have made a difference. (Although, I’ll admit, I hate that extra step and I never do it!)

    The recent discoloration probably is due to humidity, but before we moved we lived in a hot dry place, so I think the initial dark streaks were due to something else.

  10. Megan

    You are so brave, dismantling the staircase. But it needed to be done. With so little work still needed to complete the house, this time you are sure to reach the 100% mark!

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