Grasscloth Installation, Edmonton, Alberta
Eunice Bokstrom saw only one demonstration of the grasscloth “on-point” technique, and that was at a convention years ago, but that didn’t stop her from blurting out that she would use it to solve a wallcovering problem for a client.“I made the offer first, and then I thought, ‘I’d better be able to do this!’”
by Chris Camara
The on-point technique involves cutting squares of plain grasscloth and placing them on the wall at a 45-degree angle, rotating each square 90 degrees to achieve a diamond parquet look.
“A fool will leap in where angels fear to tread,” Bokstrom said. “I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it, but I knew it could be done.”
The technique was not Bokstrom’s original plan. She and her husband, Frank, of Design Wallcovering in Edmonton, Alberta, had been hired to install a variety of textiles throughout a spectacular 11,000-square-foot riverfront home in Edmonton in the spring of 2006. The walls of the 30-foot-by-18-foot guest bedroom, which was a focal point of the home, were to be covered with a rolled grasscloth material from Maya Romanoff, as specified by the homeowner’s Seattle designer.
The Bokstroms asked their client to purchase one-yard samples of all the materials used throughout the home. Some of the fabrics, which included paper-backed silks and wool blends, cost hundreds of dollars per yard, and Eunice wanted to make sure her client was pleased with the look before proceeding. “Sometimes they’re taken aback by how it looks on the walls. They have no idea they’re going to see seams.”
That’s exactly what ended up happening in the guest bedroom. Not only that, but the seam edges on the sample were damaged. Fixing them meant cutting into the design and throwing off the geometric pattern.
That’s when Eunice announced Plan B: the on-point technique. She explained that an on-point installation would eliminate vertical seams and partial squares at the top and bottom. The client agreed.
Looking around the room, the Bokstroms found another obstacle: a narrow bulkhead over the door. Partial squares would have to be used if it stayed as is. They persuaded their client to remove the bulkhead and re-drywall the ceiling to extend the coffer into the door area and maintain the same wall height throughout.
Then came executing Eunice’s plan. She dug up the years-old notes she took during the demonstration at a National Guild of Professional Paperhangers event. (At the time, she had been thinking, “Yeah, like I’ll ever do that.”)
She phoned the installer in California. He sent her an instruction sheet and offered some valuable tips. “I tend to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research ahead of time so that when I do it, I’m not going to mess it up,” Eunice explained.
She ordered another sample, of plain grasscloth this time. The Bokstroms cut 12-inch squares to demonstrate the look on their second test hang. They got the thumbs up from the client, then immediately encountered more challenges. The ceiling line and the base line were both off level, so they would need to make adjustments in the final pieces on the perimeter. Also, an expansion test showed that the squares expanded slightly more in one direction — any gradual change in one dimension would be multiplied by every square and throw off the pattern. The pieces had to be cut so they would “grow” into a perfect square. The couple figured the squares needed to be 12 29/32 inches in width and 12 28/32 inches in height. Most of the cutting was done on a tabletop using a template. Exact measurement was the key to producing a perfectly geometric pattern.
Eunice said her philosophy is that preventing problems is easier than fixing them. Using their laser level, she and her husband drew the entire pattern on the wall before starting. They started in the center of the wall and worked out, first applying a coat of Roman Decorating Products Ultra Pro-880 clear adhesive to the wall. They moistened the back of each square so it could expand ahead of time.
Working around corners was tricky. The grasscloth was so stiff that the installation required precision at the intersection point of the squares. If the points were too close, the grasscloth would lift. The job was made easier with Eunice’s double-cutting guide, which she designed and had custom-made in a machine shop.
The squares were going up straight and true. “The actual installation went so smoothly, we thought, ‘Hey this isn’t that hard,’” Eunice said. “You have to be accurate and careful, but it wasn’t terrible.”
But it wasn’t long before another challenge arose. They found that a bull-nose corner was not plumb, which resulted in a gap along one diagonal line of squares. They solved the problem by cutting pieces that were slightly out-of-square.
As the Boskstroms worked, other subcontractors wandered in to admire their work. “All kind of workers were blown away — no one’s seen anything like that here,” Eunice said. Although grasscloth and other natural fibers are enjoying a resurgence in home interiors, they’re not commonly seen in the Edmonton area.
The end result was a shimmering design that thrilled the client. The couple’s professional peers were impressed too. The project has earned them two first-place awards, from American Painting Contractor magazine’s Top Jobs contest and the National Guild of Professional Paperhangers Winning Walls with Wallcovering competition. The NGPP contest ranked projects on 15 factors, including creativity, special challenges, materials and time constraints.
The head-scratching and sleepless nights paid off for the Bokstroms, who found this to be one of their most rewarding projects. They had the satisfaction of having “saved the day” on the project while overcoming so many challenges and time pressures. The owners wanted to move in, and were frustrated by delays from other contractors.
“I’m really proud of it. I was just thrilled that we had given her the look she originally wanted,” Eunice said. “We made it better than she ever dreamed it could be.”