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My goal:

  • Get a wall smooth enough for wallpaper without replacing the wall

My situation

  • I have a wall that's been patched about 100 times in the last 50 years or so. I can't say why (I live in NYC), there's zero record on what the wall has gone through, but given that it's a top floor apartment, I'll go ahead and say past roof problems caused most of the damage, the rest would've been the work of previous tenants. The wall is made up of what looks and feels like a sandy plaster/mortar mix or old cement board (Can't confirm lathing but some areas might have a steel diamond mesh lathe) under drywall.

enter image description here

My idea:

  • The only way I can think of fixing this without completely redoing the wall (trying to avoid garnering any/much attention from the landlord or going through the next 3 months with management just for approval) is to chisel the really bad parts off either with a normal chisel tool, or use a saw blade or spiral drill bit if it takes too long (Whichever turns out works best), then follow the same process used to set veneer stone outdoors, just drywall instead of stone...

Ex: https://youtu.be/YPfjBmjnJSE?t=234

Anyone ever gone through a situation like this? maybe you know a particular type of mortar best for this operation (if you have any suggestions other than "regular").

I've had to do some unusual restoration work in the past, but this is a first for me.

  • What about simply adding a thin layer on top - e.g., 3/8" drywall? Since you are putting on wallpaper, it won't need as perfect a finish as for painting, though you will still have to deal with seams. But I'll bet it will be a lot easier than trying to smooth what is already there. – manassehkatz May 9 at 22:24
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    That’s the idea in the end (missed mentioning that in the initial post, just added it) a new slab of drywall will go over everything, but under the drywall will be the steel mesh and mortar to make sure it’s properly leveled. – 2032 May 9 at 23:20
  • Off topic but If I was you, the tenant, I wouldn't waste my time or money. If you are thinking of buying I'd wait until after you purchase. – Micah Montoya May 10 at 18:23
  • I am the owner :) but I would still commit to this if I was just a tenant. Sometimes it's nice to live in a decent space even if the residence is only temporary. – 2032 May 10 at 19:15
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Drywall. Thin (1/4 inch is available) drywall. It can be screwed to the subsurface or glued if there is not easy access to wood or steel framing. Tape the seams and the edges, a few coates of joint compound, and it is smooth sailing.

If the subsurface is not level enough, a few shims, also glued to the wall should let you get a fairly flat surface.

This is not structural, just a solid surface for paint or wallpaper.

  • Thanks for your suggestion. I didn't even know they came that thin, always used 1/2. You can't see it in the picture, but the end next to the green cellophane protrudes about 1"-1.5" from the wall. I figured it would be the hardest part to get down so I'll probably opt for the mortar and diamond mesh lath for that one side if the leveling project doesn't go so well. For the rest, the 1/4 drywall and compound/adhesive. It's not intended for structural use, but I never know what I might plan in the future, so I often build for the potential. – 2032 May 10 at 18:17
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Alternative idea: since this sounds like a rental where you might be obliged to reverse changes, how about sheets of 1/4" plywood that have been wallpapered? Don't try to hide the joints -- make them a feature. Attach with either J-channel or modest blobs of adhesive. Maybe a picture rail at the top to hide the joint. On your way out, if you have to yank everything down, you'll only have a little bit of patch and paint to get your deposit back.

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    Or (flame-retardant treated, otherwise it's a classic bad fire hazard) full height curtains or "screens" of patterned cloth, or paintings. Just hide the thing, completely, without touching it. – Ecnerwal May 10 at 14:22
  • I did think about the 'panel' look. I noticed a few places sold them complete and they would've practically been self leveling, but the wall is in such a bad condition, I had rather make this to stay. No plans on reversing the changes in the future (Owned unit ^_^, the next owners will thank me that they won't have to go through this). The only issue with owning your units in NYC is condo/co-op boards and management, always a headache. – 2032 May 10 at 18:04
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Aww man. I think your idea of mesh and mortar might help for levelling but it might be difficult to mount a fresh sheet of drywall without it following the contours of the existing mess.

Re-coating the wall might be the best idea but unless you are a pro it might never look right. I'd think a more rough stucco texture might hide more blemishes once it is more leveled.

The other idea would be to work in some organic features like plants/planters and go for a more natural stone type of look.

  • Thanks for your comment. My dilemma is founded on that "contour" issue. Bib had a good suggestion on the 1/4" Drywall, not too keen on the shims, but a generous blob of compound should act as a good leveler until it sets. I''ll also be removing as much of the protrusion as possible (Which is currently extending about 1" from the wall (yikes), so leveling afterwards shouldn't be a problem. I did think about "working with" the wall, but this renovation requires complete smooth finishes to the end. – 2032 May 10 at 17:56
  • Just watch out for live wire and pipes! (; – Matt D May 10 at 18:43
  • I agree, float a new layer of skim coat ( stucco ? ) over it. NOTE: Skim coating is an acquired skill. – Alaska Man May 10 at 20:44

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