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How to Brown Bag Walls

How to brown-bag walls (with video)

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By Bonnye Manning

It was an amazing year in 2002 for BrownBagWalls. As a professional installer, I had been doing some torn-paper effects here and there...mostly, the brown builder paper which has been on decorating shows and around for awhile. Tearing up paper and applying it to the wall isn't something I invented.

As a matter of fact, the French did so many years ago and made papier-mache very popular. In January 2002, timing and luck placed me in a restaurant that was in dire brownbagged wallsneed of some wall work. The nicotine on the walls was impossible to clean for the 24-hour diner style operation.

I noticed it, talked to the 79-year-old owner, who just happened to be walking the grounds with his CEO who is also his daughter. They just happened to walk by the booth where I was eating and asked if everything was okay. Because I am so bold and talkative, I told them service and food was great as always but the walls were horrible. One thing led to another in the next hour of conversation, and because they had some vision and trust, brownbagging the walls became a reality.

Ten restaurants later, I have done the effect on the restaurants' cedar beams, cedar walls, multi-spec painted drywall, cement block, paneling, Formica, and texture. I saved the company money in demolition by being able to go over these kinds of surfaces, and year later, they say the maintenance is so much easier. It has brought residential business by my sending customers there with $5 gift certificates to have a cup of coffee or piece of pie.

Great advertising for the restaurant and me. The customer knows right away whether it is for them or not, and the rest is up to me to make it happen.

With pictures from one of the restaurants, I entered Zinsser's Winning Walls with Wallcovering contest as a last minute attempt, and was shocked in Las Vegas when my name was announced as tied for Honorable Mention in the Specialty Division. Never discount the benefits of this contest and the exposure it can give you. I urge all of you to keep it in mind when you have that job you are so proud of. It doesn't have to be unique and different, but if it was a challenge or amazing for you, enter it!

Having done the tabletop demo at the NGPP Forum in Vegas, I was able to share with all Guild members who attended and then I used the Internet to continue to give info about alternative income via torn-paper effects. I feel I am just beginning. The Red Rosin paper, which is much like the brown builder paper, is a new hit in my area. The possibilities seem to be endless and even though the brown is my main staple, people are asking for more. Hopefully, we will be able to get other colors soon. I have been able to help other handpainted, torn-paper companies spread information about their products such as VaHallan papers out of Nebraska.

I have learned so much in the last year about sharing this information with people. The most intriguing thing I have found is that people--from DIYs to professionals--don't really like to read instructions. The popularity of my technique is all about the spotting and motteling, and to get that signature look, three brands of materials are essentially mandatory. People assume that I haven't tried or looked at other brands. Believe me, I have done hundreds of tests. So, when they write me back and ask why their samples don't look like my pictures, I start at the beginning and ask them what kind of paste, paper, and sealer they used. Back to basics.

I want to thank for the Draw-Tite. Without the combination of these products, my brownbagging success for 2002 alone, much less any of the other learning years, wouldn't have happened.

I have only taken babysteps in my efforts to make a mark on the wallcovering industry, and by sharing with lists, Guild members, DIY chat rooms, television audiences, and magazine editors, I might be able to keep on tearing paper and putting it on the wall...or ceiling...or floor...or furniture piece...or countertop...(let's see, where else have I put brownbag???). Because I have done so much groundwork, it only makes sense to me to help others if they are interested.

I have gotten an amazing amount of feedback from people thanking me for sharing, and just as much feedback from those telling me I am a fool to share. I know this...if I had not shared this past year, I don't think I would still be in the business. We are all in this industry together and to keep it alive, I hope I have helped. Until regular wallpaper enthusiasm is reborn, I want my share of the customer wallspace and not let the removal expert, the texture guy, the painter or the faux finisher completely have it all. If torn paper works rather than wallpaper for now, so be it. And besides, not having to use a razor all day, or work seams perfectly, or wash and dry walls is kind of a great diversion.

