Ask the expert: Wallpaper hanger Heidi Wright Mead

Beautiful wallpaper is everywhere these days, and we often hear about the artists who create it and the interior designers who use it in projects. But the unsung heroes in the equation are the skilled people who transform spaces by installing the wallpaper.

I recently spoke with Heidi Wright Mead of A Paperhanger, one of the most respected wallpaper installers in the Bay Area. Read on to learn about her experience in the industry, the biggest mistake homeowners and designers make, and why wallpaper is here to stay!

Kate Miller: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you became a wallpaper hanger?

Heidi Wright Mead: A circuitous path! I learned right out of high school. My boyfriend Joey and my brother Sam went to a wallpaper trade school in LA after graduating, and I would paste for them. Joey’s mom worked in a paint and paper store and would refer the guys. Just like today, there were not enough hangers back then! The interesting thing is that we all went to college (Sam has a degree in international business, Joey is a microbiologist, and I am a registered nurse), yet here we are years later, all back to hanging wallpaper!

 Left: Heidi and her team install a Phillip Jeffries wall covering on a 21’ wall, Right: the finished space, designed by Phillip Silver, photographed by Drew Kelly.

Left: Heidi and her team install a Phillip Jeffries wall covering on a 21’ wall, Right: the finished space, designed by Phillip Silver, photographed by Drew Kelly.

KM: How have the industry and materials evolved over the course of your career?

HWM: When I began there was a lot of pre-pasted paper out there. Pre-pasted needed a special paste to stick which I always thought was ironic! The adhesives years ago were problematic for the long term…really difficult to strip and as a result, the industry took a hit. Today’s pastes and primers make it much easier to remove wallpaper.

KM: Well that’s good news for homeowners! Choosing a wallpaper doesn’t have to be a forever decision…you can update your home as your style evolves.

HWM: Absolutely. Wallpaper is strippable (as long as your paste and primer agree) - I’ve heard that you should freshen your decor every 7 years! 

KM: Don’t mind if I do! I’m curious- what are some common mistakes that homeowners or designers make in regards to wallpaper? 

HWM: The most common mistake is choosing a product that isn’t suitable for the space. I lost a designer as a client when she had me install grasscloth in a bathroom. It was a deep rich color and I had it treated but it just could not hold up to the use of the space. Part of my job is to manage expectations and educate, but I know what it is like when you have your heart set on something!

To avoid this…be realistic. And understand that a lot of wall coverings are fragile and that is where their beauty lies. If it’s a bath, a hall, or a mud room, you can always opt for Type II wall covering.

 McDonald Mansion, Santa Rosa: The Turkish Parlor ceiling has over 1,300 pieces of wallpaper installed within its 10 tiers!

McDonald Mansion, Santa Rosa: The Turkish Parlor ceiling has over 1,300 pieces of wallpaper installed within its 10 tiers!

KM: I’ve learned that hanging wallpaper (properly) is a skilled art form.  What are some steps you’ve taken in your craft that set you apart from other paperhangers?

HWM: I really became the hanger I am today because of a few things. First, I joined the WIA and met my peeps. I was willing and eager to learn and improve my craft, and this was the perfect group to grow with.

Around the same time, I was offered the job of a lifetime by a fellow installer (Peter Bridgeman) who had fallen ill - to install the McDonald Mansion in Santa Rosa. I worked with the most amazing historic designer Paul Duchscherer, who taught me about balancing pattern. We created something magical together at the mansion! Sam and Joey came back to work with me on this project, and my husband Cris had just gotten his contractor license so he stepped in and managed the scope of what was the largest residential Bradbury install. A daunting task, but we were all ready for this one!

KM: I love that response. It is so important to connect with peers and mentors as an entrepreneur…and to say yes to the right opportunities! I’ve been following you on Instagram for a while, and am always impressed by your attention to detail - the switch plates, adding hand painted details to ensure the repeat is flawless. Is that something you’ve learned over time?

HWM: Yes. I find that the better I get at my craft, the more I do to make it look like I didn’t do anything. I call it “hiding my hand”. The goal is a quiet, calm, and balanced space where the eye can move around the room.

 In this install, Heidi cut small pieces of the pattern to “feather” the design into the arched ceiling. Design by Geoffrey DesSousa, wallpaper by Timorous Beasties, photo by Matthew Millman.

In this install, Heidi cut small pieces of the pattern to “feather” the design into the arched ceiling. Design by Geoffrey DesSousa, wallpaper by Timorous Beasties, photo by Matthew Millman.

KM: Beautifully said! We talked about the ups and downs of the wallpaper industry, and the past few years have certainly been a good time to be in the wallpaper business. Do you think wallpaper here to stay?

HWM: I think it will always ebb and flow, but I predict this upswing will be long and strong because it has evolved into a way for talented artists to support themselves and produce beautiful material. There is so much great, unique product on the market now…plus the improvements in the materials.

KM: One last question for you. What do you love most about your job?

HWM: Every day is different. I get to be creative, artistic, mathematical and run a small business. And I am in charge of my schedule and my time. Why wouldn’t I want to be a paperhanger?! It really is the best of all careers.

Thank you SO much to Heidi for sharing your expertise with me and all our readers. We look forward to working with you on future installations! You can learn more about Heidi and her work on her website or on Instagram.


Kate MillerComment