With a little bit of goal-setting, planning, help, luck, and lots of time at the keyboard and at the wall, I hope to take BrownBagWalls to the next level. But in the meantime, I'll keep suggesting it as an addition to my regular installation business. Again, I welcome any of you who are interested to let me know, and I will send you free instructions and a few pics via e-mail. I plan to work up a list of tips and tricks for the people who have already tried it and like it.

I have about a dozen professionals already adding to their income consistently with the brownbagging. I have about 45 DIYs who took my instructions and actually tried it on samples or their walls, with good feedback. I have about 7 women who do not know each other, all from the television spot I did, who tried it from the free instructions. Five of these became customers who love it but would rather hire it done.

And lastly, I have just a bit over 100 responses to the American Painting Contractor article, mostly painting and faux professionals who I am helping all across the country with ideas and questions about torn-paper as a way to add to their income. The e-mails and even handwritten letters I have gotten have been so enjoyable. I hope my free time today that has given me the chance to reflect hasn't bored you completely, but remember that if you love being at the wall, consider these words from a response I got from a professional paperhanger...

******** Hi Bonnye
can't believe it - sold my first entrance foyer today !!! $2.50/s.f. and not an eye was blinked. And all thanks to an entrepreneurial lady in Texas I've never met. I made up four 30inch by 30inch sample boards on 1/8inch luan (very light to lug around) with different designs, coloring etc used both sides so I am carrying 8 samples in my truck at all times and bring the subject for 'unusual, different, your-neighbor-Maggie-doesn't-have it' up every time I give an estimate. I'd welcome any pictures of your work you can send or new developments/ideas; I'll do the same. a thought occurred to me the other day ..... when the old faculties finally do give out (I am 67)and I can't see the %#@! open seam or the bubble anymore - I can brownbag till I'm 90 or keel off the ladder, whichever comes first..........

p.p.s. I tried black shoe polish and it looks gorgeous ........ is there no end to the possibilities????************ brown bag walls
How to do Brown Bag Walls
Recommended materials:

Brown Builder Paper
HD Strippable Adhesive
brown bagging on shiplap All of these materials are essential and brands are mandatory. There is some kind of reaction between the three that gives me a signature look. At first, I substituted one or two and didn’t get the “mottled”effect as I did originally. I have done some substitution research to see if I can get the same look with other brands, and so far, no luck. So, why try to fix it if it isn’t broken?

Pre-tear the roll of brown paper, tearing the factory edges off first and casting them aside for use later. When tearing the regular pieces, I try to keep them to dinner-plate size, but very random shapes. You will find your method. It took me awhile to get it down to where it was easy. I have now torn over 100,000 square feet.

First we roll a coat of Draw-Tite No Run over any surface we are covering. We have done paneling, all types of sheetrock texture from very heavy to light, new sheetrock, concrete block, cedar beams and small furniture pieces and fixtures. The surface just needs to be dry to the touch to begin pasting and applying paper.

I really like pasting because I set my table up at chair height and actually can sit down while working. (Give a lazy person a job and they will find the easiest way to do it.) We paste by brush or roller or machine, because the saturation of the paper is a factor in our finished look.

We have experimented with all techniques, but hand pasting is the easiest and fastest for us. It isn’t as laborious or slow as you think. I usually paste about 20-30 pieces, booking (folding - dry side outwards) each one, stacking, and then flipping the stack for the hanger. We paste the inside of the curve consistently. This makes a difference in the mottling.

The installer aka brownbagger outlines all straight edges first...ceiling, baseboard, cabinetry, doorways, windows, etc. Then, the filling in begins much like papier-mache, overlapping slightly so as not to leave any exposed wall.

The final step is to seal with another coat of Draw-tite No Run. We cut in the edges, but very easily with no taping off. We then coat the rest, using a roller of choice. If darkness is no concern, we coat while the paper is still wet, leaving a very strong contrast. For a lighter version, we let dry at least 12 hours and then coat. It is fun and a look people love. Good luck and let me hear from you!

brown bag interactive
Bonnye Manning, Paper Dolls
NGPP Member,
San Antonio Chapter

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